Last Saturday night I was dancing under the stars in Jacksonville, Florida. As I whirled around in a circle I admired the beautiful fountain on one side of the garden and the gorgeous illuminated stained glass windows towering over us on my other side. For twenty minutes we danced. We were saying kidush levana. We were occasionally interrupted by a slower reader grabbing someone’s hand to say “Shalom Aleichem”. In Jacksonville the custom is that when you say Shalom Aleichem during kidush levana, you smile, look at your partner in the eye, shake his hand, and wish him peace. Many women stood by clapping their hands because the minhag in Jacksonville is that the women come back for Seuda Shlishit.
As I was dancing I kept thinking back about the mixed feelings I had the whole Shabbos. The enthusiasm and devotion that these Jews had for Yiddishkeit and their Shul inspired me. Kabbolas Shabbos took an hour and a half and was an exhausting experience. The entire congregation came to dinner and listened to me talk until 10:30 at night. We said Birchas Hamozon together. The NCSY’rs stayed for every program. Havdola ended Shabbos with a note of sadness of saying good bye to Shabbos. Men, women and children sang “Eliyahu HaNavi”. There is an acre of land in front of the Shul that was recently excavated. I was told that due to a water retention problem the city had to uproot an entire forest. I was told not to worry because next Tu B’Shevat the entire congregation would be out there planting new trees so that the area around the Shul will be restored to its original ambiance. That’s pride.
All of this had a mild down side though. I grew up out of town and I was a Rabbi out of town. I understood the mentality well. The Shul was our life, the Rabbi was central, and Yiddishkeit was never considered a chore. Why is it that in the largest and most developed centers of Yiddishkeit nobody seems to be dancing? Or planting? Or davening the same way?
I’m hesitant to say these words but could it be that we have too much Yiddishkeit? Do we have so much Boruch Hashem that is handed to us on a silver platter that we are starting to take what we have for granted? Is our recent lack of struggle for Yiddishkeit creating a lethargic attitude toward our Shuls, our davening and even our leaders? Have we forgotten the purpose of it all?
I’d like to review the purpose. The simple message of the Parsha is a profound one. We have to make a home for the Shechina. It has to be beautiful!
When Moshe first heard that Hashem wants a “home” in this world he was shaken. The whole Earth could not contain G-d, how can I build a building that will contain Him?! G-d answered, “Don’t worry, just build a structure 20 beams by 20 beams by 8 beams and I will fit my Presence into it.” (Yalkut Shimoni Teruma 365)
Hashem wants a home! He wants a beautiful home. It’s not that he wants us to have a home, a place to hang out or a place to study. Hashem wants a home for Himself, for His Shechina in this world. That is what the Torah is telling us. He wanted a home while we traveled through the desert so we built a Mishkan. He wanted a home while we lived in Jerusalem so we built a Beis HaMikdash and when that was destroyed we built another Beis HaMikdash. When we were forced to leave Jerusalem, we were once again on the road. Hashem wanted to live amongst us in every station that Jews find themselves in. He wanted a home in Bavel, in Poland, in Turkey, in Morocco, in New York, in LA, and in Jacksonville Florida.
Moshe couldn’t understand the purpose of this building. A building for the Jews is understandable. Just like we need buildings for schools, for hospitals, for government, and for entertainment we certainly need a place to pray. But when Hashem asked for a home for Himself – that threw Moshe off. Hashem is infinite – buildings have walls. Hashem insisted though, “You just build the building,” He said, “I will squeeze in”.
Our Shuls our resting places for the Shechina. I look around and sometimes I feel they are resting places for ourselves. Our Shuls have to be beautiful, not because we like beautiful things but because the Shechina is here and Hashem said to make it beautiful. We have to be respectful and dignified in Shul not so that we don’t disturb our neighbor but because the Shechina is here. Understanding this makes the whole difference.
Building and beautifying a Shul is a fulfillment of the Mitzva of building a Beis HaMikdash. Building it as the tallest and most magnificent structure in the community is making beautiful accommodations for the Master of the Universe. When we pray in these Synagogues we are standing before Hashem. If we build for the Shechina we will feel the Shechina.
Let us all be privileged to build the final home for the Shechina in Yerushalayim. “Ve shum Naavodech B’Ahava U’byirah” There we will worship Hashem with awesome love.