Tabernacle architecture reflects divine will for Jews to engage the outside world, Chicago rabbi says

Tabernacle architecture reflects divine will for Jews to engage the outside world, Chicago rabbi says
Arch of Titus depiction of the Menorah/Wikipedia

Although popular misconception is often that Jews don't missionize, there are Old Testament indications that observant Jews are supposed to dialogue and engage those who are outside of the community.

In a mini-sermon during the Torah reading today at the modern Orthodox synagogue Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation, Rabbi Asher Lopatin drew on biblical verses about Temple sculpture and construction as a metaphor for how observant Jews should live their lives.

The weekly Torah portion -- or parsha -- of Terumah, which covers Exodus 25:1 - 27:19, addresses the construction by artists Bezalel and Oholiab (under Moses' direction) of the Tabernacle.

Why, Rabbi Lopatin wondered aloud, does one of the parts of the weekly portion juxtapose the construction of the menorah, or iconic candelabrum of Arch of Titus fame, with passages about all of the sockets, bolts, and other supports that held up the larger Tabernacle?

The answer, according to the rabbi, is that there is a dichotomy at play. The branches of the Menorah literally reach out from the central shaft and illuminate a larger space, which is symbolic of the divine charge to Jews to engage with the world at large. That may include wrestling with some challenges and temptations, and even being a "light unto the nations."

But at the same time, the rabbi continued, it's necessary to have a firm grounding within the community, which is where all of the comparatively less sexy nuts and bolts enter the picture.

It's important to both be a part of the community and to subject the community to mature and healthy criticism at the same time -- which is to say that tabernacles and temples of every sort need both illuminating, externally-oriented light sources and central, weight-supporting columns and cornerstones that keep the entire operation sturdy and upright.

Filed under: Israel, Judaism

Tags: Hebrew, sculpture

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