Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde discusses the power of Exodus 25:8, as the line evokes the possibility for spiritual transformation within the human body, as we seek to discover the sanctuary contained within ourselves.
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ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם
Ve’asu li mikdash ve’shakhanti be’tokham.
Make for Me a sanctuary/sacred dwelling place/mikdash, and I will dwell among/within them. (Exodus 25:8)
These words come in the midst of the myriad detailed instructions for building the mishkan (the desert tabernacle). As many commentators have noted, the verse does not say, “make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell within it,” but “among them,” that is, among the Israelites. God dwells among us as we strive to create a society that is an expression of our vision of justice, love, and compassion–three of the central divine attributes. Judaism contains an incredible array of teachings and exhortations to push us continually to work to build that society. In my own area of Washington, DC, for example, I am continually inspired by the tireless work of groups like Jews United for Justice to make the Torah’s vision of a just society that cares for its vulnerable members into a lived reality. As thoughtful human beings, we can find inspiration to pursue justice from many sources, but I am so thankful for the grounding, richness and specificity I find in an evolving Jewish tradition that pushes me to do more and more.
Our verse can also be read as “Make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them.” As such, the verse is an instruction that we utilize all of our spiritual work to make our very own being into a dwelling place for God. Judaism gives us an incredible array of practices and teachings to effect spiritual transformation, to transform an ego that thinks of itself as a separate entity into a human being that recognizes the full presence of the Infinite within their own flesh and consciousness. The practice of Shabbat, the deep gems present in the sacred liturgy, and the Shema, which points us toward an awareness of the underlying Oneness of Being, are just a few of our technologies that help the Divine to take up residence within each of us.
When I step back to look at what has most inspired me in my life, I find these two great poles–social justice work and spiritual transformation–and this verse from Exodus succinctly contains them both. I choose Judaism because I find it the most meaningful path towards creating a dirah b’takhtonim (Midrash Tankhuma), a dwelling place for Divinity within myself and within the structures of my society.
Josh Jacobs-Velde is the co-rabbi of Oseh Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Laurel, Maryland. He can be reached at RabbiJosh@oseh-shalom.org.