| This week’s Parsha gives instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), a portable synagogue designated as the place where the Almighty’s Presence would rest. 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. The Jews fought many wars to take hold of Israel and even though there were numerous casualties, the Mishkan was never destroyed or damaged due to its being built with pure intent. (When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, the Mishkan was buried in the earth below.) Question: Where, in the middle of a barren desert, did they find the lumber needed to build the Mishkan? Hundreds of years earlier, Jacob knew about the future Egyptian captivity and, according to the Midrash, planted acacia trees in Egypt. Before the Exodus, these trees were cut down and transported into the desert for use in the construction of the Mishkan, their portable spiritual center. If G-d miraculously provided millions of people with food (manna) and water (from Miriam’s well) in the desert, couldn’t He provide them with wood to make a sanctuary? Why did Jacob have to plant acacia trees in Egypt hundreds of years earlier? If G-d provided food, water, and protection—necessities of desert life—can’t we assume He can provide wood for building a communal synagogue (Mishkan)? The Mishkan wasn’t just a house of worship, it was also meant to symbolize the spiritual abode created in the heart of every Jew. In the ancient world of idolatry, people would visit their temples to pay tribute to gods, and then return home to their private lives, but for Jews the Almighty’s presence isn’t restricted to a building—Mishkan—to be visited and left behind. The construction of the physical Tabernacle was a symbolic expression of the people’s need to be connected and have a personal relationship with G-d by building a temple for Him in their hearts. 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, it needed to come entirely from the people. The Almighty can do anything, including sustaining millions of people in the desert for forty years, but He can’t make us have a relationship with Him—we have to choose it. They needed to give from themselves so that they would become active partners in the relationship. Imagine the following. 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 brings flowers to his beloved because she needs them? Flowers are one of the ways a groom expresses his love for his bride. 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, travel to India, or join other groups and religions when searching for meaning or authentic spirituality because they were never taught that it is one of Judaism’s foundations. Instead of seeing it as a viable and pleasurable way of life, some Jews view being Jewish as a big burden of meaningless rituals and customs. Just like the fiancé in our parable as well as the Jews bringing wood from Egypt, if we want to find meaning in being Jewish, we need to put forth some effort and demonstrate that we want it. Even Jews who are religiously 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, the solution is to look into your inner self and inspect the status of the temples in your heart, 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 walls are 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 who have 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 is a beautiful gift. But like all valuable things, it doesn’t come without effort. Isn’t it worth at least a small try to access and enjoy it? It’s the birthright of every Jew and it’s time to gain access to it.
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