Book of Exodus
March 3, 2017
For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the phenomenon of building cathedrals of worship traces it’s beginning to this portion of Torah commanding the ancient Israelites to “make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Exo. 25:8) What follows from this point until the end of the Book of Exodus is a detailed description of how to build a portable sanctuary in the wilderness.
For the early generations of Israelites the portability of their sanctuary reflected the portable nature of their living. Two hundred years after leaving Egypt and establishing a permanent presence in Israel, King Solomon constructed the first Temple as a central location for Jewish worship. The ornate magnificence of the building reflected the strength and power of the Solomonic kingdom. The Israelites were no longer wanderers in other lands but residents of their own. Their God was no longer to be discovered in a tent-like structure but in a fortress of beauty.
In 586 b.c.e., the Babylonians destroyed the Temple only to see the Jews rise again and re-construct a 2nd Temple. By the time the Romans destroyed 2nd Temple in 70 c.e., Jews were already less interested in the impersonal nature of a single national Temple based on a cult of animal sacrifice. Discovering a God who could be accessed through the close encounter of prayer, in contradistinction to the distant reaches of sacrifice created a new spiritual fervor among the people. This, in turn, gave rise to the synagogue.
Since the 1st century, the synagogue has gone from small schools of learning to grandiose structures of architectural design, each time reflecting the spiritual and cultural identity of the particular Jewish community.
In the 21st century, Jews are again exercising their spiritual thirst. Synagogue affiliation is dropping. There is less interest in committing to large denominational institutions and more movement toward informal prayer gatherings, smaller structures, less overhead, and more mobility. In many ways it is a return to the portability of the ancient desert sanctuary.
However you understand it, one truth remains: If you build it, He/She will come. As it is written, “make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
Rabbi Howard Siegel