Destruction of Gal Aryeh synagogue
Destruction of Gal Aryeh synagogueSamaria Regional Council

Inspired by the weekly Torah portion of Terumah *(Exodus 25:1 - 27:19)

No sooner had the Children of Israel left Ancient Egypt that they were then instructed by God to build Him a great sanctuary known as the Mishkan based on the famous verse:

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם VeAsu Li Mikdash Veshachanti Betocham - And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell in their midst!

This is the source in the Torah for building a House in which to worship God. The rabbinic commentators point out that the verse does not state that God will dwell in the Sanctuary, but rather that God will dwell within the Children of Israel/Jews.

So a house of God is only as good as the people living in it. If God is not to be found in the hearts and minds of the worshippers, then He is simply not there because He does not need a "house" to live in since He has the whole universe and the entire heavens, and then some, to reside in, but rather, God wants to be welcomed into the lives of living human beings and have a place in their midst, only then does a House of God have meaning.

This Torah portion is the first of a series of Torah portions in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers that describes the required structures of God's Mishkan, his Tabernacle built in the Wilderness after the great Exodus from Egypt, as well as the roles of the priests and the nation and the Korbanot - sacrificial offerings to be brought at various times of day and night and and on special days.

Including this portion of Terumah, the Book of Exodus will have four more Torah portions, Tetzaveh, Ki Tisa, VaYakhel, Pekudei that are devoted exclusively to the construction and make-up and functions of the Tabernacle including the clothing for the Kohen Gadol the High Priest. Later in the book of Leviticus - Vayikra there are more Torah portions describing the Korbanot, the sacrificial offerings, in great detail.

So we see that God cares greatly about having this Tabernacle built and eventually taken by the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel to stand there for hundreds of years until it would be taken to Jerusalem where the First Temple was built about 3,000 years ago, and then later the Second Temple was rebuilt about 2,500 years ago.

Why does God need a Sanctuary and a Temple? What's wrong with worshiping Him anywhere? What's the connection between the Mishkan - sanctuary and the Beit HaMikdash - the Holy Temple and the Children of Israel/Jewish People and later Synagogues - Houses of Prayer and Study?

After the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians about 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, the Jewish Sages instituted the Synagogue better known in Hebrew as the Beit Haknesset - House of Gathering or Beit Midrash - House of Learning as the place were Jews can continue their service of God by both praying to Him and studying His Torah. The Jewish prayers were designed as a composite of extracts from the TANACH - the Hebrew Bible, and from additional writings and liturgy added in by Jewish Sages over the ages producing the order of prayers to be found in the Jewish prayer books, the Siddur and Machzor.

Since the presence of God is to be found within every Jew, so that when Jews gather in a Synagogue there is a greater presence of God. What caused the destruction of the two Jewish Holy Temples was self-inflicted wounds. The Talmud teaches that the First Temple was destroyed as a punishment for idol worship, murder, sexual immorality. The Second Temple was destroyed because Jews hated each other for no reason, known as Sinat Chinam. We are awaiting the rebuilding of the Third Temple that will be built when Jews learn to love each other and not commit any sort of crimes against each other or against God.

A structure to serve God is a necessity without which the Jewish People cannot function. Next to the Jewish Home of each Jewish Family is the Synagogue known as a Shull or Shtiebel in Yiddish. A Shull is related to the word "school" in English because it's a place where Torah is studied. A Shtiebel means a "small house" in Yiddish because to Hasidim the synagogue became like a home away from home where they could pray and enjoy serving God.

The enemies of the Jews live under the illusion that if they can only destroy Jewish places of worship they can thereby succeed in destroying the Jewish People.

When the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple and carried off its booty to Babylon they thought they had broken the spiritual back of the Jewish People. They were mistaken because it was in Babylon itself that the Jewish Sages set up magnificent Yeshivas known as Metiftas with a special hierarchy from the royal line of the House of David that eventually produced the Babylonian Talmud that has been the mainstay of Jewish Scholarship ever since. The Romans assumed that Jewish Survival would stop once they burned down the Second Jewish Temple, but they were mistaken because universal synagogue worship was instituted by the Rabbis that has been the core of Jewish Religious Life ever since to this very day.

Before the Nazis got around to burning Jewish bodies in the crematoria they first went about burning down all the synagogues in Germany on Kristalknacht in 1938 and by destroying synagogues wherever they conquered in Europe in order to extinguish Jewish Life forever, but they failed. When the Bolshevik Communists took over Russia in 1917 they wanted to turn Russia into a land of atheism so they shut down virtually all synagogues and Jewish schools and by making it illegal to pray or study Torah in them, but they too failed. If one wants to see where a Jewish neighborhood was or is headed in America just look at the state of a place's synagogues. Neighborhoods where Jews once lived and had built Shulls are blighted and the Shulls have become Baptist churches a lot of the time. When new Jewish neighborhoods spring up, anywhere, not just in America, new synagogues spring up just as quickly because it's in the spiritual DNA and lifeblood of the Jews to build a great House for God no matter where they may find themselves.

I once heard an interpretation from Rabbi Yonoson David, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchak in Jerusalem, that in the Grace After Meals - Birkat Hamazon on Sukkot we add the sentence "Harachaman Hu Yakim Lanu Et Sukkat David Hanofalet" - "May the Merciful One Raise Up The Fallen Sukkah of [King] David" obviously talking about the raising up of the fallen Temple in Jerusalem. The question is why is the Temple referred to as a "Fallen Sukkah"? The answer is that a Sukkah no matter how it's taken down, when it's put up again it's the same Sukkah, as if nothing had changed. So we ask God to rebuild the Third Temple and once it's reestablished it will seem as if nothing has changed since the times of the previous Temple because it will stand in all its glory, with God's Shechinah (Presence) - Present in every Jew, filling the Temple and the World with the glory of God.

* Terumah means "Offering" from Exodus 25:2 "...Take my offering..."

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at: [email protected]