When it comes to reading the Old Testament, I have for the last few years liked to consider the Jewish perspective. It is, afterall, first and foremost, Jewish scripture. From time to time I will dip into the archives of the Jewish Bible Quarterly looking for perspectives. I also like the website of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. One recent post on the site gives a different perspective on the purpose of a temple. I’m going to include a couple of quotes here, but would really recommend reading Rabbi Sacks’ post to get a clearer picture.
The suggestion is that a temple was required to make it easier for us mortals to feel close to God. That although God can be accessed anywhere, imperfect humans do not always feel that to be the case.
“Why then did God command the people to make a sanctuary at all?
“The people made the calf after Moses had been on the mountain for forty days to receive the Torah. So long as Moses was in their midst, the people knew that he communicated with God, and God with him, and therefore God was accessible, close. But when he was absent for nearly six weeks, they panicked. Who else could bridge the gap between the people and God? How could they hear God’s instructions? Through what intermediary could they make contact with the divine presence?
“That is why God said to Moses, “Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
“What the Israelites needed and what God gave them was a way of feeling as close to God as to our next-door neighbour.” (Rabbi Sacks)
I like the idea of neighbour, though for me my nearest temple is 2-3 hours away. By global standards, that’s still quite close, but there’s not the cosiness of next door.
Rabbi Sacks further suggested that it is the gifts from the people in building the temple elevated them, rather than the fact of the temple itself. This particular section of the address reminded me of the sacrifices made by the early members of the church in building those first temples in Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake.
“The Torah therefore tells us something simple and practical. Give, and you will come to see life as a gift. You don’t need to be able to prove God exists. All you need is to be thankful that you exist – and the rest will follow.
“That is how God came to be close to the Israelites through the building of the sanctuary. … It was the fact that it was built out of the gifts of “everyone whose heart prompts them to give” (Ex. 25:2). Where people give voluntarily to one another and to holy causes, that is where the divine presence rests.” (Rabbi Sacks)
This also reminded me that in attending our temples, we believe we are giving a gift of ordinances to those who have gone before, bringing us closer both to them and to God. In this sense it seems to serve the same purpose as a Catholic Mass and prayers for the dead, for instance, and the sacrifices needed for the building of temples, not dissimilar perhaps to the building of churches and cathedrals throughout Europe over the centuries. I’m also left wondering to what extent the centralisation of finances, planning and design in Salt Lake, might mean we have lost that sense of connection, feeling, with our local church buildings and temples in recent times.
- What do you think about the idea that a temple makes God our neighbour?
- Does geographical distance of the temple play a part in your feelings for the temple?
- Do you feel that giving service in our places of worship brings you closer to God?
- How do you feel about the way centralisation affects our relationship with our places of worship, if at all?
- Does a building help you to access God, or do you find it easier to access God in other ways?