That simple question pertains to matters ranging from mundane to existential and arouses every feeling from curiosity to wonder to intense pain, depending on how connected we feel. For example, why did Nathan Chen fall apart on Olympic ice? He realized that it was Olympic ice and succumbed to the pressure a brilliant career can generate when you’re still only a teenager and you’ve been in the spotlight half your life. A nightmare for him, but I just feel some mild sympathy.
Then there’s the latest American massacre, this time in a high school in Parkland, Broward County, Florida, a more familiar setting than South Korea. The post-shooting ritualistic arguments about “Why?” are too familiar for me to want to rehash. We’ve had, what, 18 mass shootings in 2018, and it’s only mid-February. It takes some determination to not feel numb.
Some students were saved by bullet-proof windows and some by quick-thinking teachers and coaches. At least two adults who died were genuine heroes, Aaron Feis and Scott Beigel. Why was their heroism needed? An individual wanted to kill a lot of people, was able to obtain the means to do so, and was able to carry out his plan. That is the basic reason. On a different level, the answer to “Why?” is that too many Americans feel people are more expendable than guns, and those who don’t are too passive in their opposition. Thus, whatever sanctuary we find from those who want to kill us is likely to be only partially effective and of short duration. [Yes, this is pessimistic. Maybe I’m channeling my father, who was prone to pessimism and whose yahrzeit was yesterday. If so, maybe next week I’ll channel my mother the optimist, whose yahrzeit is a week from tomorrow and who always thought everything would work out.]
Speaking of sanctuary –
In Parashat Terumah this week, we read the very detailed specifications for the sanctuary (Tabernacle, mishkan) the Israelites will build in the wilderness. Aside from practical considerations (e.g., were they really able to obtain all these very specific materials (25:1-7) needed from the Egyptians and lug it all through the chase to the sea?), why have a corporeal sanctuary at all? We read in 25:8,
וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
How can an incorporeal being “dwell” in a building? Isn’t God everywhere? Won’t the building of a sanctuary encourage the people to think of a limited God, first limited in space and consequently limited in effectiveness?
Some commentators, like Rashi, believe the Torah readings over the next few weeks are out of order, that the Golden Calf incident should come first, so that building the Tabernacle is a means of atoning for it. But the amount of detail in the instructions and the tone imply so much more than atonement for one admittedly grievous sin. Doesn’t verse 25:8 make you feel warm and cozy and protected? Even the instructions for building and furnishing have the same air of excitement that anyone building a dream home has. This Tabernacle is the sheltered place where the people and the Lord are especially intimate, and it’s on earth, our territory, not in heaven. It both enables the people to better experience the Lord, and the Lord to get to know, and better understand, these people.
Architecture Puns (selected)
Who did Noah hire to build his boat? An arkitect of course!
I used ‘veranda’ as an expletive. It was a porch choice of words.
The Museum of Bacteria aka the E. Coli-seum.
Clown colleges are usually built in the Bozo-Arts architectural style.
How do statues get rid of sore throats? By gargoyling.
Aspiring HVAC contractors should make sure they have their ducts in a row.
Why did the electrical system in the prison keep malfunctioning? The warden didn’t hire an electrician; he let a conduit.
Plumbers have a multi-fauceted personality.
I refuse to make my own sandwich. I rely on sub contractors.
I was arguing with a construction worker. We were getting bogged down in cementics.
Each of us has an inner room where we can visit to be cleansed of fear-based thoughts and feelings. This room, the holy of holies, is a sanctuary of light. Marianne Williamson
For Mantle, the Yankees’ locker room was a sanctuary, a safe haven where he was understood, accepted and, when necessary, exonerated. Jane Leavy
When you grow up poor, you dream of just having a home, and a bed that’s clean – that’s a sanctuary. Having a really great husband, a child who’s healthy and happy and brings me joy – all of that has been my dream. Viola Davis
I have this sensation of being in flight all the time, but being on stage is like creating a sanctuary in which you can completely lose yourself. The bits of your personality that you keep under wraps in ordinary life, you can let them run free. Florence Welch
My family is my sanctuary. Pierce Brosnan
Cohen is shipwrecked on a desert island for several years. When rescued, he shows his rescuers all the things he has built to make his life comfortable — a hut, a waterwheel, storehouses, tools and even art. The most impressive element is his synagogue — a finely formed building of driftwood and bamboo, with carved doors, pews, candelabra and an ark made from an old chest of drawers. Inside, he proudly displays a Torah scroll he made himself, scratching the Hebrew letters with charcoal, on parchment made from bark.
As the rescuers express admiration for his hard work, artistry and obvious devotion to his faith, he leads them past what appears to be a second, much bigger and even more beautiful synagogue. They goggle with surprise.
“Why did you build a second synagogue? Why on earth would you need two?”
“Oh, yes,” he responds. “That is the synagogue I wouldn’t attend even if you paid me.