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How Good Are Your Tents, Jacob...Even Now

12/17/2021 10:28:25 AM


Rabbi Steven Folberg


On Wednesday night, we held a Service of Healing, a vigil, if you will, in the CBI parking lot. We wanted to provide an opportunity for expressing and validating the intense emotions that we know so many of you have experienced in the wake of the hate crime that has seriously damaged our sanctuary. 

It was quite dark by the time we began to assemble. Some people brought lawn chairs, others chose to stand. Rabbi Levy and Cantorial Soloist Sarah Avner had put together had a moving anthology of songs and prayers for the occasion, and many in attendance had downloaded the beautiful service to their tablets and cell phones so they could follow along.

Two times during the service, we sang the familiar words of Mah Tovu. The chorus means, “How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!" 

Traditionally these are the first words you say when you walk into a synagogue sanctuary. 

But standing together in the parking lot, not far from the portico that shelters the scorched wooden doors leading into our sanctuary, those words of joy, of entry and welcome had particular power. With the entire entry area cordoned off with yellow, "Do Not Enter" plastic tape, for a moment I felt a kind of bitter incongruity: What was "good" about a sanctuary we could not enter, its welcoming portal disfigured by blind hatred?

Then I remembered a lovely commentary on Mah Tovu. It says that "tents" refers to the sight that greets anyone entering a synagogue sanctuary on Shabbat morning. It's the sight of members of the congregation, getting ready for prayer, lovingly reciting a blessing and wrapping themselves in their tallitot, their prayer shawls, each worshiper inhabiting what looks like… a personal tent!

In this reading, what makes the synagogue sanctuary, the "tents" so good, is the presence of the congregation, each person bringing their individuality to the occasion.

So it was more than fitting, even in the presence of our damaged sanctuary, to sing, "How good!" There was such abundant goodness in that gathering of our bruised but determined spirits, standing in the parking lot, singing with gusto, affirming their love of community as an act of both grief and spiritual resistance to hatred and violence.

It is likely to be quite some time before our sanctuary is usable once again. But now that we are able to offer increasing opportunities for in person Shabbat worship, I hope that you will join us very soon in our temporary, Smith Auditorium worship space. Your presence will bring us increased strength, resilience and joy. Of that I have no doubt.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Steve Folberg

Mon, February 6 2023 15 Sh'vat 5783