Like every synagogue in the world, Palm Beach Synagogue is fashioned after the world’s first synagogue.
When the people of Israel entered into the land of Israel some 3,300 years ago, they established the first permanent synagogue in the city of Shiloh, where it stood for 369 years. Only later, when King David entered Jerusalem, did he and his son King Solomon build the Temple on the Temple Mount.
Palm Beach Synagogue just went back 3,000 years to where our (and every) synagogue began.
On our annual trip to the Holy Land, a bit delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we solidified a partnership with our roots. By becoming one with Shiloh, planting trees, committing to support and building exchange programs, we became one as a synagogue.
What is a synagogue and why did G0d command the people to build one?
The Greek word “synagogue” is composed of the “syn” prefix meaning “together,” “unity” or “harmony” (symphony, synergy, synthesis) and the “gogue” suffix connoting “bringing.” In Hebrew, a synagogue is a beit knesset, a “house of assembly,” where people come together in unity and harmony, bringing as one their collective inherent divinity.
In the land of Egypt, where the Israelites were slaves, there was no individuality and thus no need for congregation in unity. When you have no voice, you have no dissension; when you have no rights, you cannot do wrongs; when there is no liberty, there is no liability. In Egypt, synagogues were moot.
When the people left slavery for freedom, God knew that with freedom of choice, freedom of speech and freedom to congregate came the major risk of fragmentation and civil unrest.
If I am free to share my view, and you are free to share yours, what’s to stop my view from clashing with yours? What would be the glue to hold together a highly diverse people?
Unlike some stereotypes, the Jewish nation began as 12 very distinct tribes, with varied sociological, economical, racial, familial and religious backgrounds.
What would unite all of the tribes, which would inevitably grow into more and more branches, and prevent them from splintering off from the united tree of life? The synagogue. The place of assembly. The Divine dwelling.
The original synagogue was called a mishkan, a dwelling for the Divine. God instructed the people to build a dwelling for the Divine, where each individual, regardless of race, creed or religion, could come to unite.
The dwelling also served as an eternal reminder of the Divine that dwells within each and every human being. It was a call-to-action for each person to build his or her individual micro-Divine dwelling to perfect his or her corner of the world.
We partnered with Shiloh to support Shiloh, home to the first Divine Home in the Holy Land. But perhaps more importantly, we partnered with Shiloh to support ourselves, to support Palm Beach Synagogue as a community of united individuals and to support each individual in his or her own personal quest of transforming his or her life into a dwelling within which the sublime is proud to call home.
The need for a common sanctuary is greater today than ever before. When so many conversations, both online and in-person, revolve around things that divide us—politics, health policies, education, finances, race—we need a sanctuary that unites us. That sanctuary is God’s gift to humanity.
If you are ever worried about breaking apart, do one small thing: Build a sanctuary that focuses on the Creator that creates us all.
If you are concerned that the United States is splintering in two, do one small thing: Build a home where the Divine within each one of us can reside.
If you care about life, go back to Shiloh—literally or figuratively—where the prototype for unity was solidified 3,300 years ago.
When we congregate as one, all becomes right.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner is the rabbi of Palm Beach Synagogue.