The television show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, which aired from 2003 through to 2012, travelled around multiple cities across the United States, searching for families that had given to their community and who had made ultimate sacrifices both on the home front as well as in battle. All of these people were misplaced in some way or another; they were people who lived in subpar conditions, people with broken walls, holes in their roofs, and nowhere to call home. In come a design team, a vision and a whole lot of communal support, and they construct a place worth living, a place to anchor their family around; a place to call home.
Opens our parasha, Terumah,
First with communal support;
Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.
דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי
Then the vision;
And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם
And finally the design;
According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its vessels; and so shall you do.
כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מַרְאֶה אוֹתְךָ אֵת תַּבְנִית הַמִּשְׁכָּן וְאֵת תַּבְנִית כָּל כֵּלָיו וְכֵן תַּעֲשׂוּ
The Jewish people, after spending the past two hundred odd years in slavery are suddenly thrust into freedom. They find themselves in awe after the revelation at Sinai, and once all the commotion dies down, once they no longer have a tangible, personal connection to Hashem, once they have distanced themselves from holiness through the sin of the Golden Calf which we will read about in several weeks, they find themselves craving a place in which to center themselves around; this is the mishkan.
Rashi tells us that the mishkan needs to be made in the name of God in order for him to reside in it. Avot D’Rabbi Natan explains that Hashem cannot dwell within Bnei Yisrael until they take action and build the mishkan. And the Gemorah in Ketubot on 62b states that the commandment to build a sanctuary is indicative of the love that God has for the Jewish people.
The commandment for the construction of the mishkan, its centralizing of Hashem within the people of Israel is a precursor to what the Shul should be.
Communities the world over are adjusting to the new realities of the Jewish world; the shifting geopolitical demographics, the threat of assimilation at our doorstep, the rising costs and struggles of living a religious life and ensuring quality Jewish education. In many ways we are like these families that this show tried to help, constantly giving to the community, constantly making concessions and sacrifices, but not always able to find a strong and stable home.
If we return to the model of Extreme Makeover Home Edition, we can see that the shul needs to be that home. The many community members need to be the support. And the Rabbi with the help of a strong lay leadership needs to be the design team.
The Rabbi needs to ensure that the shul becomes a place where people can feel at home, that there is a place for hospitality and warmth, that there is a place for the safeguarding of our rituals and history, that there is a place to inspire others to make contributions and sacrifices, much like those who were deserving on this show and also like our people in its fledgling state prior to the construction of the mishkan. And most importantly that it is a place where God can be welcomed into the lives of the congregants.
It is this that makes a shul a home, a place where the shechina can reside in.