| The Torah reading this week gives the instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), a portable synagogue in the midst of the desert; it was the place where the Almighty’s Presence would rest wherever the Jews happened to be. They took it with them throughout their 40 year stay in the desert and rebuilt it in four different locations in the Land of Israel. When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, it was buried in the earth below. The Jews fought many wars to take hold of the Land of Israel, how is it that among the various causalities, the Mishkan was never destroyed or damaged? According to tradition, since it was built with pure intent, it was never destroyed. One of the crucial materials needed for construction of the Mishkan was wood; but where did they find lumber in the middle of the desert? Hundreds of years earlier, Jacob had known about the future Egyptian captivity but he also knew that they would be freed and journey through a desert without water or vegetation. According to the Midrash, he made provisions for that journey during his lifetime by planting acacia trees in Egypt. Before the Exodus, they cut these trees down and transported them intothe desert for use in the construction of the Mishkan, their portable spiritual center. Now that we know where they got the wood, another question must be asked: if Jacob knew his descendants were going to travel through a lifeless desert, he also must have realized that G-d would provide for their needs-food and drink-as well as protection. If so, it stands to reason that He would also provide them with wood to make a sanctuary. Why then did Jacob have to plant acacia trees in Egypt to take care of their future construction needs, wouldn’t G-d take care of that? The Mishkan wasn’t just a house of worship, it was also meant to symbolize the spiritual abode each Jew constructed in his or her own heart in which the Almighty would dwell. In the ancient world of idolatry as well as some religions that followed later, people would visit the temples to pay tribute to their gods and then return home to their private lives. This dichotomy isn’t a Jewish concept. For us, the Almighty’s presence isn’t restricted to a building-Mishkan-a temple to be visited and left behind. The construction of the physical Tabernacle was a symbolic expression of the desire of the people to be connected and have a relationship with G-d and to build an indestructible temple in their own hearts for Him. Now we can understand why they had to bring their own wood from Egypt. When constructing a portable sanctuary, one that symbolized a deep relationship, not just a drive through spiritual experience but a meaningful life enriching bond, it needed to come entirely from the Jewish people. It was an offer to invite G-d to come among us. The Almighty can do anything, including sustaining millions of people in the desert for forty years, but He can’t make people have a relationship with Him-they have to choose it. The way they demonstrated it was to give from themselves and become an active partner in the relationship. The following parable illustrates this point. A highly successful entrepreneurial woman owned a chain of flower shops and had just said yes to her fiancé’s proposal for marriage. The evening of the engagement party arrived and the excited bride awaited her groom. He came in wearing his new suit and walked toward her. He was smiling from ear to ear but she noticed that his hands were empty. “No roses?” she asked.”Why would I bring you roses,” With tears streaming down her face, she said “don’t I deserve flowers like any other bride.””But you are not like any other bride,” said the groom. “You own a chain of flower shops. Giving you roses would be like giving ice to an Eskimo!””My love, you have much to learn. It’s not about my need. Do you think a fiancé bring flowers to his beloved because she needs them? Flowers help grooms express their love for their brides. I too want that expression of love, even though I’ve got plenty of flowers of my own.” G-d has everything but the Jews needed to demonstrate that they chose to have a relationship with Him. Over the years a common comment I hear, when speaking with Jews about how to have a meaningful Jewish encounter, is that “this is the first time I’m hearing about having a relationship with G-d.” Why is it that Jews, the people who brought monotheism to the world, view G-d and how to relate to Him as a distant and irrelevant concept in their daily lives? Some Jews even leave the fold and join other groups and religions when searching for meaning or authentic spirituality because they were never taught that it is one of the foundations of Judaism. Instead of seeing it as viable and pleasurable way of life, some Jews view being Jewish as a big burden of meaningless rituals and customs. Just like the recent fiancé in our parable as well as the Jews bringing wood from Egypt, if we want to find meaning in being Jewish, we must make some effort and demonstrate that we want it. Even Jews who are observant sometimes find themselves slipping into a mechanical and perfunctory observance of the Torah and acting more out of habit than out of inspiration. At such times, we would do well to look into our inner selves and inspect the temples in our hearts, which might have fallen into neglect. What do we do when Judaism loses its meaning for us; when our Jewish roof springs a leak or its wallsare in need of repair? The patch-up begins with making an effort-coming to a class, having a discussion with a rabbi or friend who is actually excited or motivated with his or her Judaism. It involves attaching oneself to a nation that has withstood the test of time for thousands of years-without a land, language, or army. The Torah’s ideals have been the inspiration for global social welfare for centuries as well the foundation for American democracy. Judaism isn’t a disease, it’s a beautiful gift. But like all valuable things, it doesn’t come without effort. Isn’t it worth at least a small try bit to access and enjoy it? Good Shabbos
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