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God’s Small Tabernacle In Our Heart, And Large Tabernacle In Our World: VaYakhel

Before I write anything else about this week’s Torah portion: I know that prayers are not enough, but I believe that they can have an influence. I want to offer my prayers for the Ukrainian people, that the world will know how to stop Putin without plunging us into world war, and that we will have the wisdom to move beyond the logic of war. Lo b’kheyl v’lo b’koakh – “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit says Adonai of Hosts”(Zekharia 4:6) May we create a world not controlled through war and physical power, but by the power of faith, justice and the ability to honor God’s Image in every human being.

In our Torah portion, we have moved beyond the idolatry of the golden calf, and now begin to actually build the mishkan, the portable tabernacle we carried in the desert. The commands issued two and three weeks earlier are now meticulously carried out. The mishkan, and the tablets it housed, and accoutrements were incorporated into the Temple built in Jerusalem.

The destruction of the First and Second Temples were devastating experiences for the Jewish people. While alternative modes of worship and meaning developed when the Second Temple stood, it had been the heart and soul of our spiritual lives.   Our Talmudic sages struggled to create an alternative framework giving the Jewish people the faith to carry on as Jews. They started with the verse when God first commands that we build the mishkan, And let them make Me a mikdash (sanctuary) that I may dwell among them.”(Exodus 25:8) and then interpreted the words of Ezekiel 11:16 “I have become to them a mikdash me’at (a little sanctuary) in the countries whither they have gone to teach that God can dwell among us in all places. God is present in the synagogue, “The verse states: ‘Yet I have been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they have come’ (Ezekiel 11:16). Rabbi Yitzḥak said: This is referring to the synagogues and study halls in Babylonia.” (Megillah 29a) God can dwell in our homes. Both many synagogue accoutrements and home rituals are designed to recreate the Temple. Perhaps most importantly, we can create for God a dwelling place in our hearts and souls. The 19th century Malbim wrote “”. . . in them, the people, not in it, the sanctuary. We are each to build a tabernacle/sanctuary in our own heart for God to dwell in.”

I grew up being taught about the mikdash me’at that each of us can build within.

However, I realize that my life has been dedicated to making Israel, and ultimately our world, a mikdash gadol. Not only must we create dwelling place smaller than the Tabernacle/Temple/sanctuary in our hearts and souls, but the mikdash me’at in each one of us must work together to create a dwelling place much larger. The evils and injustices that we in the human rights community seek to right are part of a process in which we collectively become an agudah ekhat, one great collective whole heartedly carrying out God’s Will (High Holy Days prayers) for how we should honor God by honoring our fellow human beings.

Were we to create sufficient public housing for all Israelis in need, we would be building a mikdash for God to dwell among us. Were we to allow the non-Jews dwelling among us to safely and legally put a roof over their heads, without the fear of demolitions, we would allow God to dwell among us. When there will be complete equality, regardless of religion, race or gender (Israeli Declaration of Independence), brothers and sisters will dwell together (Psalms 133:1), and God will dwell among us.

And yes, when human beings in Ukraine and the many other conflict spots around the world will live in a world not based on might and power, our world will be a mikdash in which God’s Spirit feels welcome.

“Make your world a mikdash” says God, “that I may dwell among you.”

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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