Fully a third of the Book of Sh’mot which we complete this Shabbat is given over to the building of the Tabernacle. In case anyone feels bored at all the architectural detail, they should take to heart a comment by the Vilna Ga’on.
The students of his Bet Midrash once objected to a certain preacher giving a d’rashah (Torah exposition) because his speech would take away some of the time that they wanted to devote to study.
Facing the revolt, the Ga’on cited the Torah text, “These are the accounts of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle)” (Ex. 38:21). He said that the Mishkan got its name because God’s presence (the Sh’chinah) dwelt in it. Similarly, a Bet Midrash is so called because d’rashot are given there. “If there are no d’rashot it isn’t a Bet Midrash”, he said. “The regular program of study needs to be supplemented by occasional public addresses”.
We can go further and add that the Temple in Jerusalem (may it be rebuilt in our days) is called the Bet Mikdash, the sanctuary, because its atmosphere is kodesh, holy. Just as the students of Vilna took heed of the Ga’on’s words, so should we. We should make sure that any religious venue is imbued with the right spirit.
A synagogue without spirituality, a study centre without study, a sanctuary without sanctity, will defeat its purpose regardless of how beautifully the walls are decorated, how decorous the people may be, how comfortable the seats are, and how well the treasurer balances the books.