Posted on March 5, 2022
Parashat Pekudei 5782
Portable Mishkan, HIAS, and Ukraine
Perhaps you have been struck numb by the pictures of the shul at Babi Yar, the shul that was built as a memorial to the deaths at Babi Yar, the beautiful shul at Babi Yar, the shul that perhaps is no longer there, or perhaps badly damaged. I know I have. In the name of denatzifying Ukraine, Vladimir Putin bombed Babi Yar (AKA Babyn Yar).
Between planning for our 100th anniversary, davening in the Engel Sanctuary, and our Torah readings over the past several weeks about the building of the mishkan (desert tabernacle), lately we have been thinking quite a bit about what houses of worship look like. This week, in parashat Pekudei, we read that all the pieces of the mishkan were finished and were brought to Moshe to assemble into the completed sanctuary.
From the description, the mishkan sounds beautiful. Its most important feature, of course, was that it was portable. The Mishkan could be –and was– carried wherever the people of Israel went, through the desert and eventually into the Land of Israel. It remained the primary sanctuary until King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem.
Eventually, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. The primary place of Jewish worship switched from the no longer existent Temple to the synagogue. Synagogues could be –and were– built anywhere and everywhere in the world. Once again Jewish worship was portable. All we need is a Torah and a siddur and we can daven anywhere. As Jews, we take pride in that.
But are synagogues actually portable? Think of that beautiful shul at Babyn Yar that may or may not still stand. Think of our splendid sanctuary. Is either one really portable?
And more importantly, should our places of worship have to be portable? Should we have to plan for temporary stays in the lands where we sojourn?
We know that the answer to that should be no, of course not. And we know that throughout history the answer tragically has been that indeed we do have to plan to be portable.
This is HIAS Shabbat when we consider the plight of refugees the world over and we work towards a world where we do not have to be portable and where no one else does either.