About our new Shul – Part I

Although the Bet David Campus was not complete at the time, the first service in the new sanctuary was Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778. All services since then have taken place in the new synagogue. It was wonderful to sit in the light and airy sanctuary for the auspicious High Holy Days after years of planning and months of construction.

To date, most of the progress reports have had themes relating to specific aspects of our new campus. This report is the first of two that will focus on the symbolism of the new campus, which is purposely integrated to form a modern, welcoming, spiritually symbolic Jewish House of Prayer.

The rondavel shape, so typical of Africa, symbolizing our African roots, has been carried over from the original Shul in the thatched Rondavel “summerhouse” on the property. This shape has been combined with a roof, like that of a tent. The Shul also has entrances on all four sides, representing the tent of Sarah and Abraham. The Talmud describes Abraham and Sarah as exceptionally welcoming hosts. One midrash teaches that the tent of Sarah and Abraham was open on all four sides, so that they could welcome travelers approaching from all directions. Similarly, our Synagogue has been designed to be welcoming to all.

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778 has meaning in terms of gematria. Bible gematria is a part of Jewish culture that assigns numerical value to a word, name, or phrase. 5778 in terms of Gamatria are “straight-line” numbers”. (https://www.biblegematria.com/the-numbers-point-straight-to-5778.html). The Hebrew word for “straight” is רשי,  which is an anagram of שרי  (Sarai), Sarai was Sarah’s name before it was changed to Sarah.  (https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/sarah-sarai/ ).  This is the reason that it is fitting that the first service in our sanctuary designed to represent the welcoming tent of Sarah and Abraham took place on Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778.

The biblical story records that Abraham planted a verdant garden, which included a palm tree that would shade an “honest and good man” but respond differently to a bad person.

“Most wonderful of all was a magnificent palm tree, which seemed to know every wayfarer that came near it. If an honest and good man would sit down under its shade, the tree would spread forth its branches to shield the visitor from the burning sun, or wind. But if the visitor happened to be a bad man, the palm tree would lift up its branches and give the man no protection. But whenever the tree would act that way, Abraham would come to the visitor and show him special kindness and attention. He would tell the visitor about G‑d, and about G‑d’s kindness to all. All the wickedness would melt away in the heart of the bad man, and goodness and kindness would fill it instead. Then the palm tree would spread forth its branches over the man in a friendly way”. (http://mobile.askmoses.com/article/195,2111898/Abraham-And-Sarah.html)

Our Sanctuary has large windows overlooking the beautiful garden forest that includes the 35 mature trees that were moved from our last premises, including the palm trees that now line the western boundary. The landscaping of the gardens will continue in January.

Next week, the second part of this update will explain more of the symbolism of the interior of the synagogue.
Desmond Sweke


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