When Yerushalayim was destroyed and we once again had to take up the wanderer’s staff, wherever we went we never forfeited our spiritual centers. As soon as we were able to rest our feet we built a synagogue. That Shul became a mikdash m’at. The whole life of the Jew, from birth to the very end, became bound up with the synagogue. It was there that the Jew sought and found refuge and solace from his or her day to day troubles.
The synagogue had many things to offer; friendship, a sense of belonging, a place to study Torah, entertainment and a burial plot. But there was one major ingredient that made the synagogue the special epicenter for the Jew. It was the Shechina. Hashem’s presence was felt in Shul. This spirituality, that was actually palpable, was the dynamo that energized the Shul and everyone who visited it – the Shechina made the experience unique.
What goes into building a Shul? We all know how to build buildings. We have good ideas for programming. We understand sophisticated constitutions. But how do we get Kedusha into a Shul? How do we get to a point where people come in and find the Shechina?
The answer is in this weeks Parsha. Hashem did not just tell Moshe to build a Mishkan by himself. He told him to include every Jew, and not just their money or their handiwork, but their hearts. “Kol Ish asher yidveno libo.” G-d wanted their hearts. What brought the presence of Hashem into a tent in the desert? It was the spiritual and emotional input of all the people of Israel. Everyone contributed his or her soul. The Shechina rested upon the heart and soul of the Jewish people.
In the Mishkan there was only one kind of wood; shitim or acacia wood. The Ark was built out of acacia, the table for the showbread was built out of acacia and the structure of the tent itself was built from “standing poles of acacia’. We were in a desert; where did we get all of this acacia lumber? We know there was a miraculous well in the desert and that food was sent down to us from the heavens, but we are not told of a Home Depot that followed us out of Egypt! Rashi gives the answer. Generations earlier, when Yaakov moved to Egypt he mysteriously planted acacia trees in Goshen. He instructed his children to nurture the trees and let them grow very large. He told his children that a time would come that they would leave Egypt, but before they leave they should cut these enormous trees down and take the wood with them into the desert. Hundreds of years were invested into this acacia wood!
There could have been just one more miracle. The Jews could have found an acacia oasis in the desert. But if we would have just stumbled upon an acacia forest in the desert the timber would have been missing a major ingredient. It would have been missing the heart and prayers of our father Yaakov and his children for generation. It would have been missing the nurturing of thousands of Jews who may have given from their drinking water to care for their grandfather’s garden. Just any acacia wood wouldn’t do. This wood had to bring the Shechina into the camp and it therefore required the heart and soul of the Jewish people.
My Rebbe often tells the story of an American industrialist that came to visit the Chofetz Chaim of blessed memory. The Chofetz Chaim proudly gave the man a personal tour of his Yeshiva and asked him if he too would like to be a partner in the building of Torah. The man looked at the saintly Rabbi. He observed the young teenagers studying Torah in the cold underappointed room. He witnessed the sincerity and genuineness of everything he saw. He thought hard. Finally he magnanimously replied, “Rebbe, I’ll fund the whole thing!” Only the Chofetz Chaim could merit such a miracle. The Chofetz Chaim quickly took the man’s hand and blessed him with all of G-d’s blessing and then said, “My dear friend, you are indeed a very generous and righteous person, but as much as I would like to, I can not accept your offer. The holiness you see and feel is the result of the contribution of hundreds of people. A loving tear accompanied each small donation. It is upon those tears that we have built success. It is upon those souls that the Shechina rests.”
As for us, we too can usher the Shechina into our lives, into our homes and into our Synagogues. Not just by belonging, not just by attending or affiliating, but by committing our heart and soul. When we give up little things that are so important to us, when we walk in the snow to Shul, and when we include the place of Hashem in our schedules and even in our prayers, we nurture our surroundings. We can achieve the presence of the Shechina.