In Parashat Terumah, we learn about the requirements for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), some of which are the origins of a number of the features found in our synagogues including the menorah, ark and bimah.
Even though we associate the elements of the Mishkan with our places of worship, there are some pieces that were used in the Mishkan that are present in our homes, our dwelling places today, including the table of meeting. Today, we generally gather around the table to talk, or to eat, and there’s usually talking involved whilst eating, anyway. The Mishkan also contains several other structures or elements that are basic to any house today – walls, curtains, covers, partitions.
We don’t naturally associate the Mishkan with our houses and homes, however the structures we live in do represent versions of the Mishkan in our lives. After all, the home is our Mishkan, our very own sanctuary.
The Mishkan that was carried in the desert was finally settled in the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Second Temple was destroyed, the synagogue, and later, the home eventually became a substitute, albeit, a more subdued version, of the Mishkan.
We acknowledge that many of our religious practices and occurrences take place in the synagogue. However, we don’t spend most of our time in the synagogue, but rather in our homes. Therefore, the home has become another representation of the Mishkan. How often have we heard the home being referred to as the sanctuary in which the family lives?
Just as the Mishkan represented the centre of Jewish existence, so too does the home represent the centre of our Jewish existence today. What we do or don’t do in our homes, reflects our religious lives more than we anticipate. At home we feel, well, at home.
We should strive to be consistent with the beliefs and behaviours we display in the public eye as well as those we do at home. If the home is our Mishkan, our sanctuary, then surely it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we behave in a manner appropriate with that notion.
However, we also know that in general, what you do at home is not necessarily seen by the wider community. For some, as long as you can brag about how good a person you are at the next social event, tell people how much money you give to tzedakah, how much Torah you’re learning, who cares what you do at home?
Yet, changing what we do at home should be in support of a wider purpose and vision. Surely what we practise at home will lead to how we live our lives outside the home, in keeping with the principles of Tikkun Olam – repairing oneself first, then our community and then the world.
Our rabbis teach us that the goal of building the Mishkan is not merely to create a House for God, but to sanctify a place for God within the people. Therefore, each individual should personally strive to make their home a home where God feels welcome, as if it were God’s home.
Just as each person was inspired to contribute towards the building of the Mishkan; “…you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:2), so too should each member of the household be encouraged to feel moved and contribute towards that house, thereby making the home a true reflection of the gifts and values of all who dwell therein.
Let us strive to find the strength and insight to make our homes our very own Mishkan. A strong foundation that not only can we be very proud of, but that we can also seek out when we look for guidance and inspiration in modelling our lives and legacies.
Rabbi Sam Zwarenstein