It’s not the gold, silver or the fine cloths; the word which occurs most frequently in the detailed description of the Sanctuary which occupies the next several weeks of readings from the Torah, is the simple verb ‘make’.
‘Make me a sanctuary and I shall dwell among them,’ God tells Moses. God intends to live not in it, but among them; the holiness lies in the making and with those who make. Though the Torah records the completion of the sanctuary, in truth the work is anything but finished.
We live in a world full of cruelty, some inflicted deliberately, some through neglect. Too often life itself, people, nature, the very earth is measured almost exclusively in terms of utility. In this desacralized age, every act of kindness, generosity, respect, neighbourliness, connection and creative imagination is part of the making of the sanctuary.
During the week I thought about person after person I know in those terms:
– You’re a healer; you try to ease pain and help people live at peace with their bodies.
– You teach in your spare time. I remember when you took that noisy group of teens outside at twilight and said ‘Just look,’ and they fell silent watching the first stars.
– You sent me pictures of you and friends planting trees in a neighbourhood project in Uganda.
To my mind, every one of them is helping make this world holy, in very ordinary, very special ways.
There is also the extraordinary. I watched the wonderful programme on the seven portraits of Holocaust survivors commissioned by Prince Charles, who spoke movingly about the project. One of those whose picture was painted was Anita Wallfisch, who went to the same school in Breslau as my father. The programme told something of the horrors through which each of the seven had passed. But what it revealed most deeply was their remarkable attitude to life: the inner resilience, the determination to create a new family, to do good: ‘Hate? No; I don’t hate. I try to be kind to everybody…’
This project will contribute its profound and unique dignity to the marking of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s seventy years of reign and service on the throne.
There is also the painful and wretched. I skimmed many hurt or angry reactions to the report by Amnesty branding Israel as Apartheid, a term I don’t agree with. It brought instantly to mind all the bigotry, wrongs, rights, pain, fear, injustice, misery and seemingly hopeless intractability of the situation and the accounts of suffering I have personally listened to from many sides. ‘Use your energy,’ I was advised, ‘supporting those, like The Bereaved Parent’s Circle, or The Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage (CCECH), who’re making connections, trying to bring healing, teaching and living the Torah of understanding, creating the basis in civil society for when a just resolution will finally come.’
We must try not to lose faith. The tasks of making the world whole and holy lie before us. They call to us from every part of the globe and every sphere of life with unmistakeable urgency. There’s nothing especially pious about them. What they need is our goodwill and commitment. What they don’t need is our indifference.
Who may contribute to building God’s sanctuary? ‘Whoever’s heart prompts them to give,’ says the Torah. Which means, explained Rebbe Avraham of Slonim, ‘Whoever is prompted to give from their heart.’