Friday, March 18, 2011

Pekudei Sermon

I always try to post my sermons soon after delivering them.  Here is the sermon from Parshat Pekudei, given on March 4th.  Better late than never.  I hope you agree.

The Torah portion concludes the Tabernacle construction project with the following words:  “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle….  When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift.  For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.”  (Exodus 40:33-38)

The Tabernacle was the vehicle by which God led the people on their journeys.  In fact the Hebrew word for Tabernacle, mishkan, is related to the Hebrew “to dwell” which is connected to the name for God, Shechinah.  This name is the name that we use when we want to suggest God’s presence is felt.  And all of this is tied to the building of the mishkan, Tabernacle.

The Torah also suggests additional meaning by its choice of words for Moses finishing the work. The Hebrew, vay’khal, means to complete or even to perfect.  By this word choice it draws our attention to the creation account when God finished that first work project: “..the heaven and the earth were finished.”  There is of course meaning to be found in this comparison.  When we build and create, as Moses and the people did with the mishkan, we imitate God and God’s creation.

The rabbis took this connection even further, arguing an even more radical idea.  They taught that creation is in fact incomplete.  That of course is obvious, but they taught that God made it purposely so.  Part of our creative efforts must be to complete and perfect creation, to bring a measure of holiness into our lives and a measure of goodness to the world.

We perfect by creating.  Making or dreaming up something new is the greatest of human achievements.  Albert Einstein said, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”  He also said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created these problems.”

And so the synagogue is the place through which God becomes manifest in the world.  The purpose of the synagogue is that it is a means to an end.  Its purpose is to bring holiness to our lives and goodness to the world.  Long ago the rabbis created the idea of the synagogue out of the destruction of the Temple.  They gave us this place in order to help us complete and perfect creation.

It is a place to gather, learn and pray.  It is a place to heal, comfort and uplift our lives.  Today we must recreate this very same place.  For years we operated on the assumption that everyone feels obligated to the synagogue, that people still feel commanded to affirm their Jewish identity, that people still feel a kinship with all Jews and the State of Israel. 

These obligations can no longer be assumed.  Let’s be honest.  Far more of our congregants are probably at Lifetime Fitness than here.  We must reignite these fires of commitment.  We must bring people back to the one place where they have been able to affirm their identity throughout the generations.  It will not be done by preaching or berating.  It can only be done by walking arm in arm to the synagogue.

In ancient times the alter fires had to be kept burning 24 hours a day.  That requires a lot of work and effort.   A fire that is not fed and stoked soon becomes smoldering embers.  We must realize that we have failed to nurture this fire.

Commitment and obligation must be continually nurtured.  Only that is what will recreate the synagogue.  In truth there are no new creations.  It is all recreating.  That is why whenever we finish a book of the Torah as we do on this Shabbat we say, chazak, chazakh v’nitchazeik—strength, and more strength, let us be strengthened.

We have a lot of recreating to do. Let’s get started.

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