In our sanctuaries (Parashat Vayak’hel-P’kudei)

Posted on March 20, 2020

by Rabbi Jordi Schuster Battis

Well, here we are.

Or, rather:  here we are in this sanctuary, and there you are at home are where you are.  We are together but not together.  A community scattered, but joined in this video stream.  It’s like how we say that all of us were together at Sinai, when we heard the 10 Commandments, even though, physically, we sure feel like we weren’t all there in the same space at the same time.

In Jewish ritual, we set so much store in being together.  Ideally, we pray together, we study Torah together, we eat together, we argue together.

Some religious traditions honor those who live as hermits and lock themselves away.  Not so much ours.  In the Torah, seclusion is generally reserved for exactly the kind of case in which we are now:  when people are ill, or when their status in terms of illness is unknown, then we ask them to separate themselves.  Otherwise, togetherness is maintained as an ideal.

However, our tradition also sets preserving life as an ideal.  It demands that we take care of ourselves and others, even when our togetherness is lost.

And, our tradition also honors the home, since home is where most of us are mostly staying for the time being.

When the ancient holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the rabbis reflected on a verse from the biblical book of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel said:  “This is what our God, Adonai, says: although I sent [you] far away among the nations and scattered [you] among the lands, yet I have become to [you] a mikdash me’at in the lands where [you] have gone.” (Ezek. 11: 16).

The rabbis translated that term, mikdash me’at as a miniature sanctuary:  God say, “I will be with you in your miniature sanctuary wherever you have gone.”  The rabbis saw this as a reminder that even without the great Temple—even without the place where they had always gathered and prayed and had ritual together—they could build small holy spaces, and find God, wherever they might go:  in their small synagogues, and in their homes.

Right now, we are all scattered across our land.  We are each in our own space.  And in our separation, our spaces themselves are holy.  Our homes, no matter how big or small, are holy.  They are our miniature sanctuaries.  Cantor Hollis and I may be in this sanctuary tonight.  We do know if we’ll be able to be here a week from now.  But, wherever we are:  it is holy.

What does that mean?

  • It means that each one of us, in our own mikdash me’at, can find the sacred there, if only we look.
  • It means that wherever we are, however lonely we are, we are not alone.  Whether we are alone in our space and missing others, or surrounded by people we love but whom we could really use a break from, or with roommates whom we’ve ended up with by chance— no matter where we are.  We are no alone.
  • It means that, when we feel like what we are struggling with is so huge and reaches to the ceiling and fills our whole space— we can know that we are connected to something so much bigger than ourselves, that goes beyond us in our own little corners of the world, and that that is okay.
  • And, at the same time, it means that, though we are small:  we are each INFINITELY important.  We each INFINITELY matter.  We are INFINITELY loved.  Yes:  you.  The universe is here for each one of us.  And we are significant in it.  Even from here in our homes.

We put mezzuzahs on our doorways—and mark our homes as spaces where the sacred dwells along with us.

We say blessings at our tables—and bring reminders of holiness to the foods we eat and the fruit of the vine that we drink.

We reach out to those we love—whether they are next to us or across the world—and remind ourselves and them that they are holy too.

This week’s Torah portion describes the Israelites building their mikdash, their traveling sanctuary in the wilderness.  They are in a desert, with only what they can carry, and yet they find ways bring their gifts and build and carry among them a holy space that is beautiful and beloved and holy.

This is our challenge right now too.

  • To find a way within our homes, wherever we are, to notice the holiness that dwells with us here.
  • To bring our gifts to each other even though we are far apart.
  • To find our blessings and our gratitude and to speak them, in this crazy time, in this crazy world.

Let’s find our sanctuaries, connected with each other, scattered wherever we are.  Here, in this moment, we are, together.