T’rumah: Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
“Creating an Inner Sanctuary”
After a brief introduction, we come to one of the most famous lines in Torah: “V’asu Li mik’dash, v’Shachan’ti b’tocham,” usually translated: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8). Though from this verse forward the entire portion describes God’s instructions about building a Tabernacle in the wilderness in tedious detail, we read the text not as an Ikea booklet of instructions for assembling an actual structure in the Sinai desert, but as a blueprint to create a mishkan, a sanctuary within. Our translation of this verse in Exodus varies, therefore, from the common understanding. We take it to mean: “Let them create an inner sacred space that I might dwell within them.” But how do we go about fashioning such a space?
Our rabbis offer us a four-step approach. The first step, the foundation of this inner structure, is called Hoda’ah— thanksgiving or expressing gratitude. Every morning, as we first wake up, we acknowledge the Divine nature of Existence and the unfathomable gift of yet another day by simply saying the words of the Modeh (Modah) Ani. This attitude of thankfulness is a prerequisite to worship, to any ritualistic act, and to any legal practice. And this is where we start: with an opening of the heart, with a sense of awe for the miracle of Creation. This attitude of thanksgiving is coupled with an acceptance of our role as surrendered participants in the unfolding of Creation, called in Hebrew Kabbalat Ol. Both acceptance and gratitude together lay the foundation of our inner sanctuary.
The second step, erecting the pillars of our inner mishkan, is called Avodah. Avodah, usually translated as service or worship, involves work—in this case, spiritual work. Our spiritual work or practice is the natural expression of the foundation of our inner temple. For some of us it manifests through prayer and uttering words of blessings in every possible occasion; for others it means setting aside time to meditate each day; for others yet, it means immersing ourselves in nature as often as possible. Whatever our primary spiritual practice, this is Avodah, and no inner temple can be built without it.
The third step, the covering of your inner temple, is Torah. Torah, in this case, doesn’t refer to the five books of Moses, but is understood in its etymological sense meaning “Teaching.” Learning in general is a modality that supports growth in consciousness by expanding our awareness to include a plurality of thoughts and perspectives. But the study of spiritual text in particular is essential in our tradition, for it is seen as the doorway from the material world into the soul, and from the soul out to the material world. On one hand, study opens our minds to understanding what lies beyond the narrow confines of our current worldview, our current truths, and allows us to continue to grow and evolve. On the other hand, study gives us the ability to live a principle-centered life and manifest in our world the highest spiritual teachings available to us.
And this leads me to our last step, which has to do not with the structure itself, but rather with the purpose this structure serves: Gemilut Chasadim— Acts of Loving Kindness. There is no point in creating an inner mishkan, our sages say, if it doesn’t lead us to perform right acts, to transform ourselves into the loving and kind beings we know ourselves to be, and to bring these energies into our world through our actions. Spirituality without action, as our rabbis point out, is for naught.
Surrendered gratitude, regular spiritual practice, life-long learning, and acts of Loving-Kindness are the foundation, the walls, the coverings, and the purpose of our inner sanctuary. It is a sanctuary that is ever-changing, growing and evolving, and that ultimately remains forever unfinished.