During a recent visit to a local church, I noticed that the maintenance staff were listed as sextons in the service leaflet. Sexton, like Gabbai, or Beadle, is a title given out of respect for the individuals tasked with taking care of a religious institution. This could include general tasks like set-up and clean-up, or specific religious tasks like making sure the words of the Torah are pronounced correctly during services. What a wonderful way of honoring the holiness of such work and its importance to communal life.
In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, we learn that Moses was the first Israelite to function in the role of Sexton/Gabbi/Beadle. Here at the end of Exodus, the final touches of the tabernacle are coming into focus. The structure is built, the ritual items assembled, all that is left is their actual set up in the space. This task is left not to any ordinary Cohen or Levite, but must be completed by Moses himself. Starting in Chapter 40:17, Moses begins within the Holy of Holies: putting the Ten Commandments into the Ark of the Covenant, placing the show bread in its proper place on the table, and lighting the menorah for the very first time. On God’s command, he slowly moves outward, eventually erecting the gate to the courtyard and thus bringing this ancient traveling worship space to life. I can almost see Moses’ loving hands smoothing out the table cloths, straightening the curtains, dusting off the floors, all under the watchful eye of an excited nation.
At CSS the work of Sexton/Gabbai/Beadle is divided into many parts. First, we have our amazing maintenance staff led by Lorenzo Stewart and supervised by our Executive Director Joanne Marquise. Secondly, we have the person who usually gets the title of Gabbai, Harvey Horowitz, who not only helps to train our Torah and Haftarah readers, but also assists them as they read during our services. Lastly, the amazing volunteers led by our synagogue president, Bruce Corris, who stand outside the sanctuary to hand out prayer books and make sure everything is fully in place at the time of services. I love and appreciate this team approach. It is something that even Moses would be proud of.