“I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel and I will be their God” Exodus 29:45


What does it mean for God to dwell in our midst?

There are four parashiyot dedicated to the Tabernacle in the desert. If the Children of Israel had not sinned and as a consequence had to stay in the desert for 40 years, the Tabernacle may only have served its purpose for a few months.

Nor was it going to be the blueprint for the Temples that stood in Jerusalem, as they had completely different dimensions. If such time and effort went into both the building and narration of a relatively short-term project, it must offer some profound insight into the foundations of our faith.

The unique quality of the Tabernacle was that it travelled with the Jewish people, in contrast to the two Temples, to which one needed to travel. This powerful symbol expresses God’s desire to journey with human beings through life.

In the years following World War Two my grandfather, Rabbi Maurice Lew, advocated that shuls should emulate the concept of the Tabernacle. He spoke passionately of synagogues not only being houses of worship but also offering educational, cultural and welfare activities.

He wrote: “The synagogue must aim in uniting heaven and earth — the highest ideals of our religious life with the needs of our everyday worldly life… Some may sneer that this is an attempt to sugar-coat heaven with the sweets of the earth, but those would only do so because of their misunderstanding of the true spirit of Judaism.

“We may indeed learn from the first synagogue, the sanctuary in the wilderness how to make it into a useful instrument in moulding and fashioning life before us”.

The sages called the shul a “mini temple”. Whether we go every day or just once a year, it is a place where we connect spiritually. In many ways over the last year our faith communities have reverted from “temple” to “tabernacle”. We have had to replace the shul with the home.

Out-of-the-box thinking and community spirit has found ways for shul to come to us. The challenge that lies ahead of us will be how we blend “temple” and “tabernacle” models, reinstating the synagogue as a sacred physical space, while maintaining the transcendent spirituality we have had to work so hard to discover.




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