In the Synagogue
Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )
The command to build the tabernacle (the precursor to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem) is given in a slightly strange way: "Make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within you." It would seem to make more sense to say, "Make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within it." This small distinction draws our attention to an important issue.
The Sages explain: the Temple is not a glorified granny flat. It is not a home away from home for God. Obviously so. God does not need us to build Him a place to reside in this world; He already resides everywhere. On a deeper level, though, the Torah is saying that the Temple is not somewhere where we can put God out of the way. It would be all too easy to build a Temple, in order that God can reside within it. It would be very convenient to compartmentalize God. Let me put Him in the Temple and there I will worship Him, speak to Him, and have a relationship with Him. But in the rest of my life, I will not.
I am always amazed that it has become the norm for Jewish men to cover their heads in a synagogue. Why is God any more inside a synagogue than He is on the street? Do we not believe in an infinite God Who is everywhere? So why the distinction between synagogue and elsewhere? I think that the reason might be that if we can confine God to the synagogue, then outside the synagogue, we can live our lives however we want. If we define a place where God is, by so doing, we also define a place where God isn't. And that's very convenient.
The Torah is saying that to make a Temple is not to take God out of our day to day lives, but to help bring Him in. The purpose of a Temple is that God should dwell within you. If we come to perceive Him as dwelling within it, we are missing the point.
It is the role of a synagogue to inspire us to a relationship with God. It is our role to allow that inspiration to lift us, even after we have returned to our day-to-day lives. If a synagogue does not inspire us, there is a problem with the synagogue. But if the inspiration lasts only as long as we are in the building, there is a problem with us.