For the fifth Shabbat in a row, our Torah reading features the details of the building of the Mishkan. It is as if the house committee has monopolized the agenda of five consecutive board meetings! I can imagine the complaints from the hesed, ritual and education committees: “What about our reports? Isn’t there more to this space than its architechture and interior design?”
The purpose of the Mishkan was not just to show off the beautiful product of a capital campaign, but to provide a venue for the sacred. In antiquity, there wasn’t much debate about the definition of the sacred. It was all about sacrifices, as we will learn in the coming weeks when we begin reading Sefer Vayikra, Leviticus. But today, the contemporary offshoot of the Mishkan that we call the synagogue, is subject to debate about its core purpose. What are our buildings here to accomplish?
Just this week, Tablet published an essay arguing that a “social justice” focus for religious institutions of all faiths was unsustainable. A number of years ago, Rabbi Marc Angel wrote a provocative essay about the different models for the role that a synagogue can play in people’s lives. He termed them the “hospital,” “museum,” “entertainment hall,” and “sacred space” models. On Shabbat morning, I’ll unpack each of these models, and address the question, “what are our buildings here to accomplish,” though I won’t guarantee that we’ll answer it conclusively!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,