“ זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים – Meriting the Broader Jewish Community”
by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald
In this week’s parasha, parashat Terumah, we read of the commandment to build a Tabernacle, a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.
The Torah, in Exodus 25:8 states, וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם , and they shall make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.
The verse does not say, “Make for Me a sanctuary so that I will dwell in it.” After all, G-d does not need a sanctuary since His Divine Presence fills the entire world. As the author of the Sefer Ha’Chinuch explains, the sanctuary was not intended to serve as a dwelling place for G-d, but as a setting where human beings might receive the spiritual inspiration conducive to the proper worship of G-d. The ancient Tabernacle, thus served as a place for the Israelites to focus their spirituality.
The Tabernacle, known in Hebrew as the מִּשְׁכָּן –“Mishkan,” a dwelling place, was a temporary portable sanctuary that the Children of Israel built from wood, cloth and precious metals, which could be set up and dismantled as they traveled for forty years through the wilderness.
After entering the Promised Land, a more permanent Tabernacle was built in Gilgal, which lasted for 14 years. Later, a structure partly built of stone was erected at Shilo, which served as the sanctuary for a period of 369 years. For the last 57 years before Solomon’s permanent Temple was erected on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Ark was moved first to Nob and then to Gibeon.
The commandment to build a Temple in Jerusalem is derived directly from the commandment to erect a temporary Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25:8). There is, however, no direct commandment to build synagogues or local houses of worship. Yet, because of the striking similarity between the temporary sanctuary, the permanent sanctuary in Jerusalem and the local synagogues and houses of worship, the rabbis derived the requirement to build local houses of worship. The proof-text for all houses of worship is the verse from parashat Terumah, “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.”
The Zohar in parashat Naso 4, states that every synagogue in the world is known as a מִקְדָּשׁ —“Mikdash,” a sanctuary.
The Talmud, in Megillah 29a, cites the verse in Ezekiel 11:16, in which G-d states that He, G-d, would serves as a מִקְדָּשׁ מְעַט —Mikdash M’at, a miniature Temple in the lands where they, the Israelites, dwell. Rabbi Isaac explains that these “miniature Temples” are houses of prayer and houses of study.
Because of the distinct parallel between the Tabernacle and synagogues, many rules governing proper behavior in the great Jerusalem Temple, also apply to local synagogues and houses of study to ensure their sanctity. The Jerusalem Talmud in B’rachot 5:1 cites Rabbi Pinchus in the name of Rabbi Hoshaya, who says that one who prays in a synagogue is likened to one who brings a pure מִנְחָה —Mincha sacrifice.
It is specifically because of the heightened sanctity of the synagogue that Jewish tradition considered it a deed of great merit to help build or support the building of synagogues. Rabbeinu Bachya, in his book Kad Ha’kemach goes so far as to state that one who builds a tiny part of the synagogue structure, even a single wall in a synagogue, or even bangs in a single nail for the sake of the synagogue, achieves great merit.
Aside from the obvious similarities between building a local synagogue and building the great Temple in Jerusalem, another factor plays a key role in the mitzvah of building a synagogue. This factor is known in rabbinic literature as זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים —“Zee’kuy ha’Rah’bim,” bringing merit to the masses.
The principle of זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים plays an important role in Jewish life. So great is the regard for communal activists that congregations throughout the Jewish world declare weekly in their Sabbath prayers, כָל מִי שֶׁעוֹסְקִים בְּצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר בֶּאֱמוּנָה , blessed are those who render service for the community in good faith, may the Al-mighty give them their just rewards.
Many mitzvot fall under the rubric of זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים (meriting the masses).Not only building synagogues, houses of study and schools, but also building mikvaot–ritual purification pools, making Kosher food available to all, and establishing Jewish libraries.
Many volunteer charitable organizations today render services to the Jewish community that are of inestimable value. Volunteer organizations today such as Hatzolah, provide private ambulance service for the community, Misaskim, provides special services to mourners, Chaverim, provides help for those who have emergencies in their homes or are locked out of their cars. Zaka, collects the body parts of those killed in terror attacks and brings the victims to proper burial.
The remarkable growth of Gemachs (private charity funds) in recent times underscores how great is the mitzvah of bringing merit to the masses. There are Gemachs that provide baby carriages and bridal gowns, diapers for newborns, provide crutches, wheelchairs, walkers to the infirm, lend artificial flowers for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.
The Mah’ah’say l’Melech in parashat Bechukotai suggests that King Solomon built the permanent Temple in Jerusalem using cypress and cedar trees, building materials that with time rot and spoil, so that every generation would have the opportunity to rebuild the Temple.
May we too have the opportunity to rebuild the Temple soon in our days.
May you be blessed.