"And let them make Me a sanctuary that I might dwell among them."
A few weeks ago, Jethro told Moses that he needed to delegate some of his authority so that the Jewish people might function more effectively. He said: "Have them [the judges you appoint] bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute for themselves."
Thus begins the process of the decentralization of religious authority among the Jewish people. Moses realizes that he must relinquish some of his control in order to survive and to benefit his people, even though that is personally difficult to do. After the system of judges is in place, God gives the Jewish people the Ten Commandments and a host of other laws.
For the first time, God is saying to the people: "Go home and make this religion come to life." No longer do the Jewish people have to turn to their leader for daily spiritual guidance because they can discover it themselves through the laws that God has put forth in the Torah. It was then, just as we say today: "Each Jew can make Shabbat for himself, in his own home."
However, the ideal world and the real world often don't resemble one another. Though God and Moses want the Jewish nation to assert its independence, it's difficult because we long for continued contact. That is why we have the Mishkan here in the desert and the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem. We need a place to reconnect with God. We need a location in which we're certain that we can find God. The Temple is that place.
Today, we have built a mikdash miat, a smaller version of the original Temple. It is called the synagogue. We come to the synagogue to meet God, and we come to the synagogue to meet each other. The difficulty in making Shabbat come to life for ourselves is that we can easily feel isolated. When we come to the synagogue, we feel community; we're in a group setting.
In a wonderful series of essays on the High Holidays titled Yimei Zikaron, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has written that "man was created for the purpose of being a messenger." Drawing on the varied stories of messengers throughout the Torah, Soloveitchik asserts the claim that we all have a mission, and it is our task to discover and then implement that mission.
A Reason Why We're Here
Each of us has a purpose. Each of us has a reason why we're here on this earth. Our task is to figure out what our contribution is going to be.
A few months ago, our congregation brought a Sefer Torah, as a gift from our congregation, Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, to a congregation in Metairie, La., that had lost all of its Sifrei Torah during Hurricane Katrina. It was our way of trying to help the congregation rebuild. We literally became messengers of Torah.
The Talmud teaches that after the destruction of the holy Temple, God resides in the four cubits of Jewish law — to which I add, after the destruction of this synagogue, God resides in the kindness we share with others, in the Torah we carry with us.
The inscription on the facade of Congregation Beth Israel in Metairie reads: "Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among you."
I believe after the devastation of Katrina, God can still be felt in the strength of the Jewish community to care for one another. I'll remember that day we spent in New Orleans for the rest of my life, for God was in that place and, yes, I knew it.
Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that Shabbat is "our cathedral in time." So celebrate Shabbat, both at home around the table with the warmth of the candles burning brightly, and then come to the synagogue and share your Shabbat with those around you.
Rabbi Jay M. Stein is the religious leader of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.