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Sinai or sanctuary?



Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul

Now the question is: Was G-d really homeless? Wasn’t He already dwelling with the people? Why, it was just the other week that we read of the Revelation at Sinai and the Ten Commandments, where G-d came down from heaven to earth. So, why suddenly the need for a sanctuary for Him?

The answer is that there is a fundamental difference between Sinai and the sanctuary. Sinai represents a revelation thrust upon the people from above. G-d initiated and activated that encounter. The Jewish people themselves were somewhat passive. All the thunder and lightning, physically and spiritually, came at them from On High.

The sanctuary, however, had to be built by the Jews. From the fundraising campaign to raise and collect the raw materials needed for the sanctuary down to the nuts and bolts of construction, the Mishkan was a man-made edifice.

At Sinai, the heavens opened for the greatest sound and light show on earth, leaving a nation awe-inspired. But they were passive recipients of this unique, never-to-be-repeated gift from above.

To make the sanctuary took a whole building campaign, involving months of hard labour, meaningful contributions by each individual, planning and programming, designing and then actually building a holy house for G-d. We made it happen. And so, it was the people who brought G-d down to earth.

Apparently, it is not good enough to sit around waiting for those once–in-a-lifetime supernal visits the Good L-rd might bestow upon us. It is necessary for us to create the infrastructure, to take the building blocks in our hands and make a sanctuary.

To put it simply, are we waiting for G-d or is G-d waiting for us? Who makes the next move?

I once met a guy and, as often happens to rabbis, the discussion turned to religion. He was pretty blunt. “Not for me, rabbi. If G-d wanted me to be frum, he’d have made sure I was born in Bnei Brak.” I told him he reminded me of the comedian who had a terrible fear of flying and argued: “If G-d intended man to fly, He’d have given him wings – or at least made it easier to get to the airport!” 

But G-d did give us wings. That’s what Sinai was all about. He gave us a dose of revelation that has saturated us with an eternal capacity to fly high, to touch the divine. But those were just the tools; now we must learn to fly. After Sinai it’s up to us to bring our innate power to the fore.

True revelation is rare. While there certainly are those special moments when we witness the unmistakable presence of G-d in our lives, we cannot wait for lightning to strike. We need to build our personal sanctuaries for G-d, to embrace Him and bring Him into our homes and families.

The Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked: “Where is G-d?”

He answered: “Wherever you let Him in.”


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