Doing Jewish Differently

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The Rabbi’s Rave Parsha Terumah, Shemot (Exodus) 25:1 – 27:19

Asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham – Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among you.

Shemot (Exodus) 25:8

In this week’s Torah Portion, Moses receives instructions as to how to build the Mishkan, the place where God will dwell in the midst of the community of Israel. Building a home where the Holy can reside takes more than just bricks and mortar.

Communities are a lot like houses. Their strength depends on what we put into them. Only if we take responsibility to build our relationships to the best of our abilities can we expect them to be there for us when we need them. The onus is on each of us to build our Mishkan – our sanctuary that is a holy community.

We make holy community when we pray together, when we learn together, when we sing together. We create Holy Community inside our building and worship spaces, and outside of it as well. We create it when we gather in people’s homes for a shiva minyan or baby naming. We create it when we march to call for a halt to the genocide in Darfur or to protect the so called. “Dreamers.” We create it when we go as a synagogue community to a play or a baseball game

So long as we are aware of our obligations to one another, we carry the Holy Presence with us wherever we go.

A holy community reaches far beyond these walls. A Holy community is more than a school, or a rabbi, or a choir. A holy community is formed by every one of us. There are no extras.

An old Hasidic story illustrates this principle very clearly.

There was once a town where there had been no rain for many months. The people asked the rabbi to beg God for help. So he prayed and fasted. But nothing changed.

One night the rabbi had a dream. An angel came to him and said “Your fasting and praying will do nothing. The only man who can help is Kalman the grocer. You must summon the Jews to the synagogue, and Kalman must lead the congregation in prayer.”

The rabbi awoke and decided that the dream was meaningless. He thought to himself, Kalman the grocer is ignorant and crude. That can’t be what heaven wants. But the next night the dream returned, and again and again until the rabbi couldn’t ignore it any longer.

At daybreak, he gathered the community in the synagogue. Everyone sat in silence, waiting to see what the rabbi was going to do about the drought. The rabbi walked over to Kalman the grocer and said, “Go up on the bimah, You will lead us in prayer today.” The people started whispering, “Why him? Aren’t there more learned people who could lead us?” And Kalman simply looked up at the rabbi, and without a word, he ran out the back door of the synagogue.

After what seemed like an eternity, he returned holding his grocery scale. To the congregation’s confusion Kalman ascended the bimah and raised his scale high above his head.

He said, “Lord of the universe, you know I am an ignorant man. I am impatient; I use strong language; I am not able to give much to charity. But all my life I have been honest, and this scale is a symbol of my honesty. I have little else to offer you, but I ask that you accept my deepest prayers.”

As Kalman finished his prayer, there was silence. Then a moment later, drops began to fall on the roof. The rains had come. The town was saved.

The town was saved because its citizens learned that every member of the community has a gift to offer, and because a humble man shared his gift with his neighbors. So whether you’re sitting on the bimah or in the back row, whether you’ve lived in Bethesda all your life or arrived here last week, whether you’re fluent in Hebrew or just picked up a prayer book for the first time, you have a crucial role to play in creating and maintaining community. Just as a Torah scroll is incomplete if any one letter is missing, so is our community incomplete unless each person is brought into it, and unless each person brings something to it.

Please bring all of your gifts and your dreams. Here you will find people ready to make them come true with you.

Asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham – Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among you.

Bethesda Jewish Congregation

Bethesda Jewish Congregation