We read this week of the commandment to build the sanctuary, which accompanied the nation throughout their travels. Surprisingly, to many of our sages, the need for a physical sanctuary arose as a result of the tragic episode of the building of the idolatrous golden calf (Rashi, Maimonides). Otherwise, no dedicated sanctuary would have been needed.
At the revelation at Mount Sinai, the entire nation achieved a state of spirituality as pure as the first moment of creation, where G-d was everywhere and could readily be identified in everything in the world. Everything was holy and the entire universe was one huge sanctuary.
The nation reached a high level of prophecy where they declared, “we will do and we will listen”, thereby negating their own will in difference to Divine morality and therefore they did not need a sanctuary. For them, it was “in every place where I would have My Name remembered I will come onto you and will bless you.”
It was only when they succumbed to the temptation to build the golden calf, when they deviated from the will of G-d and submitted to their own base desires that they lost the capacity of being in direct contact with the Creator at all times and in every place. The world then became an obstacle course, and in such a world we need a haven, a place of refuge, a sanctuary, a dedicated place to develop our spirituality.
In today’s world, that sanctuary is the synagogue, a place dedicated to our spiritual lives.