When I was a professional fundraiser, I loved this week’s Torah portion. So do most Jewish fundraisers, because it begins with God saying to Moses, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” (Ex. 25:2)
What’s not to love? It combines a command to tell people to bring donations, but to do it from the goodness of their hearts. And no, it’s not an oxymoron – every fundraiser knows that even those who care deeply about organizations don’t donate until they are asked.
But the truth is that the command to build the portable tabernacle was much more than an opportunity to get involved as a donor. It was a chance to engage with God in a tangible way, which is pretty amazing when you think about the kind of God they had signed on with.
They were accustomed to living among the Egyptians, who worshipped animals, birds, people, and a wide array of gods; according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, “…there were over 2,000 deities in the Egyptian pantheon.”
The God they encountered on Mount Sinai was singular and indescribable. Moving from pantheism to monotheism was probably a difficult spiritual leap. Building a house in which God would abide must have been comforting, familiar.
God didn’t need a house then, still doesn’t today. Nor do we need to build synagogues, churches, and mosques in which to pray. We can be in relationship with the Divine any time, any where. And yet, we continue to create spaces where we can experience God’s Presence together.
Why is that? I think that as much as we crave to be in relationship with God, we also crave to be in relationship with each other. In the right context, with open hearts and minds, our prayer experience is amplified by sharing it. Our voices rise together in song; we feel each other’s presence even when praying in silence.
One of the most beautiful lines in all of Torah comes just a few verses after the injunction to build the mishkan, when God says “Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8) The Hebrew word that is usually translated as dwell, shakanti, literally means “I will rest.”
The Divine “resting among us”? That feels so right to me, especially as we enter into Shabbat, the day when we rest because God rested on that day. I can’t picture God, don’t want to, but I can feel God’s Presence every time I enter into a sacred space to pray with others.
May we continue to be blessed with the Divine Presence as we enter into the sacred communities and sacred spaces that nourish our souls.