We Jews don’t rely on a physical space for prayer or to facilitate God’s presence. We believe that prayer and God can be found anywhere. For this reason, unlike so many cathedrals and mosques around the world, it is rare to see very elaborate and ornate synagogues.
And yet, as we all know, sacred space does help us feel elevated and can help us feel closer to God. I’ll never forget my first visit to Beth Shalom…I fell in love with our sanctuary immediately. It just felt ”right:” beautiful in a simple and elegant way, modest and yet so inviting.
This need to feel at home with ourselves and with God is a timeless one. Our ancestors also felt it. Having just received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and as they travel through the desert, they needed to feel God’s presence with them even as they move from place to place. The next few Torah portions deal with the solution: the first Jewish building…a portable sanctuary, a mishkan.
And so God says v’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham / make for me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them. The command is given in the collective, connoting a communal obligation. Everyone had to contribute to make this endeavor worthy of God’s name. As Jews, we may not believe in a certain kind of space, but we do believe in a certain kind of prayer experience; a shared one.
I think about this idea especially during this month of February, a month designated to mark Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion. As a shul, are we doing all that we can to make everyone feel welcomed in our space, no matter the disability? As individuals, do we greet every single person with a smile just as their divine image demands of us? As we commit ourselves to expanding our awareness and our consciousness, we fulfill the words of the Torah: If we make a place worthy of everyone in our community, it becomes worthy of God as well.