Sunday, February 18, 2018

Can We Make Our Sacred Spaces Safe Again?

This past week, we from parashat Terumah. Three weeks ago we read about the profound and transformative experience of receiving the Torah at Sinai. Then the work moved from the sacred to the mundane with Mishpatim. In Mishpatim we transitioned to the laws ben adam l’chavero, from the mitzvot between us and God to the mitzvot between us and our fellow human beings. 

This past week, with Terumah, we make yet another transition to the instructions for building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle will serve as the sacred space for encountering God during the rest of the Israelites' journeys in the wilderness. 

It begins with, “Tell the Israelites to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved” (Exodus 25:2). The concept here is that the Tabernacle can only be built through generosity. Then a little later on the text tells us, “V’asu li Mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham, let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). This statement can be found in many of our sanctuaries around the world.

I have always read this passage as a mitzvah to build beautiful, inspiring spaces where we have the potential to encounter the Divine. This is in part why so many of our sanctuaries, including our very own at RTR, are designed to create a sense either of God’s transcendence or God’s immanence. 

But in light of recent and not so recent tragedies, I find myself wondering if there is something else going on in the text. “Let them build Me a sanctuary, a sacred and safe space,” so that I may dwell among them. Maybe the text is telling us, if we do not feel safe, if we do not feel secure, what hope do we have to feel a connection to the Holy?

Today many parents have dropped off their children at school. They give them a kiss, and they walk away worried they may not see their children at the end of the day. What chance do children have to learn if they are constantly looking over their shoulders because they do not feel safe?

Our sanctuaries are not sanctuaries, and it is time to do something about it. But many of us feel powerless. The consensus is there is nothing that can be done. But this is a false narrative. There is much we can do. 

We can contact our elected representatives and demand action. Don’t send an email. Don’t sign a petition. Pick up the phone and call them. They take note when their constituents call. You can reach US representatives by calling 202-225-3121 and US senators by calling 202-224-3121.

The Religious Action Center, the URJ’s political arm, is involved in providing a progressive response to governmental action.

There are also organizations doing work on the ground that can always use support as well.

No one action will prevent another Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Parkland. But inaction certainly will enable these tragedies to keep happening. If we want our sanctuaries to become sanctuaries again, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get back to doing the hard work of building a sacred space so God can dwell among us and none shall be afraid. And until that day, never give up the fight. Change comes slowly, but change will come.