We have been experiencing a wonderful example of textual convergence, as both the weekly Torah portions and our readings in the Land Beyond Torah class describe our people’s most holy building projects.
On recent Shabbat mornings, we have been reading about the building of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary our biblical forebears constructed in the desert. Meanwhile in Land Beyond Torah (Thursdays, 11 am) we have been reading about the construction of the Beit ha’Mikdash, Solomon’s Holy Temple. A harmonic convergence!
When Solomon dedicates the Temple, he prays it will be a locus not merely for the prayers of the Israelites, but of all people. With hands outstretched and palms facing upward, he declares, “And also to the foreigner, who is not from Your people Israel … and comes to pray toward this House, may You hearken in the heavens … so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name” (1 Kings 8 41-43). The word Solomon uses for “foreigner” is nochri, a non-Israelite.
The prophet Isaiah, centuries later, expresses a similar sentiment. Using the same Hebrew word, he speaks of those foreigners as “joining with the Lord” and holding fast to the covenant. “I will bring them to My holy mountain and let them rejoice in the My house of prayer…for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56 6-7). Many commentators reasonably assume that Isaiah is referring to proselytes who have converted into the religion of Israel.
In either case, the Holy Temple is meant to be an open place. Much of our sacred literature is clear about this. God, abiding in that holy space, may accept any human being’s sincere prayer.
Houses of worship ought to be willing to embrace … anyone. Regardless of one’s background, the synagogue should be a house, a home, a sanctuary, and a community for all.
Let this be our goal. May EHNTJC – ourholy place – be known as a positive place, an accepting home, where all sincere prayers are appreciated and where love for all abides.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill