Student D’var Torah

Preparing our Homes for Holiness

March 20, 2020

     I have found that both modern Judaism and I tend to shy away from that which is physical. When the temple was destroyed, visceral animal sacrifice was replaced with the mental/emotional experience of prayer, and an acute awareness of prohibitions against idolatry has made many of our rituals internal and intellectual. For myself, I never played sports or danced regularly growing up and I have not established a regular exercise routine in college, and my friends are probably tired of hearing me lament the fact that I need to eat and sleep in order to function properly. However, in this Torah portion and in this moment in all of our lives, the physical becomes undeniable.

     The majority of this week’s Torah portion is long paragraphs detailing the furnishings, dimensions, and decorations of the Tabernacle, the place where God’s essence will dwell among the Israelite camp. These paragraphs are not all that exciting to read. To summarize, there are lots of strips of cloth and animal skins and acacia wood and silver sockets and gold and incense and brightly colored yarn. Then, there is a short accounting of how much it all costs, and then once the priests are prepared and Moses sets everything up according to God’s instructions, God’s presence fills the Tabernacle and settles there.

     The moment we are living in is also emphasizing the physical dimensions of our reality. Being a college student, it has been easy to exist almost entirely in my own head. The academic pursuit of knowledge is ultimately an ephemeral one. Also, the technology that modernity has wrought often makes us feel that we can use virtual tools to transcend the physical limits of space and time. But this pandemic has reminded me of how utterly embodied we all are, that we are bodies first and souls second, and how precariously vulnerable each one of us is at all times.

     I feel very much in my body and I also feel very much in my space. As we all face the prospect of existing strictly in our respective spaces for the foreseeable future, we are about to become extremely familiar with every inch of our homes. This week’s portion is about how meticulously the Tabernacle was prepared for God’s presence, and it made me think about what I can be doing to make my space into a holy one, one that is worthy both of my dwelling there and the dwelling of something more profound.

I have to exist in this space in this body, so what can I do to cultivate holiness? Some physical things I can do are: make my bed, read books and spend time away from screens, make sure I move my body enough each day, drink water, eat fruits and vegetables, connect with my breath, and embrace moving slowly. Some less (obviously) physical things I can do are: listen to good music (Orville Peck is the accompaniment to this task), talk to people I love, share what brings me joy, find ways to help others, and seize opportunities to learn while not putting too much pressure on myself to be productive. My question for you on this unprecedented Shabbat is: what are you doing, what can you do, what do you want to do to make your physical space one that honors the holiness in you and the holiness of that which is beyond you?

Shabbat Shalom.

Wishing you health, safety, and joy,