Creating Sacred Space
Imagine yourself in a few months from now on Yom Kippur in the Beit haMiqdash. It’s Yom Kippur during yemot hamashiah and you’re out in Jerusalem for the holiday. You pack into the Beit haMiqdash courtyard with thousands of other Jews as you watch the Kohen Gadol solemnly review the year. Your friend turns to you and whispers, “hey, did you see the game last night?” What would you respond? Would you discuss last nights game or would it feel completely inappropriate?
In 2012 there was a story about a phone that went off during a Philharmonic concert. The orchestra stopped playing, and the entire theater waited for the phone to be put on silent. The audience was aghast, their experience ruined by the ringtone. The conductor stated during an interview post the event: “This is something people either consciously or implicitly recognize as sacred.” Everyone in the room understood the focus, purpose, and designation of that time and space.
We are told in Parashat Teruma that we should create a sacred place, a miqdash, and He, God, will ‘dwell’ amongst us. This maqom qadosh, the miqdash, is to be created by us. It is how we relate to the building and what it is designated for which makes it qadosh. That is why we have detailed halakhot of what we can and cannot do in relation to the miqdash. For example: conversations near the entrance of the miqdash must not be frivolous, and one cannot make the courtyard of the miqdash their shortcut. Our batei kenesiot are referred to by our hakhamim as miqdash me’at, a ‘mini-version’ of the beit hamiqdash, and that is why many of these laws extend to our batei kenesiot.
Rambam restates the law as follows:
No lightheadedness – i.e., jests, frivolity, and idle conversation – should be seen in a synagogue. We may not eat or drink inside [a synagogue], nor use [a synagogue] for our benefit, nor stroll inside one.
This is quoted verbatim by the Shulkhan Arukh as halakha in Orekh Hayyim 151:1. These laws were well recognized by our community and in a speech by Sam Catton at Hakham Matloub ZS’L funeral, Mr.Catton Stated:
“…when we had hillul hashem in Bradley Beach several years ago, immediately after Shabbat Qodesh, Mosaei Shabbat, after Havdala had finished, the hekhal was portable, they wheeled it to the back, and they brought in the card tables. Rabbi Abadi was very incensed about this, he saw the hillul hashem. Mr. Joe Tawil invited him to speak in Bradley. He came to the synagogue on Shabbat and he said in no uncertain terms: “This is a hillul hashem, it must stop.”…We met Tuesday afternoon at the golden room of Joe Seaguls, and these same people were there, and Rabbi Abadi explained to them the law. As he [Rabbi Abadi] left the restaurant, one man who was a complete am ha’ares said to me what a genius is this Rabbi Abadi, and within a few months without any further equivocation, under the leadership of Ralph Shammah the president, the toeva was removed. A social hall was built, the Aaron Qodesh was fixed and Bet Hakeneset was used only for holy purposes…“
We should recognize that the inspiration we feel in the room is established by how we treat it. If we use the beit keneset as we use our living room, sipping tea, coffee, chatting and putting our feet up, we may not only be violating halakha, but missing out on the opportunity of experiencing a ‘sanctified space.’ If we create the miqdash, and we sanctify it, than He [God] will dwell amongst us, ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם.
Rabbi Meyer Laniado
 יחזקאל יא:טו and גמר’ סנהדרין יז:
 Hilkhot Tefilla Chapter 11