Emanuel Synagogue

Building our sanctuary


This week we read the double parashah Vayakhel and Pekudei. It is also Shabbat Hachodesh, the Shabbat when we usher in the month of Nissan and the festival of Pesach. The Torah portions this week read like a manual for designers and architects, as the two nominated artists are instructed about the building of the mishkan, the tabernacle; its furniture and ritual objects. For avid watchers of home renovation shows, people passionate about architecture and design, this is a riveting portion but for many others it is a series of measurements and we can get lost in a maze of cubits and materials. But the rabbis of our tradition did not merely read the surface of the portion, they looked deeply within and found layers of meaning and inspiration in the most minute of details.

One of the most beautiful teachings of the portion is about the cherubim the artists are instructed to design and place above the entrance to the mishkan. They note that the cherubim are to face towards one another, built looking into each other’s eyes. The rabbis saw no coincidences, only lessons and from this they teach that the cherubim face each other to remind us that we must always look into the eyes of those we encounter, that when we enter our sacred spaces, we do not merely look for the Divine in the heavens, we seek it out in one another. The faces of those we encounter reflect the holiness within and it is our imperative to look towards those around us and respond to their needs: celebrate their joys, sit with them in their pain and connect in whatever way we can. Interestingly, for much of the past year our only encounters in the synagogue were with the eyes of the people we met, as our protective masks covered the rest of our faces. We were forced to look deeply into the eyes of others, to turn towards them and focus and concentrate in a different way. Now the masks have been removed, we are called by this portion to remember the lessons of those times, to turn to one another, look into each other’s eyes and truly see the person before us. 

There are many in our community and congregation who are crying out to be seen, to be understood and for us to care and reach out to them. This Shabbat has been designated as Infertility Awareness Shabbat. There are many people in our community who choose not to have children, but for others the struggle to have a child very real, very present and can be a very painful journey. One in six people seeking to have a child will have struggles and difficulties. For many, their pain is very private, they suffer without the support and love of community; it can be hidden journey with endless rounds of treatments, losses and unanswered questions. Some feel alone, unsupported and isolated. Our challenge as a community is to look and see those who are struggling, not to ask intrusive questions, make comments about when a couple may have a child, or even ask if a person has children. Some are comfortable to speak about their struggles, but for others there is so much emotion, they may wish not to talk about it. We are called upon to create safe spaces where people can find support, love and comfort, especially in those times when there is loss, hopes shattered. To enable those on this journey to know we are there, open to talk but also ready to sit in silence. To create a space where it is safe to be, where they will not be asked questions they do not want to answer, they will not hear flippant comments about having children, and instead, create the space for people to lead us to talk or not, to keep the conversation private or to share it with us.

The theme of this Infertility Awareness Shabbat is “creating space” As we read these Torah portions about creating sacred, holy space in the mishkan, we are called upon to do the same in our congregations. To face one another like the cherubim, to understand one in six of the people in our congregation seeking to have children will be struggling and to build our sanctuary as a safe haven of community and holiness where we can sit together in loss and grief, where we can be together in support and love and where we can help to provide hope, comfort and friendship.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio


Emanuel Synagogue
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025

Contact Us

p: 02 9389 6444

e: info@emanuel.org.au

Shabbat Times

Parashat Beshalach
Shabbat, January 30, 2021
17th of Sh’vat, 5781

Candle Lighting
Friday, January 29 2021  7:44PM

Motzei Shabbat 8:20PM

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