Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
In Torah this week, God tells Moses to say to the Israelites, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2). The Hebrew words “asher yidvenu libo” explain the voluntary spirit. Yidvenu means voluntary. Therefore, everybody who donated was called a Nadiv, a noble contributor. Next the people were directed to take all the voluntary contributions and make a Tabernacle, a dwelling place for God. God said, “Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
The voluntary contributions made everyone a stakeholder in the wilderness sanctuary. And every noble contributor was regarded as a member of the covenant. Furthermore, the building project created a wilderness Tabernacle that made it possible for God to move with the people wherever they went. God didn’t remain on Mount Sinai; rather, the covenant bound God and the Israelites to go together.
Traditionally, the words from Exodus 25:8 have been inscribed on the walls of synagogues. They are a reference to the Torah verse and the meaning of establishing a Tabernacle wherever Jews settled. It’s part of our on-going expectation that God surely did not remain on Mount Sinai. Indeed, the citation from Exodus 25:8 affirmed the hope that wherever the Jewish people lived there would be a Tabernacle, a sanctuary wherein the Jewish community would find God’s presence. So, the Torah portion and the familiar verse represent not only the past when God dwelt in the wilderness Tabernacle, but also the present when our generation brings God along wherever we go.
Judaism is unique in its emphasis on God’s approachability. There is no intermediary in Judaism. God isn’t only in the synagogue, or as some children grow up to believe, in the Holy Ark. God is everywhere and immediate. God is in the synagogue, in the home, and especially in the heart. We build a beautiful and sacred synagogue. We put a mezuzah on our home, and we value our body as a vessel that houses the soul; therefore, we should keep our body healthy, we shouldn’t pierce our body beyond repair, and we shouldn’t tattoo it as if it were a coloring book.
Now, it becomes clear why the Jewish home is also called a “Mikdash Me’at” a small sanctuary. It’s a sacred place where God’s presence can be found with us and our family. Oftentimes, the synagogue is regarded as the most important institution in Jewish life, but it isn’t. The Jewish home is the most vital part of the Jewish community. I’ve often said, ‘If Judaism isn’t happening at home; it isn’t happening.” We can’t lay the responsibility for Jewish living solely on the synagogue. It’s a resource of everything we need, but not the bearer of our personal Jewish responsibilities.
God is with us everywhere we go. Our contributions to synagogue, home and body tell much about our “noble” character. Everybody who brings contributions to support Jewish life, whether a little or a lot, is a noble contributor. That’s the beauty of mitzvah; it’s not for the sake of the reward, but for the sake of the mitzvah. This week, bring God with you wherever you go. Make room for God in the synagogue, at home with you, and in your heart along the way.