Rabbis by the dozens were arrested this year at a Senate office building. What was their crime? They sat to protest on behalf of the dreamers, the young men and women whose families brought them to the United States illegally. What was their message? America was a sanctuary for Jews in peril, and Jews will continue to make America a sanctuary for others in need. In fact, their cause is not merely the holiness of protecting lives but also the strength and resilience building of this country resulting from our standing as refuge.
The word sanctuary means a holy enclosure such as the Temple in Jerusalem. It also means a place of refuge and peace. Essentially there is not much difference between the two as they are both places where God dwells. In Exodus 25 verse 9, God says “build for me a sanctuary so I might dwell among the people.” That sanctuary or mishkan, was a place to keep the tablets of the ten commandments in a holy ark. The mishkan was also a place of protection and peace where no one but the High Priest would enter. Shalom, peace, is another name for God (Judges 6:21).
Creating a space for God such as a mishkan is the equivalent of a safe haven for those in peril or beleaguered. In this way, the United States is a good and Godly nation when it is a welcoming safe place. Such Godliness should be sufficient reward for opening our doors to refugees and sustaining the dreamers who have already arrived. Yet there is further benefit.
A nation that is sanctuary is enhanced by the determination of the people arriving on its shores. Their energy and their perseverance add to our industry and fuel our economy. Refugees who have risked life and fortune to escape danger are often the risk takers who open new businesses and value higher education. Opening our doors builds a resilient country.
I learned from Rabbi David Ingber that New York Harbor is like a doorway to freedom from those in peril. By that reckoning, the Statue of Liberty is the Mezuzah on that doorpost. The inspiration embodied by Lady Liberty remains as the energetic fuel for the resilience needed to build a new life in this country. And the contribution of these newcomers makes America more resilient as a nation of opportunity for all.
God dwells among (בתוכם) the nation when we make a sanctuary. After all, Torah says that our ancestors who built that original sanctuary and gave the gifts to build it, were of the a mixed multitude. As then, so now.
for Rabbi Mike Moskowitz and Kerry Brodie.
R’ Evan J. Krame