Honorable Mensch-ion

Refilling Our Sanctuaries

Yesterday, I had the honor of being in conversation with Father Gil Martinez, of St. Paul the Apostle, in Los Angeles.

The meeting, organized by the Westwood Rotary Club, focused on “Congregational Participation After The Pandemic.” The sanctuaries of St. Paul The Apostle and Sinai Temple are separated by less than a mile in geographical distance. Up until this past year, our paths had never crossed.

Yet, this year, we quickly realized that the challenges facing both of our communities are in fact similar. How do we refill our sanctuaries? Terms that we never used before 2020 in the religious sphere are now common place: Outdoor services, creative rituals, and live streaming. Yes, we have connected deeper than we thought we ever could, but as Father Gil put it best, “Rabbi, at the heart of it, we are congregational.”

The Torah describes in great detail the clothes that Aaron the High Priest would wear in the Temple. However, the subsequent verse tells us not how the clothes should appear, but how to make the clothes—with the proper kavana, intention. The Shiurei Da’at explains that only Moses knew what the appearance of the clothes would look like. The workers would concentrate solely on the spiritual significance of the clothes.

The purpose of the uniform was simple: lkadsho lkahano li–“to make him a priest unto Me.”

The utility is of the utmost importance. A mundane example: The more broken in a baseball mitt, the more beautiful it becomes in the eye of the beholder. A sacred example: Think of an ancient siddur, Torah scroll, or an ancestor’s tallit–you can smell, feel, and see the sacredness because it was used with the proper intent. One step at a time, our uniforms are being put back on. From watching Shabbat services in pajamas to putting on our Shabbat clothes and entering the synagogue, from sitting in a zoom meeting, to speaking face to face, Father Gil is correct: Congregations are meant for people; let’s find our purpose once again.

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