In this week’s Torah portion, Trumah, we read, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Israelites, that they take Me a donation from every man, as his heart may urge him you shall take My donation….And they shall make me a Tabernacle, that I may abide in their midst.” The word for Tabernacle in Hebrew, Mishkan, literally means abode or dwelling. The Children of Israel are the instructed in minute detail, several chapters in fact, of how to create a portable sanctuary that will go with them where they go on their journey. What are the lessons to be learned from all of this detail?
First off, the sanctuary is portable. Why is this significant? Why, because the sanctuary goes with them wherever they go.
What exactly is a sanctuary? Dictionary.com defines it “as a place of refuge or safety.” How does this definition relate to what God is instructing the Israelites to build? They are told to build a Mishkan, from the root, shin-chaf-nun, so that God will dwell among them. The word for God’s presence in Hebrew is Shekhinah, which comes from the same root – shin-chaf-nun. In modern Hebrew, a neighbor, one who dwells in proximity to you, is a shochen/sheichna…all come from the same root.
My father is a regular in a Friday morning Torah study which I attend. It is comprised mostly of 20 men in their late 70’s or more who have been meeting every Friday morning in downtown San Francisco at 8am for 50 years. They were meeting in our building and I would periodically attend when I wasn’t in Las Vegas. When the pandemic hit, they begrudgingly moved online because they had no choice. Now, a year later, the group has doubled in size, I can attend weekly, and there are folks joining for LA, Paris, Idaho, and all parts of the Bay Area. My father is able to join because they are online and the group has become really meaningful to him. He has found a group of passionate like-minded people and it is a powerful highlight of his week. There is a community there for him that he didn’t have before. And he is there every week. He finds friendship, learning and community. He feels safe and accepted and it is a spiritual refuge from the often wild world in which we live.
Why do I bring this up? Because the Shekhina/God’s presence dwells in that Friday morning zoom room. It is a sanctuary, a Mishkan, and like the sanctuary in the desert, it is 100% portable. One can join from anywhere in the world. So how does God’s presence dwell in a Zoom room when there is no actual physical place? How does God’s presence dwell among us at P’nai Tikvah when we do not have a physical home? How is God’s presence dwelling among us in this Zoom room as I speak?
Our Torah portion says, “Speak to the Israelites, that they take Me a donation from every man, as his heart may urge him you shall take My donation.” As his heart shall urge him… That isn’t only a reference to the amount of money one might donate, but to the individual skills and passions that each individual brought to the effort. If everyone hadn’t had a hand in the outcome, in the creation of the Mishkan, then God’s presence wouldn’t have dwelt there. And God’s presence is made manifest because the people worked hand-in-hand, because they formed friendships, they were selfless in their giving, and they were on the same page as to what they were creating – a sanctuary in which God would dwell. Like our service tonight, many people have had a hand in making this the moving, unique service that it is. And by sharing in the creation of the service, we created a sense of ownership and belonging. And like my father, we find friendship, learning and community here in our sanctuary, in our Zoom room, because the friendships, the learning and the community that we sense, that my father senses. and that the Israelites sensed when God’s presence dwelt within them, that TRANSCENDS a building, a physical space. God’s presence followed the Mishkan wherever it went because God’s presence wasn’t house IN the Mishkan, it wasn’t IN the portable sanctuary, and it isn’t IN beautiful buildings. It was, and is, housed within the people. And like the Israelites, God’s presence dwells within us, in this Zoom room, in the sacred space that we create when we come together as a community. This space is more than the sum of the each of our individual efforts. When God’s presence dwells among us, we are greater than the sum of our parts as we have created a kehillah kedosha – a holy community. And so, let us remember that the Shehkinah/God’s presence dwells WITHIN US. It is portable, it come with us, when we gather together to form our kehillah kedosha – our holy community. And like my father, may we feel safe, accepted and find a spiritual refuge here at Congregation P’nai Tikvah from the often wild world in which we live.
Ken yihiyeh ratzon. May it be so.