20 December 2010

Build Thy House

from Proverbs Twenty-Four
"Through wisdom is a house built and by understanding it is established.  And by knowledge are the chambers filled with all precious and pleasant riches."

The Jewish people, for more than two thousand years, have placed learning and the attainment of knowledge at the center of the community.  This can be seen in synagogue architecture from the earliest days of the post-Second Temple period, where it is evident that the place of the Torah is one of the central foci of the building's design and function.  That physical representation is therefore made manifest in the ritualization of learning and the subsequent lessons drawn from that knowledge.  In the morning prayers, for instance, moments after one awakes, one is reminded of the relationship between knowledge and action:  honoring one's parents; carrying out acts of loving-kindness, arriving early for study in the morning and in the evening; welcoming guests; visiting the sick; celebrating with the wedding couple; accompanying the dead to their burial; praying with sincerity and ensuring peace among your fellow human being.  And the study of Torah is equal to them all.

The Sages were clear and confident in their methodology.

As I reflect on our synagogue community's growth in the past five years, I consider the centrality that learning, that sincere prayer, and that acts of loving-kindness play in the support and sustenance of our buildings.  I recently heard a synagogue leader reflect upon the large amount of what she termed "intellectual capital" in Brooklyn these days, and how so many people who are the guardians of such capital find themselves increasingly involved in Jewish life.  This is, unquestionably, a good thing.

We live in challenging times, no doubt, and as citizens of a nation struggling to find its way in a world of diminishing resources, challenges to our national security, and fundamental questions about the values and social ethics of our country and its history, our community, with its unique understanding of history and destiny, has innumerable resources to contribute.

Most fundamental:  the centrality of learning with an ethical mandate to make that learning come alive in acts that can redeem the world. 

"Prepare thy work without and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards, build thy house."

Ever cognizant of the two places we live--in the public domain and in the particular expressions of our people and our culture, we are twin-builders, twin-redeemers, of the home we build as Americans and the home we build as Jews.

For all the ink spilled in the last quarter century trying to figure out ways to engage Jews in new and  inventive ways, we would do well to focus on the sure-fire fundamentals of our sacred continuity:  Learning and the actions we take as the result of developing a more enlightened mind.

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