In Judaism, there’s an obligation to offer a prayer, a personal thought or an intention upon entering a holy space. The idea is that you must give in order to receive. In the case of a bais medrash or house of study, you must enter with something because you walk out with something. You are transformed by the knowledge you encounter. This was the heart of Rabbi Menachem Goldberger’s message at Tiferes Yisroel’s bais medrash dedication last Sunday.
“The idea was to make it a traditional space with an inviting atmosphere and warmth — there’s a lot of wood, a beautiful marble east wall, the idea is to make it an inviting place for people to spend time studying
the Torah,” said Rabbi Goldberger, a gentle man with soft eyes and a calming voice.
Rabbi Goldberger came to Baltimore in 1986 with his wife, Bracha, from Denver and began the shul with 12 families. First, they prayed in the living room and dining room of a home. When they grew to 70 families, they rented a building. In 1993, they purchased and renovated the present building at 6201 Park Heights Ave., now with a congregation of 140 families.
Rabbi Goldberger described Tiferes Yisroel as “a very warm, community-oriented, Orthodox congregation with a certain spiritual flavor to it. We try to share our lives together, study together and grow together.”
The bais medrash renovation inc-luded an expansion and beautification of the space.
“There is a verse in the Torah ‘zeh kayli v’anveyhu’. It means, ‘this is my God and I will beautify Him.’ And the Talmud understands from that, that one is to beautify the mitzvos to make a dwelling place for God,” Rabbi Goldberger said. “God dwells everywhere of course, but there are certain places where the concentration of his presence is stronger, so a shul, a bais medrash, a synagogue is one of those places, and we wanted it to therefore be fitting for the presence of Hashem in that room.”
The first thing you notice walking into the new bais medrash are the 12 high, small, narrow windows that let in sunlight from the east, with a view of trees and sky.
“It’s significant of the 12 tribes that became the full variegated texture of the Jewish people,” said Rebbetzin Goldberger. “Each tribe had specific strengths that they contributed, and there’s an appreciation of the differences. Those 12 windows remind us of the fabric of the Jewish people and the different strengths that we all have, and it’s interesting how it’s brought out with windows, which bring light in. It’s always so important to appreciate the light of the differences. Sometimes we get caught on the differences … but of course the differences are illuminating because when we don’t have the same qualities as someone else, we’re in the dark about it. And when someone introduces something new and we can appreciate the differences and work together, we’re enlightened by that. So it’s very beautiful that it’s actually windows that are symbolizing that, which are portals of light.”
Glenna Ross, a congregant for 19 years, was also struck immediately by the 12 windows. She said, “The light comes in those windows from on high, you see the trees and the sky — it just opens it up. In the morning, I’m picturing the men coming in to pray the morning service, and the sun is coming through there; you’re really facing east, you really feel that. And then in afternoon when the sun is behind you, it’s reflecting on the trees you’re seeing outside the window.”
“There is a halacha (a Talmudic law),” Rabbi Goldberger explained during the dedication service, “when a person enters a shul or a bais medrash, that one should say a pasuk, a verse from the Torah. The reason is that it isn’t an ordinary room. We have to know where we are and honor the place properly. We can’t just walk into a holy place and receive. We walk into a holy place and the first thing we do is we give, we say something, we say a pasuk. To take something from our own mind and our own life and our own heart, and say it.”
Goldberger went on to emphasize the transformation that occurs.
“We don’t come out the same person as the one who walked in. We have been affected and influenced by the holy environment of the shul, of the bais medrash. … It is a place where a Jewish person becomes great. It’s a place where a person goes and immerses [himself or herself] in the Torah and becomes a great Jew.”
Rabbi Goldberger expressed deep gratitude to the congregation for its extensive involvement in the renovation, including the very small to the very large details. He also gave a call to action: “I want to ask everyone to come and learn, to come and daven in the bais medrash. As holy as it is, we’ve got to be there, each person according to their abilities, every day or once a week — but we’ve got to be in there, because we as a group have to put something into that bais medrash, to make sure that we walk out with an additional kedusha.”
At the end of the dedication the whole congregation offered up music, song and dance as it marched a sefer Torah from the main sanctuary to upstairs to the new bais medrash, filling the room with its energy, gratitude and life.