So, what is it?
Why a Temple and why Synagogues? God is nowhere if not in our hearts. Why do we need a specific place to worship? Why not wherever takes our fancy?
Let me firstly point out that prayer, in Judaism, is by no means limited to a Temple or a Synagogue. It is available at all times and in all spaces. What then is unique about a Temple?
It’s interesting to me, as a starting point, that every religion I am aware of has places of worship. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism…they all have churches, mosques, temples etc. But, then again, I think that’s cart before horse. Religions are, in essence, ways to serve God as a community as opposed to as an individual. Religions are focal points for people to share a spiritual focus, not just means for an individual to find his or her own way. The fact that religions, all over the world, gather people together in communal prayer says to me that there is something very intuitive about doing so.
Hence, in Judaism, the word for a Synagogue is beis hakneses, not house of prayer, but house of gathering.
Personally, I am a big fan of both individual and communal prayer. I’m a fan of the personal, intimate, private conversation with an Infinite God. It is one of my deepest pleasures in life. But I am also a fan of sharing that experience with others. Singing together, calling out together, connecting to God together – and at the same time connecting to each other.
In Judaism, there is a very lovely balance. We go to a Synagogue to pray together – and much of the service is a shared experience. However, the pinnacle of the service is the Amidah – the silent prayer. I close my eyes and whisper my own direct and personal prayer to God. The community lifts me…and then I pray alone. I LOVE that balance.
And this balance is also clear in the verse I quoted to start this all off, from last week’s portion – ‘make for me a Temple and I will dwell within you’. Yes, there is a power to communal worship – and hence a Temple, but ultimately, the goal is that God dwells within us, not within the Temple.
And so, the pitfall. How often do I see with Jews that God is in the Synagogue…but not much place else. The Temple was not, and must not be, a means of compartmentalizing God. It is a place to find connection to God – so that when one leaves, God comes alive in one’s heart for the rest of the day. It is a place to refocus, rejuvenate, reinvite God into our souls. Not so that we have done our duty and we can get on with our lives – rather so that we can take the feeling we have experienced and add that holiness and meaning to all that we do.
Parsha in a Nutshell
This week’s portion is about the clothes of the Priests who worked in the Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple. Like last week, it’s quite intricate details and not for the fainthearted, so it’s not a great week to come to Synagogue if you haven’t been in a while. Next week will be much more interesting.