During this month of February we will be reading the Book of Exodus at Shabbat services. Throughout the book, Moses conveys to the people Israel God’s commandments concerning the building of the Mishkan, that portable desert sanctuary which later would become the model for the Jerusalem Temple, and later still, synagogues across the world. The details of the tabernacle are moved from a discussion between God and Moses to the actual public building of a specific community. In this community God’s presence is manifest: “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). This original tabernacle has served as the model for the Jewish community.
Community is quintessential in our tradition. We need each other. For that very reason Judaism requires a minyan, in essence a community, in order for us to pray with fulfillment and meaning. How do we achieve community, exactly? What is required of us today to sustain the privilege of synagogue community?
First, community means giving, but more than in the sense of generosity. It means sacrificing and giving up something in order to get something back. Specifically, community is not achieved without giving up on something of some worth in the secular realm (e.g., Friday night out) for more of the sacred world. Sacrifices for greater sanctity anchor the individual and the family like nothing else.
Equally required to sustain community is the honoring of Jewish learning. There is a beautiful passage in the Midrash by Simeon Bar Lakish, written in 250 CE. Rabbi Lakish says: “When two merchants exchange goods, each one surrenders part of his stock; but when two students exchange instruction, each one retains his own learning and acquires also the other's. Is there a bigger bargain than this?”
When we learn together we lose nothing. All is gain. In Jewish tradition no one is held in higher esteem than the scholar, and every person has the opportunity to gain that status through regular learning.
Community is hard work, yet nothing is more important, more satisfying, more rewarding than communal meeting bringing meaning for all who seek a deep, spiritual life. This extraordinary privilege of being part of a community comes with the responsibility of helping to build it.
Temple Sinai has many programs and activities that take place on a continual basis. Please join us and take an active role in your community. You will be the beneficiary.