Why do We Need Synagogues if G-d is Everywhere?

This week’s parasha, Pekudei, describes the completion of the construction of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle.  Why did we need to build the Mishkan?   At the end of the parasha we learn וַיְכַ֥ס הֶֽעָנָ֖ן אֶת־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וּכְב֣וֹד יְהֹוָ֔ה מָלֵ֖א אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן:And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.”  (Exodus 40:34). We learn here and in the following verses that a cloud covered the Mishkan by day, and a fire illuminated it at night.  But wait a minute-- isn’t G-d’s presence everywhere?   For example, Midrash Rabbah points out that G-d spoke to Moses from a lowly thorn-bush, thus teaching that no place on earth is without the divine presence.  
In another midrash, the question is asked:  Why is G-d called makom, or “place”?  The midrash answers, “Because G-d is the place of the universe.”  The Midrash opens with the story of Jacob who dreamt of a ladder with angels going up and down on it.  When he awoke, he said: בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וְאָנֹכִי, לֹא יָדָעְתה “Surely Hashem is in this place; and I, I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16) The Midrash suggests that the word “place” or “makom” was not merely where G-d was, but is an actual name of G-d.  When Jacob said upon awakening “G-d was in this place but I did not know it” what he was also saying was “G-d IS this place and I did not know it.”   Why, the rabbis ask, did Jacob call G-d “place”?  They answer that this is because G-d is the Place of the world.  
The rabbis then ask an interesting question.  They say “We do not know whether G-d is the place where the world dwells or whether the world is the place where G-d dwells,” Let me repeat that a moment- We do not know whether G-d is the place where the world dwells or whether the world is the place where G-d dwells, in other words, they are asking the question of pantheism vs panentheism.  Pantheism suggests that creation and G-d are one and the same.  That G-d’s presence fills our natural world, that G-d inhabits every bit of creation, but that there is no G-d beyond creation. Panentheism, on the other hand, is the belief that the entire world is within G-d--that G-d is immersed in our world and goes beyond our world.  That the Creator is both infused in the creation and goes beyond the creation at the same time.  
In case there was any doubt in your mind about whether the rabbis were pantheists or panentheists, at least in this midrash, let me not keep you in suspense any longer.  The rabbis give a very colorful metaphor.  The midrash teaches, “He is like a warrior riding a horse, his robes flowing over on both sides; the horse is subordinate to the rider, but the rider is not subordinate to the horse.” (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXVIII:9)  In this metaphor, G-d is the warrior and G-d’s presence is G-d’s cloak- the horse is our world.  In other words, we are within G-ds presence--G-d’s spirit encompasses everything that we do, but does go beyond us as well. 
I find this panentheistic midrash to be very moving.  We find many metaphors for G-d, but not quite as many metaphors for G-d’s presence.  Here the metaphor for G-d’s presence is a garment- it is fabric.  Fabric that can encompass us, comfort us, and protect us.  In many ways, it reminds me of the idea of a tallit.  When we put the tallit on, we can use it as a moment to experience the presence of G-d.  
Going back to the idea of the Mishkan as a place where G-d’s presence would rest, we are then forced to ask the question- if G-d’s presence is everywhere, why is there a need to build a specific physical structure for G-d?   One answer, given by the midrash and favored by later commentators, including Rashi, suggest that the Mishkan was a response to the sin of the egel hazahav, the golden calf.  The building of the Mishkan was never part of G-d’s original plan, but after seeing the people’s weakness and failing, G-d commanded the building of the Mishkan not for G-d, but for us.  We needed it.  We were not satisfied with trying to feel G-d’s presence in some kind of vague way.  We needed a place to go to- we needed something more concrete.
 Today we do not have the Mishkan or the Beit Hamikdash (the Temple) but we have synagogues, rituals, and mitzvot.  Many of us feel G-d when we are alone or without any ritual but many more of us rely on ritual to connect us to G-d’s presence, whether it is through lighting Shabbat candles, coming to the synagogue to pray, or putting on a tallit.  We have difficulty feeling and believing things that we can’t identify with our senses.  G-d recognizes this and gave us the Tabernacle to create- a place to more easily sense what is truly everywhere but not always palpable.   My hope and prayer for all of us is that we can experience G-d as a sheltering presence, like the comfort of a tallit, and that we can find that same comfort and connection in our spiritual communities and among our friends and family, making our tradition relevant for generations to come.  Shabbat Shalom.