|Drasha Rabbi Francois Garai|
Drasha, 17 March 2012
Rabbi Francois Garai
Few years ago, two European communities were confronted by a problem that can be summarized in a Shakespearian way. Their chair person turned to the board and said: to build or not to build, that is the question!
The building process went on and today, we are seated in one of these new synagogues and community centres that blossomed over Europe these last years.
We, who frequently came to the ancient premises of the Liberale Joodse Gemeente, in Jakob Soetendorp straat, we need a moment to realize the change and the continuation. There are so many memories linked to the ancient building: European Region meetings, World Union meetings, Kallot of European rabbis, trips of Bene-Mitzvah and youth groups. We remember its founder: rabbi Jakob Soetendorp zt''l and his voice expressing his opinion with conviction, and sometimes fiercely.
And here we are, in this new and magnificent building, full of light, to express our spirituality in a modern and warm environment.
To build or not to build, this question is the subject of the Parashah which describes the construction of the Ohel Moed.
Quoting King Salomon who asked: Ki haoumnam yéchév Elohim al-haaretz / Can God really dwell on earth? (1 Kings 8:27), Yeshayahou Leibowitz reminds us that God can contract His presence into a space of "one cubit by one cubit", the space between the two staves of the Aron haKodesh and between the two cherubim, facing each other.
God does not need space, God does not need this space in Amsterdam nor our Beith GIL in Geneva. WE need them to know that there are special places where we will be able to meet people, where we will be able to meet ourselves and to meet God.
To meet God?
Do we really mean it?
Let us read the end of parashat Pekudeh.
It is said that velo yakhol Moshe lavo èl Ohel Moèd ki chakhan alav héanan / and Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, oukhevod Adonay male èt hamichkan /and because the presence of Adonay filled the Tabernacle (40:35). Rashi, the French commentator of the 11th Century, deduced from this verse that when the cloud had settled upon it, Moshe could not enter; but when the cloud departed, he could enter and God would then communicate with him. Strange, the presence of God does not allow any communication between God and Moshe. But when God departs, then the connection with Moses is renewed.
Meïr Leibush ben Jehiel Weiser, a Ukrainian commentator of the 19th Century known as the Malbim, counted the verses in parashat Pekudeh. Their number is: 92, which corresponds to the following letters: Tzade (90) Beith (2) or in another set up to: Alef (1) Tzade (90) and Alef (1). Reading these three letters: Alef Tzade Alef, we have ETZE/I will go out, I will leave the place.
Is this saying that God leaves the people of Israel by the time the Ohel Moèd is completed? Do we have to understand that God has to leave the Tabernacle before Moshe can enter into it and be able to listen to God's voice?
This reminds us of meguillat Esther we read last week where God is not mentioned.
Are we not in the same situation than Mordekhay and Esther, and of Moshe?
We would so much like to hear God's voice, as our forefathers at Mont Sinai.
We would so much like to see God's mighty hand delivering prisoners, Jews and non Jews alike, as our ancestors were released from slavery.
70 years ago, many were waiting, and waited and waited until… We have to accept that haKadoch Baroukh Hou is not speaking to us through a voice we can hear.
But even so, we hear A silent voice.
We hear A silent voice when we built synagogues and community centres, in which there are spaces of "one cubit by one cubit", so to meet our fellows human beings as we meet today and to build a Jewish future.
We hear A silent voice, when we act responsively in favour of our brethren and in favour of our fellow human beings.
We hear A silent voice when we understand that God left an empty space for us, so we can take our responsibilities dans le devenir du monde, for the future of our world.
On chapter 39 verse 42, we read: ken assou bené Israel èt kol haavodah / so the children of Israel had done all the work / kol haavodah. Nahmanide, a Spanish commentator of the 13th century, remarks that for work it is not said melakhah as it should be, but avodah, the same word used for the sacrifices and, today, for prayers.
This teaches that those who built the Tabernacle, and we who took part in the construction of synagogues and make them the centre of Jewish life, are compared to the Cohanim who served in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Even if God does not speak to us, even if God was silent during the last centuries, by acting as we do, by meeting as we do today so to build the future of the Jewish people, we are bearing witness of God's presence. And we leave these testimonies to the next generations. For we want them to know that God left all the space for us to act and to continue to be haKadoch Baroukh Hou witnesses.
And notice that at the end of the construction of the Ohel Moed, it is not God who blesses the people for their work, it is Moshe who does so. Vayar Moshe èt kol hamelakhah / And Moshe saw all their work … vayevarèkh otam Mosheh / and Moshe blessed them (39:43). And Arthur Green says: Why Moshe and not God? Because God's own blessing was already given to all that exists, at the very moment of Creation (Sefat Emet p140). This means that, by building these places where people will meet, we add to God's creation and God's blessing is uncovered and renewed through our action.
God, knowing our dedication to be His witnesses, says: ETZE, I will leave the space for them, so they will renew their life and the life of My people.
There is no question as: to build or not to build? We have to build places of meeting and to fill them with Jewish life.
Then God's benediction contained within Creation will overflow again.
May this be our Avodah, our sacred task and may we be the Cohanim of our time. And let Hakadosh Baroukh Hou be in A place, and let us be God's hands and God's voice, for our generation and for the future generations.
HE or may be SHE may answer!