“Asu li mikdash-Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) Thus begins one of the first creative acts undertaken by the Israelites once they are in the desert wilderness. God tells Moses to tell the Israelites to “bring me gifts,” a t’rumah whose root comes from the word to elevate. Perhaps another way of reading this is that the Israelites are asked to lift up their offerings to God, as they prepare to use these very offerings to build the Mishkan, the portable desert sanctuary.
What does sanctuary mean to you? To me it is a place of safety and refuge, where we can elevate our gifts in the presence of others and in the presence of God. For some, sanctuaries are simply sacred religious spaces. For others, that place of refuge is a concert hall where their souls are elevated through beautiful music. For some that sanctuary is the classroom, where their minds are opened and elevated through the pursuit of knowledge. No one should be afraid when they enter their sanctuary.
However, in recent months our sanctuaries have been defiled and turned into places of carnage. A music venue in Las Vegas–58 shot and killed. A church in Sutherland, Texas-26 shot and killed. A high school in Parkland, Florida-17 shot and killed. In these three most recent and notable mass shootings, more than 100 innocent lives-men, women, and children-have been gunned down. The sanctuaries we have built for refuge have become chambers of terror and violence.
It is beyond comprehension that mass shootings are the new normal. Is this really the best we can do? Is this really the best congress can do? Of course, nothing will ever eradicate all incidents of gun violence, but is it really the case that bright, thoughtful people are unable to find ways to create sensible legislation that will increase gun safety and reduce gun violence?
I want the sanctuaries we build to be places of safety and refuge. I want my children to go to school without fear. I want to live in a country where people can go to a concert, or a night club, a synagogue or church without fear. Each new attack, each potential threat that falls through the cracks creates more fear. That is why we must respond with love, resolve, and outrage.
Tonight, once again, I will refer to the folder of supplemental readings that respond to this week’s horrific tragedy and choose what seems appropriate. I will offer prayers because that’s what we do on Shabbat. However, when Shabbat ends, I need to act even though I don’t yet know that that act of protest looks like. Prayer can provide comfort, but action is necessary for change. If you have ideas of what action looks like, please share them with me.
Please refer to these resources provided by the Union for Reform Judaism,
and if you or your child is having a difficult time trying to comprehend events from last week, please reach out to me. We will talk, I will listen, we will cry, and we will respond.
Lastly, below you will find a powerful prayer that speaks to this day, written by my colleague, Rabbi Joe Black and delivered yesterday morning at the Colorado State House.