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Your Home is Your Temple #665

02/19/2021 05:30:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Terumah

“Let them make Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them..” (Exodus 25:8)

Your Home is Your Temple

When I first arrived in the United States in 2004, I began hearing a “Jewish” word I was not used to.

That word was “temple.”

Growing up in Canada, I was accustomed to words like “synagogue” or “shul,” but “temple” was something relatively new.

For me, the Temple lay in ruins in Jerusalem. It was, perhaps, a concept, or vision, of future renewal for the Jewish people.

But the phrases, “Which temple do you go to?” or “I’ll see you at temple this Shabbat,” were expressions I needed to grow into.

For centuries, synagogues were known as batei tefila, houses of prayer, and also batei midrash, houses of study. In Eastern Europe, this led to a synagogue being called a shul, the Yiddish word for school.

Things changed in the 1800s with the growth of Reform Judaism. One of the first Reform congregations, founded in Hamburg, Germany, referred to itself as a temple, in part embracing the concept that one could be both a fully engaged Jew and an upstanding citizen without having to be directly linked with Jerusalem.

Rabbi Moshe Waldoks in an article published in Jewish Boston, noted that “The establishment of the Hamburg Temple was thus a statement that Hamburg was their Jerusalem, and that their temple was a replacement for the ancient Temple that had stood there before.”

That trend continued with the growth of Reform Judaism in the United States, and eventually carried over to Conservative Judaism.

Therefore, as this theology goes, a smaller temple, a — mikdash me’at — can be built wherever we choose to build it. Or as the Talmud states: “God will dwell in the holy spaces we create, for they are the Temple in miniature.” (Megillah 29a)

Friends, much has been written about how life has changed during the pandemic. Does a day pass without our engaging in a conversation about how “things will be different once this is over?”

We have learned to work, shop, travel, maintain our health, and even pray in different, perhaps better, ways.

Yes, we miss hugging those we love, but overall, many are interacting more often than before — through Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other media.

Weddings of fewer than 20 attendees are now the norm. Zoom shivas have changed how we express our sympathy — perhaps for the better. And perhaps most important, we have learned to create temples in our homes.

Our homes have become sacred places of conversation, interaction, laughter — and yes even conflict. 

The noted author and therapist Rabbi Yisroel Roll observes, “Relationships are no longer based solely on infatuation, or a mutual love of Metallica or Simon and Garfunkel. They are now getting back to basics.”

Talking. Walking. Eating together. Playing cards or board games. Agreeing. Disagreeing. Planning.

It’s as if God has been saying to us, “It’s time to come home.”

Over the last few decades, the world has become so complex. So many have become married to their jobs. Technology has often become a mandatory distraction. More is better.

Yet, despite all the media designed to bring us closer, experts tell us that people are feeling increasingly isolated and lonely.

This leads us to the heart of this week’s Torah portion, which talks about Terumah (gifts) that the Israelites brought to the Mishkan — the Tent of Meeting built around the Ten Commandments.

Our Sages note that the purpose of the project was not to build some towering edifice to reach up to the heavens, but rather to enable God to live with us at ground level.

Says God, “Let them make Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)

Indeed, this verse inspires us to consider that God desires to be with us on Earth, within our daily and mundane travels. And this happens when we provide gifts from the heart. For kindness, care, empathy, patience, compassion and understanding open space for God to enter.

Often, so many regard their homes as places to let off steam, taking out their difficult days on the ones they love. But, when they enter shuls, synagogues or temples, they are on our best behavior — as if God in particular, exists solely within specific places of worship.

However, shouldn’t our best behavior really begin at home?

During Covid, these two domains have merged. So many of us are attending religious services from our homes.

Indeed, our temples and our homes have become one. 

World-wide, more than 2.5 million people have perished due to the pandemic, with about 20 percent of those who have died in the United States. The fact that so many of these deaths could have been prevented will remain as one of the greatest shandas of all time.

But, this time of uncertainty has also brought us closer as human beings and as Jews — from the Temple of Jerusalem to the sacred temples of our homes.

One of my colleagues recently noted, “I have been reminded during the past year why my wife and I fell in love in the first place.”

I feel the same way.

We have faced great challenges, and it will take many years for us to overcome the ensuing anxiety. But haven’t we also reclaimed that which is truly sacred?

We have learned to give more and receive less. We have learned to treasure what we have. We have learned to accept.

Yes, in many ways, God has called us home during the past year, for we have been reminded that we can build and thrive in a smaller temple — a mikdash me’at.

You need not visit Jerusalem, or sit in a pew to create this sacred space. Temples can be built through patience, understanding and acceptance. Temples can be built by releasing past grievances and building new tomorrows. Temples can be nurtured at home.

Your dining room table, your couch, the candles you light, the family you bless. Each parallels a symbol of God’s ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

For our homes are not just places of repose, they are places to embrace life.

Of late, I’ve been using that word "temple" a lot more. For the word does not just refer to Jerusalem or a building with pews.

It is also home.

The word reminds us that God can dwell wherever we make space for God to do so.

It is not always easy. Families and friendships are often challenging. But how we miss them and appreciate them now, after nearly a year of enduring this plague.

Indeed, we have learned to understand and value where our true temples exist.

They exist wherever we clear that sacred and precious space for God to dwell among us. Indeed, there is no need to travel to Jerusalem.

Rather, our temple exists within the space we are sitting in right now.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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