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    People are the sanctuary – T’rumah

    The Great Synagogue, Sydney

    A famous verse in this week’s sidra tells us v’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham, “Let them make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in their midst” (Ex. 28:8).

    There is a well-known interpretation that “I shall dwell in their midst” means “in the midst of the people”, not merely “in the midst of the sanctuary”. God dwells amidst the builders, not in the building.

    This explains why the most magnificent place of worship is an empty, lifeless shell unless it houses a vibrant, devoted congregation.

    It also explains a personal problem of my own. I have to explain that we have hundreds of visitors coming through the Great Synagogue, Sydney, every week. Most of the visitors are non-Jewish and have never been inside a synagogue before.

    Some, however, are Jewish, generally tourists from other countries. We offer them guided tours at set times, but the tourists frequently arrive on the doorstep at other times and insist that, regardless of our convenience, “We have to see the sanctuary” (it tends to be the tourists from the United States who use the phrase, “the sanctuary”).

    Obviously what they want is to look at the building. It is an impressive heritage building, and it has an impressive ambience and an impressive history. But what these tourists never seem to have much time for (almost always they are leaving the same day or at best the day after) is to meet the congregation and to attend a service or congregational activity.

    Tell them that it is the congregation who are the sanctuary and they will suspect that your intelligence is defective. But the fact is that without a congregation, a synagogue is just a piece of architecture; without human beings, a home is only a house.

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