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where's the holiness?

02/23/2023 09:00:04 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

For those who regularly follow the weekly Torah portions, two weeks ago we read of God’s revelation at Mt. Sinai, and the gift of God’s law. The portion this week, Terumah, features a verse found at synagogues throughout the world: And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Does God truly need a place to dwell? Are not the heavens the abode of God?

God’s Presence in the midst of the Israelite encampment certainly provides encouragement on their journey, as well as the Source to turn their hearts and minds. The concept of God’s Presence from a tangible point of view is beyond our comprehension, which is why God is known through a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. Throughout the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, God’s Presence can be noted as a cloud. When the construction of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary, is completed, God’s Presence descends and hovers over the Tent of Meeting as a cloud, a way for humans to recognize the Divine.

The word “sanctuary” is from the Latin sanctus, meaning “holy”; the Hebrew word Mikdash is based upon the three-letter root ase, which also means “holy”. But is it God’s Presence that makes the structure holy? Would God dwell in an unholy place?

The responsibility is upon the people to become holy, as God regularly commands us to become a Holy people. By making the performance of mitzvot a regular part of our daily existence, we approach holiness. When we remember the stranger, and are mindful of the widow, the orphan and the poor, we approach holiness. When we love our neighbor as ourselves we approach holiness. When a community is known as one that regularly abides by God’s expectations, that community can be called holy. One of the Hebrew names for a congregation is K’hilat HaKodesh, a holy community. It is truly aspirational, for it is indeed a regular duty and challenge for a community to dare to be holy.

We are on the cusp of finally moving forward with the construction of a new building. I am confident that it will be a beautiful structure, truly inspirational. But will it be a holy building? That is our responsibility to achieve through the performance of mitzvot, so that what emanates from the new Tree of Life will be such that all who engage with us will call us a K’hilat HaKodesh, a holy community. It is a title that we must earn, and re-earn, every single day. May God guide us towards this lofty title each and every day.

Sun, April 21 2024 13 Nisan 5784