One of the unique creatures in the Jewish bestiary is the Shamir Worm. It is a rather obscure organism that requires some explanation. The worm is mentioned several times, most notably in a compilation known as Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers. Within Pirkei Avot is a list of the various items that God created on the 6th day in Genesis, right before the onset of the Sabbath. Each thing on the list has a great purpose and is outside of the normal fabric of creation such as: the mouth of Balaam’s talking donkey or the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert.
The Shamir is quite an important little creature, apparently the size of a barley corn, that could cut stone by glancing at it. Why is it so important? When king David wanted to build the first Jerusalem Temple, he was denied the right to do so as God considered him too warlike of a figure. He was known for his aptitude with iron weapons in particular. The Temple was supposed to be a place of peace, and the job of overseeing the construction fell to David’s son Solomon.
As the Temple was supposed to be peaceful, God apparently considered it inappropriate that iron tools should be used to cut the stones for its construction. Iron was precious and tools were often repurposed as weapons or vice-versa (thus the phrase “beat their swords into plowshares”). Using metal to cut the stone would have been a symbolic act of aggression against it during the crafting process. Enter the Shamir Worm. It was a useful little guy (or girl, although as there was only one it may not have had a gender at all even though the Hebrew language assigns it one). One would show it the large block of stone one wished to cut and it would glare at the stone, thus cutting it. Perhaps it had laser eyes?
In this way, the Temple could be constructed without needing iron tools for cutting the stone and the aggressive potential they represented.
The building or refurbishment of Jewish ritual spaces is always a matter of debate, and sometimes conflict. We are at a delicate moment as a community. There has been a great deal of discussion around the refurbishment of the synagogue. Such a process mandates compromise. I personally would have liked a retractable floor over an indoor swimming pool in the main hall for water aerobics and aqua-tefillah. Apparently this would have created difficulty with the under-floor heating and so I withdrew my request. Neither did my biblical petting zoo make it past the first stage, nor even my brilliantly conceived Wimshul rooftop mini-golf course. The space required is currently allocated to our excellent solar-panels that offset our carbon-footprint. I refer you to the new monitor in the entranceway if you have not seen it, which gives information about them.
We are fortunate to have the ability to recreate our prayer and educational spaces, as well as the rooms in which we celebrate simchas and mark rites of passage. In deference to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (and in recognition of the imperfect world in which we live), it is customary to leave a small portion of synagogues unfinished. This is often done by allowing a section of wall to remain unpainted, or leaving some brickwork bare.
In doing so, we hearken back to the lessons learned from the two Jerusalem Temples (both positive and negative). At this moment, it is worth remembering the story of the Shamir Worm. It allowed Solomon’s Temple to be built in a spirit of peace and optimism. We strive to build our new communal home the same way.