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“What Rings True,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

February 4, 2022 | 3 Adar I 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we make our way toward Shabbat.

It was March 2020. We were in Jerusalem. I went to my favorite jewelry store called Hadaya. They engrave Hebrew names on rings. On that day, they had a bowl of “mistake” rings that were on and for sale. Never to miss a bargain I checked out what was there. And that is when I found it. A ring engraved with the inspiration for the name of our prayer book, Mishkan T’filah and also a significant idea from this week’s Torah portion.

I checked the Hebrew which was absolutely correct. I asked why it was in the mistake bowl. They had made it the wrong size for the order, they told me. I tried it on and it fit me perfectly.

Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ (Exodus 25:8)

God instructed Moses to direct the Israelites to build an ark to hold the Torah and a sanctuary to surround it. The Israelites would carry it throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. Each tribe would take its place as they moved forward. But first, they would need to learn how to construct it. With painstaking detail, God provided the instruction for each piece, grommet by grommet, for the Israelites to build what Robert Alter calls the “cultic paraphernalia” of the “securely designated sanctum”. This moveable sanctuary would allow God’s presence to rest with them. The sanctuary became known as the Mishkan, the dwelling place of God from the phrase, “I will dwell- וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י”.

Perhaps there is hubris to imagine that a prayer book could have such a name, but then it would also have humility as well. In the early aughts when the Editorial Committee of the new prayer book for the Reform movement spoke about what to name it, the editor, Rabbi Elyse Frishman, suggested Mishkan T’filah. She said we have stood long enough at the gates of prayer—a pun on the name of our former prayer book—it was time we move inside. Yet, how do we humbly enter, we wondered.

Many commentators have pondered the reason God spoke in such a particular way regarding building the Mishkan. Shouldn’t God have said: Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell in it? And not, let them build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them? The most frequent response is that the “them” is the Jewish people. God dwells among us. This is true and beautiful. As we imagined a new prayer book, we thought of the way design and page organization could allow for a prayerful experience. We used the right side as the place for the traditional prayer and created a two page spread so that the left side could offer creative prayerful interpretations. At the bottom of the left side was spiritual commentary while references and sources were at the bottom of the right side. More empty space between these areas allowed for one’s own prayer to enter, a humble expression for prayer.

Rabbi Leo Baeck once said: The purpose of prayer is to leave us alone with God.

We may ask where we might find God. For sure, there are many possibilities. One space and place might be within the pages of a prayer book. The words, the expression, the space to open one’s heart has the potential for God to be found among its pages. If we go back to the words from this week’s portion and engraved on my ring,

Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ (Exodus 25:8)

I wonder whether it might be possible to read the words in this way:

Let them make Me sacred that I might dwell among them-not the Jewish people but rather among them-the pages of the prayer book itself. That, too, is where we might find the Holy One of Blessing in and through our prayers.

Shabbat Shalom!

  •  Qabbalat Shabbat with Cantor Jonathan Comisar, onsite and online. No need to register; just come! Or join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website. Stay on Zoom for our online Oneg.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study will begin at 9:00 a.m. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • 10:00 a.m. Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat at home.  Please register here.
  • 7:00 p.m. Learning and Havdalah with Cantor Jonathan Comisar — “To Bigotry No Sanction.” Onsite (no need to register; just come) OR online (Join on Zoom). Learn more.
  • Sunday, February 6 at 12:30 p.m. Cantor Comisar will present a musically interactive lecture detailing the Jewish life, contributions, influences, and music of Leonard Bernstein. Onsite or online (join us on Zoom). Learn more.

Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.
Shabbat Shalom!