Hackam Daffyd wrote a wonderful post recently that addressed how the Torah has something for everyone. Among those things is “luster”: pretty shinies that enthrall the individual with the magic of what they see–much like Christian enthrall their children with Santa or the Easter Bunny and themselves with artwork or incense.
People express their value of something by how they present it or themselves to it. We dress up to go to the opera and make the opera house an ornate building, because we value the art and the skill of the singers. Christians do the same with church. We give expensive gifts to loved ones, and high pay and nice offices to valuable employees.
Part of this is inate. Most of God’s creatures have one sex that will preen and put on a display to attract a mate. Humans are no exception, although both sexes tend to do something to attract the other. Women try to make themselves physically attractive, while men try to show that they have the wherewithal to care for the woman and any potential offspring.
I believe that one of the pitfalls into which American society has fallen is that of excess informality. It is no longer socially normative to express value through action and display. We no longer have any social custom by which to express appreciation of people and things. Formal dress has mostly fallen by the wayside. Most people dress to go to the supermarket in clothes in which our forebears wouldn’t have been caught dead outside the house. When was the last time you saw a man in a suit at a fine dining restaurant who was not there on business, or children being taught how to behave and dress at such a place by their parents?
Judaism, too, has fallen into this rut. While God, being beyond human comprehension, has no need of any of the trappings of the faith, man does. And those trappings are how man communicates, both to God and his fellow man, his reverence, appreciation, and need for his faith and God. This is the purpose of the temple. People need a central hub to look to. One that has ceremony, pomp, and splendor. One that seems at once glorious and mysterious. And people need ritualized ways with which to interact with that institution.
Modern Judaism lacks such an institution. The synagogue, while a valuable institution that fosters thought, faith, and learning, does not inspire awe. The temple did. That is why God commanded the building of the tabernacle, followed by the temple. He knows us better than we know ourselves. In the absence of a way to show our value of our faith, we slowly lose that faith, because we lack a temporal reason to do so.