Rabbinic commentary suggests it was called the tabernacle of the testimony because it was evidence that God had forgiven the people after their sin in making a golden calf. Though they had sinned, they remained God’s people. Likewise, when Moses broke the tablets of the Ten Commandments, God gave the people two new tablets. Though Israel had sinned, the Decalogue still belonged to them.
Clearly and unambiguously the Talmud asserts, Af al pi shechata, Yisrael hu – “A Jew who sins is still a Jew” (Sanh. 44a). It is a remarkable expression of humanity and tolerance. Human beings all sin from time to time: “There is no one so righteous upon earth as to do good always and never sin” (Kohelet 7:20).
Not that sin is innate and inherent; in Jewish thinking, as opposed to classical Christianity, a person sins because of occasional carelessness, not because it is human nature to sin. But having sinned, no one is beyond redemption. God’s arms are always open to receive the penitent sinner. And even though a person’s penitence may be long delayed, the name of Jew is not forfeited.
It is a good thought with Pesach only a few weeks away. However far we have drifted from Judaism, however grievously we have let the side down, the thought of Pesach acts as an inescapable summons to come back home. The wicked son is welcome at the seder.
Just as the ancient Israelites were still given a tabernacle despite their sin, so the person who has sinned has a place in the synagogue.
Just as the Ten Commandments were not lost for ever when the golden calf was made, so a Jew who tries other ideologies is not turned back from the community of the commandments.