Sanctuary. A place of refuge and protection. Places of learning and growth are sanctuaries. Dance clubs where our bodies move to the wondrous pulse of music are sanctuaries. Movie theaters where we release our minds to the wonders, sounds, and sights of things real and imaginary are sanctuaries.
This week’s Torah portion is about the first sanctuary, the Mishkan, the tabernacle. A few weeks ago in the Torah reading cycle the Israelite community received the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. We became a community who knew slavery, redemption, and formed society as a newly liberated community. There were lots of things the community needed and one of them was a place to worship, a place for God to dwell. “וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃,” “Make me for a sanctuary/Mikdash that I may dwell among them,” (Exodus 25:8). The Hebrew root, “shin-chaf-nun” found in the fourth Hebrew word of this verse and in the word Mishkan means something greater than dwelling or place to live. As it states in a comment on this verse in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary this root “indicates a moving, dynamic presence, not one tied to a fixed location.” This is because God’s presence is everywhere.
God’s presence was in the Mishkan. God’s presence is in places of learning. God’s presence is in dance clubs. God’s presence is in movie theaters. God’s presence is in each human being.
And so, like me, like so many of us, God too is weeping over the senseless tragedy that took place on Wednesday in a sanctuary, violating the sanctity of a place of learning, humanity and hope for the future. We cry for the souls taken. We mourn for the parents who will bury their children. We applaud the acts of heroism, great and small, displayed by teachers, school staff, first-responders, and human beings who did the right thing in a moment of chaos.
It is a fact that since the start of 2018 20 people have been killed and 30 people injured in school shootings. This is not okay.
Through our tear-stained cheeks I invite you to join me in lobbying our representatives to enact gun violence prevention legislation. We must work together to support organizations like Do Not Stand Idly By, Moms Demand Action or Every Town for Gun Safety with our dollars, our volunteer service, and our grit.
There are sanctuaries around us and within us. We must work together to strengthen them so that we can all take refuge and find protection.