"And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
I visit a variety of houses of worship in my job. I’ve visited synagogues, churches, mosques, and temples across the U.S. and Israel, in major cities and small towns, on military bases and health care centers. I love seeing the stained glass, frescoes, statues, artwork, and intricate painting on ceilings and walls. I appreciate the way art is brought to holy items and how hiddur mitzvah, the concept of infusing beauty when fulfilling an obligation or holy act, is demonstrated in each religion. Houses of worship are meant to be beautiful, reverent spaces.
Our Torah portion for this week, Terumah, focuses on building the tabernacle, a dwelling space for God. There are exact details on the length and height, the type of wood, metal, and fabric that needs to be used for each item. The tabernacle must be built according to God’s instructions, as it is the place where Moses and God will meet. Our faith communities feel a similar pull towards detail and exact instruction when creating our houses of worship. These are more than meeting rooms, classrooms, offices, and gather spaces. They are holy spaces where people will interact with the Divine. Every detail matters.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed another sobering physical detail at the houses of worship I visit – the presence of security measures. Do I have to ring a bell to get in or is there an armed guard at the door? Must I wear a visitor’s pass? Are there cameras? Metal detectors? I find myself surprised when I can simply walk into a house of worship and ask to meet with someone from their leadership team. Where is the security, I wonder?
Security has long been a major issue for Jewish communities throughout the world, and that vulnerability has now become part of our American Jewish reality as well. We are familiar with the horrific events in synagogues, churches, and mosques, ranging from vandalism to deathly violence. Our beautiful, sacred spaces are not feeling as safe as they once did. Security systems, armed guards, and metal detectors are seemingly at odds with hiddur mitzvah – they don’t feel beautiful. How can we change that? How can we transform these unfortunately necessary items that are a result of well-founded fear into tools that allow us to comfortably gather in sacred space, allaying fear so we can focus on meeting with God?