And in the beginning, G‑d was homeless, and so G‑d asked His people to set Him up with some digs. Where does it say that? Well, nowhere, actually. But it does say that G‑d instructed Moses to tell the people, “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”
Now the question is, was G‑d really homeless? Wasn’t He already dwelling with the people? Why, it was just the other week that we read of the revelation at Sinai, where G‑d came down from heaven to earth. So why suddenly the need for a Sanctuary for Him?
The answer is that there is a fundamental difference between Sinai and the Sanctuary. Sinai represents a revelation thrust upon the people from above. G‑d initiated and activated that encounter. In this experience, the Jewish people were somewhat passive. All the thunder and lightning, physically and spiritually, came at them from on high.
The Sanctuary, however, had to be built by the people themselves. They had to take the initiative. From the fundraising campaign to collect the raw materials needed for the sanctuary, down to the nuts and bolts of construction, the Mishkan was a human-made edifice.
At Sinai the heavens opened for the greatest sound-and-light show on earth, leaving a nation mesmerized and awe-inspired. But they themselves were passive recipients of this unique, never-to-be-repeated gift from above.
To build a Sanctuary took a whole building campaign. Men and women, young and old, everybody rolled up their sleeves. It took weeks and months of hard labor, meaningful contributions by every individual, planning and programming, designing and then actually building a holy house for G‑d. We made it happen. And thereby, it was the people who brought G‑d down to earth.
Apparently it was important for the Jews to appreciate the value G‑d attaches to self-help and to DIY projects of a spiritual nature. It is not good enough to sit around waiting for the extraordinary revelations, those once-in-a-lifetime supernal visits the good L‑rd might bestow upon us. It is necessary for us to create the infrastructure, to take the building blocks in our hands and “make me a Sanctuary.”
To put it simply, are we waiting for G‑d, or is G‑d waiting for us? Who makes the next move?
I met a guy not long ago and, as often happens to rabbis, the discussion turned to religion. He was pretty blunt about it. “Not for me, rabbi,” he said. “If G‑d wanted me to be religious, he’d have made sure I was born in Bnei Brak, or at least into a religious family here.” I told him he reminded me of the comedian who had a terrible fear of flying, and argued that “if G‑d intended man to fly, he’d have given him wings—or at least made it easier to get to the airport!” So he says, “If G‑d wanted me to be an angel, he'd have given me wings too.”
The fact is, G‑d did give us wings. That’s what Sinai was all about. He gave us a dose of revelation, of spiritual shock-and-awe that has saturated us with an eternal capacity to fly high, to touch the divine. But those were just the tools; now we have to learn to fly. We may have been endowed with the potential to develop our connection to G‑dliness, but after Sinai it’s up to us to make it happen and to actually bring our innate power to the fore.
True revelation is rare. While there certainly are those special moments when we witness the unmistakable presence of G‑d in our lives, we cannot wait for lightning to strike. We need to build our personal sanctuaries for G‑d in order to embrace Him and bring Him into our homes and families.
The Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked by his teacher, “Where is G‑d?” He answered, “Wherever you let Him in.”