Posted on March 4, 2022 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck
Having received the Torah at Mount Sinai, our people built a sanctuary to carry God’s presence with them on their journey to the Promised Land. How was this possible? What made it possible to bring God – God who is infinite and beyond time and space – into that space?
It was not the beauty of the structure, not the gold and silver, nor the crimson, blue, and purple cloths that invited God’s Presence into the mishkan, the sanctuary. It was the love that flowed from their hearts — their love for God and one another. It was the giving, the generosity of their spirits, the power of kindness and caring that made the mishkan a holy space.
This week, as I read in our parashah how the cloud representing God’s spirit entered the mishkan, I was reminded of a story about the great Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the spiritual path known as Chasidism. I share this story with you now.
The Besht, as he was known for short, would travel among his people, the Jews of a place where many Jews still live today, known as Ukraine. In those days there was no greater honor for a Jewish community than to receive a visit from the holy Rebbe, especially on a holy day.
So, you can imagine just how excited the people of one small town in Ukraine were to hear that the Besht was coming, and that he would join them for Yom Kippur!
As the sun set on the eve of Kol Nidrei, every Jew in town was gathered in the shtiebel, their modest synagogue, to welcome and pray with the Rebbe…but he wasn’t there. Still, the holy day had arrived, and the prayers had to begin, and so they did. Finally, word came that the Rebbe was approaching, but minutes passed and still he did not appear. What had happened? Where was he?
Well, as it turned out, the Rebbe wasn’t late at all. He had arrived at the synagogue right on time but stopped outside the door and refused to enter. When the members of the community found him there, they asked him why he hadn’t entered, and he explained. “There is no room for me in there,” he said.
“But of course there is,” replied the gabbai. “There is a special place of honor reserved for you right by the aron kodesh, the holy ark.” “I understand,” said the Rebbe, “but still there is no room for me.” The people didn’t understand, so the Rebbe explained.
“You see,” said the Rebbe, “words of prayer are coming from the mouths of the people, but they are just words. They have no soul, no heart, no spirit, no love or caring, and so they have no wings. They do not rise up to God. Instead, they fill the room, leaving no room for me or for God.”
My friends, this story reminds us of what our temple and our sanctuary represent. At Temple Beth-El, there is always room — room for every person, and room for God. And the Besht reminds us why this is so. Our prayers here are more than words. They reflect the longing of our hearts and come from the depths of our souls, expressing our love for God, for one another, and for all life.
I mentioned that many Jews still live in Ukraine. As we gather today, they are in need of our prayers, for they are under attack. So let us pray with all our hearts that they be safe from harm and that the war that has come to their land comes to an end, with peace and freedom secured.
Let us pray that all people in all lands will open their hearts to one another in love and friendship, that there may be room for all people to live in peace, with God’s presence dwelling among us.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck