This week marks the anniversary of my becoming a bar mitzvah. Because of that, I have great affection for this week’s Torah portion, Terumah. For many, they see a blueprint of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that the Israelites built for God in the wilderness. This portion is verse after verse of items and measurements and directions for construction.
We can read it as a guide for ourselves, as well. Reflected in the instructions that God gives to Moses and the Israelite community to build a Mishkan are messages for us, as we are called upon to build sanctuaries out of our own lives. Some sanctuaries are our organizations and our families, and sometimes sanctuaries are personal, internal spaces of self. In the dead of winter here in Boston, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we–ourselves–are sanctuaries to maintain and develop.
Always at this time of year, it is challenging to not get down in the dumps. Seasonal Affective Disorder seems to take root, and one more day on the treadmill at the gym sounds no fun at all. The living room couch has a permanent indent, and it seems like we would give anything to go on a nice walk or bike ride outside where we do not have to put on jackets. But we can find summer that lies within in the dead of winter. Winter is a state of mind. This season and this week’s Torah portion as a metaphor call us to actively work at building our own internal sanctuaries.
A similar message is reflected in our morning liturgy. Daily we give thanks for the sanctity of our bodies and the sanctity of our souls, recognizing that they–in their own right–are sanctuaries to be developed and maintained. “Praise to You, our Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, who formed the body with skill creating the body’s many pathways and openings,” we say. God as our Creator, has afforded us the opportunity to nurture and maintain ourselves. We are to be like Adam and Eve, who were instructed to tend and till God’s Garden of Eden. We do not stop there. After we thank God for the sanctity of our bodies, we note our souls: “My God, the soul that you have given me is pure. You created it, you fashioned it, and you placed it into me.” With each morning that we breath life anew, God grants us the opportunity to live out a day with a pure soul. We begin with a pure soul; what we do with that is a matter of choice. The decisions we make each day speak to how we tend and care for our inner selves.
When we build holy places and and holy time in our lives, we are fostering sanctuary for ourselves and our loved ones. “And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” God says to Moses in this week’s Torah portion. We are going to build sanctuaries; it is in our nature. And when we do, we allow for God to enter that space, as well.