Livestreaming | Giving | Contact Us

March 15, 2024

Building a New Identity

Lisa Rubin

Building a New Identity
Rabbi Lisa Rubin

The Book of Exodus—the second book of the Torah—comes to a close this week. Often called the seminal book of the bible, it is filled with one epic story after the next: Israel’s great escape from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Sin of the Golden Calf. And then, after all this drama, the action comes to a grinding halt. The Israelites move from these adrenaline filled experiences to the meticulous construction of a sanctuary in the desert. As readers, we take in four entire chapters, and hundreds upon hundreds of verses dedicated to this great, tedious building project of the Tabernacle.

Scholars have found it curious that so much space in the Torah would be dedicated to this endeavor especially because the sanctuary was meant to be temporary. We, too, may find ourselves daunted by the exhaustive details of this chronicle, but we also learn a profound truth that lies within the specifics.

While monumental moments may captivate our attention, it is the daily grind, the quotidian rhythms of life, that shape our character and define our purpose. It is within the realm of the repetitive, the ordinary, and the routine that we ultimately discover the essence of our existence. Judaism implores us to seek the sacred within the mundane, to recognize that in the repetition lies the path to transcendence. Our ancestors exemplified this ethos as they toiled day by day, laying the foundation for a sanctuary that would serve as a beacon of divine presence amidst the vast expanse of the desert.

Moreover, the construction of the Tabernacle serves as a testament to the power of collective endeavor. Every Israelite, irrespective of background or skillset, contributed their unique gifts and resources to the monumental task at hand. It is a reminder that true greatness is achieved not through individual prowess alone, but through the collective synergy of diverse talents and contributions. Judaism, with its unwavering belief in the best of humanity, beckons each individual to offer their utmost, to bring forth their unique gifts in service of a greater communal purpose.

Yet, the most poignant revelation lies in God's directive to Moses: "Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." Here, the divine mandate transcends the mere construction of a physical edifice; it speaks to the profound potential for us to connect spiritually. God does not seek to dwell within it-- the confines of a structure-- but among them--the people themselves. God will show up if they put in the work and persevere.

Just as our ancestors built day after day and came together as a community, so too did our students in the Center for Exploring Judaism this past year. By repetitive study and practice, they cultivated an adherence to the teachings of Judaism and the norms of our community. They put in the work to build their own monuments in their lives and in their hearts. They embraced the ancient legacy of the Tabernacle as their own. And they chose Judaism.

Tonight we will honor them and welcome them. We will bear witness to the enduring power of choice and commitment.

A record 103 individuals converted to Judaism this past year in our Center. Amidst the backdrop of uncertainty and tragedy, we extend our deepest admiration and gratitude to those who joined us. Your decision to embrace Judaism, to forge new bonds of community and covenant, serves as a beacon of hope and resilience in a Jewish world fraught with challenges. Just as the Tabernacle stood as proof positive of what our community could do, you stand as an assurance that Judaism will not disappear into the dark night of despair.

People who know my specific job is have asked me, “What are you doing all day since October 7th? Who would want to become Jewish NOW?” Yet, in the face of unprecedented anti-semitism for most of us, you have chosen not to falter but to flourish, to seize the opportunity for growth and connection. Your steadfast resolve in the wake of tragedy is a testament to your hopefulness. Your indomitable spirits inspire us. We stand in awe of your courage, your resilience, and your unwavering commitment to Judaism. Thank you for the gift of yourselves.

As we celebrate this momentous occasion—103 new Jews coming into our community-- we are reminded that the journey of faith is not a solitary endeavor but a collective pilgrimage towards a shared vision of renewal. Together, let us continue to build, to learn, and to grow, forging a future illuminated by the eternal flame of possibility.

We have a wonderful team of rabbis in the Center for Exploring Judaism so I’d like to call up my colleagues who do this sacred work with me: Rabbi Darcie Crystal and Professor Sivan Rotholz. Rabbi April Davis, who continues to teach for us remotely, is joining us online.

Many new Jews are also joining us online because they are spread out all over the nation. If you’re joining remotely, we invite you to rise. For those in our sanctuary, we invite you to the bima at this time.

While they’re walking up to the bima:

We will read tonight from parsha Pekudei this evening, the end of the book of Exodus. The work of constructing the Tabernacle is completed; Moses receives the command to anoint its vessels and to anoint Aaron and the priests. 

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the transcript above.