This week I had the opportunity to study with one of the great Jewish minds of our generations, Irving “Yitz” Greenberg. At age 87, he is as bright and articulate as ever, and his thoughtful approach to Judaism, which he practices from an Orthodox perspective, transcends borders between different ideas of how to be Jewish.
His topic for our week of learning was delving deeply into the idea that we are made the image of God. What does that mean for us as humanity, and what does that mean for each individual human? And if we are indeed made in God’s image, then what responsibility do we have to ourselves, to one another, and to God?
Rabbi Greenberg sends a weekly email to anyone who wants to subscribe, and this week he wrote: “The key goal of Judaism… is to repair and perfect the world so life will flourish to its fullest degree. In the Messianic age, human honor and dignity—the infinite value, equality, and uniqueness of every individual—will be upheld on a daily basis in real life.”
He’s not naïve. He knows that a messianic age may not be within our grasp, but reaching for it is within our grasp, and it is something that we must continue to do.
In musing about this week’s Torah portion, R’Greenberg noted that the instructions for building the mishkan, the portable sanctuary that God told Moses and the people to build, are interrupted several times to remind them to observe Shabbat. During the 25 hours of Shabbat, they are expected to cease working on the mishkan.
The twin ideas of creating sacred space and pausing to observe sacred time teach us a powerful lesson. We do ourselves a disservice if we toil ceaselessly to make wonderful places to pray. And we do ourselves an equally disastrous disservice if all we do is sit and pray.
My congregation recently began looking for a new home, after the place where we’ve rented space for the past 12 years closed. We found a new home with an Episcopalian church. They are excited to welcome us, and our excitement at building a new sacred space is tangible.
Many people from both congregations have come forward to volunteer their time, and others have pledged money. We will need both. And all of us will need times of quiet contemplation. Both the active times and the quiet times are necessary for a successful relationship.
This weekend marks the formal beginning of our world’s year of enforced isolation. The last time my congregation gathered in the same physical space was Purim, March 9, 2020. Now that the end of the pandemic seems to be in sight, we are eagerly anticipating congregating once again as a community.
I am looking forward to the coming months of building a sacred space, and for the weekly opportunity to stop building and rest.
The pandemic taught something important about sacred space. We learned that each of us has the ability to create it for ourselves. At the kitchen table. Outside in the sunlight. In a spare bedroom, or a corner of the dining-room table, or even at a real desk.
And we can carve out sacred time too. This is the joy and challenge of being human, and being part of a caring community. It is the work that we are doing to eventually bring about a messaniac age.
I am committed to serving my community in every way I can. In return, I have asked them to join me in creating both sacred space and sacred time.
If my congregation does this, if our new neighbors at the church and everyone in our extended community join together in this holy work, we can make the world a better place, one mitzvah, one act of kindness, at a time.