It has been a busy week, finishing the details of building the mishkan. Oh wait, that wasn't me. Bnai Yisrael has finished the mishkan in Parashat Pekudei. I was busy with other things.
Not only does the week's Torah portion end the construction of the Tabernacle, it also completes Sefer Shemot. With Rosh Chodesh this week, it is definitely a time of completion and moving forward. By no coincidence, this week my husband and I are being welcomed into our new position as Rabbinic family at Sephardardic Bikur Holim.
What does the completion of the Mishkan mean? The relationship between the Jewish people and God is changing, as there is a now designated place to serve Him. In the mishkan, we are dwelling together, showing Hashem our devotion through sacrifice and ritual. Mishkan means dwelling and this is where Hashem dwells with us.
But the word מִשְׁכַּן Mishkan is also 'מי שכן', 'whose neighbor?' Just as this special house of God is for Him, one must be mindful of everyone in it. The people in the Mishkan are neighbors, they are a community, serving Him together. And being unkind, ignoring, or rude to one's neighbors, runs counter to the objective of working on a relationship with God.
Sadly, we do not have the Mishkan, or the vessels from it today. It is replaced by synagogues. Synagogue is Greek for 'assembly'. Kal קהל and בית כנסת beit knesset, other words for our modern houses of prayer, have similar meanings. All are a group of people.
The Mishkan was a building of incredible beauty, filled with the holiest artifacts. So are our synagogues! The Mishkan was the place for the most devout prayers. So are our synagogues!
What is the difference between the Mishkan and the synagogue? The people truly regarded everyone around them as a neighbor. God dwelled in the Mishkan in a special way. Clearly this two elements are related.
When we regard everyone affiliated with our synagogue as a neighbor, we create the environment in which Hashem most wants to dwell. Are we a good neighbor to the people sitting near us? Did we warmly wish them a 'Shabbat Shalom' but still respect their prayers and space? Did we make sure that all of our neighbors have plans for lovely Shabbat meals? Did we make sure that our neighbors are well? When a neighbor has been away, have we asked after them? When someone is new to 'the neighborhood' how do we make them feel welcome?
We are not going to easily recreate the vessels or structure of the Mishkan. But every synagogue in the world should be working to replicate the ambiance of 'Whose neighbor?"
For this week's project the girls are working on actualizing this. For example, being kinder to all of the children at synagogue, not just their friends. We also did work on making a physical project.
At this site http://www.hochheimer.net/shira_classes/mishkan%20with%20labels.pdf there is a neat paper Mishkan building project.
But more important than the paper is the love that fills the building!