THE HOME WE BUILD TOGETHER
Act One, Scene 1 – “In the beginning.”
The drama of Bereishit, of creation, never fails to stir the imagination.
Act One, Scene 2. In seventeen weeks’ time, we will read of a second act of creation: the Israelites are to create a Tabernacle or portable home for G-d that would travel with them in the desert.
Our commentators point out a number of parallels between these two acts. G-d made the universe. Now He instructs the Israelites to make the Tabernacle. Just as the universe begins with an act of creation, so the history of the new Jewish nation begins with an act of creation.
Key words – make, see, complete, bless, sanctify – are the same in both narratives.
“And G-d made the sky” parallels “They shall make Me a sanctuary”.
“And G-d saw all that He had made” parallels “Moses saw all the skilled work… they had done.”
“And G-d completed all the work” parallels “And Moses completed the work.”
“And G-d blessed” parallels “And Moses blessed.”
“And [G-d] sanctified it” parallels “And you shall sanctify it”
The effect is to suggest that making the Tabernacle was, for the Israelites, what creating the universe was for G-d.
Which account would you expect to be longer? The creation of the universe or the creation of a little Tabernacle?
The disparity between the accounts is extraordinary. The creation of the universe takes a mere thirty-four verses. The making of the Tabernacle takes hundreds of verses, more than ten times as long. Why? The universe is vast. The sanctuary was small, a modest construction of poles and drapes that could be dismantled and carried from place to place. Normally, the length of any passage in the Torah is a guide to its significance, so why devote so much time and space to the Tabernacle?
Rabbi Lord Sacks, of blessed memory, was once asked this question by Tony Blair during one of their regular study sessions. The answer Sacks gives is simple, yet profound.
The Torah is not man’s book of G-d. It is G-d’s book of mankind. It is not difficult for an infinite, omnipotent creator to make a home for humanity. What is difficult is for human beings, in their finitude and vulnerability, to make a home for G-d.
We can take this one stage further. If this applies to the Sanctuary or Tabernacle, it applies no less to the Mikdash Me’at, the Sanctuary-in-miniature, which is our community. To create a community is vastly difficult. It requires juggling competing needs. Setting priorities. Managing expectations. Engaging with a broad base. Standing up for principles and yet being caring and flexible.
As we have just completed the cycle of the year and commence again, we can look back with pride at what we have achieved in St John’s Wood. The joy we felt at Simchat Torah was a culmination of participation across the community. May we build on this and go from strength to strength!