Jewish Report: Rabbi Adrian M Schell: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Rabbi Schell - Bet David

Parsha in this week’s Jewish Report: Rabbi Adrian M Schell: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775 / 13-14.3.2015 Bet David Morningside

With this Shabbat’s Torah reading, we end the series about the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. In the last weeks, Jews all over the world have studied these instructions and have discussed the meaning of the Mishkan and of the Temple, which replaced the Tabernacle in later times.

Progressive Jews may have added their very own views to these discussions, as they no longer believe in a need for a Temple, a centralized “holy place” for worship and sacrifices, following the prophetic words that God is with us, wherever we are, and that prayers are the offerings God favours most.

Jews have proven over centuries that the covenant with God does not need a Temple. Jews could and can practice Judaism in a meaningful way everywhere in the world.

I can relate to this approach, because I, personally, cannot see any sense in going back to a system that limits our encounters with the Eternal to only one place.

“But tell me one thing Rabbi,” a congregant asked me once, “if you believe in the Temple, why do you support the campaign for an egalitarian Western Wall? Why should Progressive Jews, or Jews at all, pray at the Kotel?”

From a religious point of view, I stick to the position above because I am convinced that Jews don’t need the Kotel to encounter the Eternal. But Judaism is not a religion alone. It is so much more than that. It is a covenant between individuals as well – we are one people – “Am Israel”. We share a common history, common values and a common heritage. We are all connected in an invisible chain from the past to the future – “Le Dor va Dor”.

Our Sages, who, after the destruction of the Temple, transformed Judaism into a religion without the temple cult, did an amazing job. They detached “religion” from the place, but kept the people connected through and to this place. Even though they turned Judaism upside down, they kept Jerusalem as the centre of Judaism. Not only as a place where God should be worshipped, but as the centre of our hope and of our people, giving us strength in the most daunting moments in our history.

Our Torah reading ends with the powerful image of God taking possession of the Mishkan that was erected, “in the view of all the house of Israel”.

It was the centre of the camp, visible to all Israelites, and it was the stronghold of the people, giving them hope and much more of a sense of belonging together.

The Western Wall has always been a symbol of this and is still the central point of the Jewish People. The Western Wall therefore belongs to all Jews, no matter where we are, what we are, or how we pray.

As long as we are all facing Jerusalem, in prayer, song and thought, and sharing our common heritage, we are not losing the bond that connects us as one people – “Am Israel”.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell is the Community Rabbi of Bet David in Morningside.