Updated: Feb 12, 2022
“Let them make me a holy shrine
That I may dwell amidst them.” (EX. 25.8)
This week’s Torah portion begins a few weeks of soporific readings, starting with page and pages detailing the size and specifications of the Mishkan, the Wilderness Tabernacle (although you can’t ACTUALLY construct it just from reading this, because it’s not specific enough in certain ways, so that seems weird, hmm). This week I was especially happy to have the Everett Fox translation, which gave me words like “Sphinx” for the Hebrew “keruvim” instead of “Cherubim”. This description of the two sphinx as protectors reminded me of the fearsome Nio guardians we saw at the entrances to temples in Japan, or the giant stone lions I remember outside temples in Kathmandu- keeping watch, marking the entrance to a holy space.
What I found most interesting this week was something Fox pointed out, about what this shift to a specific location for the holy site does:
“This idea represents a remarkable shrinking and intimatizing process: the G-d who spoke to the assembled people, amid thunder, fire, and trembling earth at Sinai, now communicates with them from an area roughly the size of a small desk or table. In addition, there is a shift from a one-time event (Sinai) to the permanent fact of a sanctuary…” (Fox 398)
The WTC commentary for this week really focuses on a very specific aspect of this- that the people are now connecting to G-d THROUGH the building and creation of this space, as they are no longer passive recipients, but rather active “builders” in their relationship with G-d (or holiness, or whatever). Rabbi Sobel (our WTC writer for the week) says “The indwelling of G-d among the people cannot take place as long as the people are passive, doing nothing to bring the sacred into the world.” (p.157)
I’ve been lucky enough to have a yoga space in my house for as long as I’ve been practicing yoga. My yoga practice has always been part of my spiritual practice, but my teacher and my lineage is Buddhist. When I first started, and eventually went to Nepal to study I struggled a little bit with the iconography and the terminology, especially as I watched other serious students study and over the years, take refuge in the practice. At the time I had only been studying under my teacher for a few years, but I told my teacher I was very clear about my religion and how I felt, and that I would never take refuge, that my Judaism was important to me, and that I believed/hoped both could work together. He said to me many things that day that I will never forget, too personal to write here, but one of those things was that “All are one”- which is how I had always felt. Hearing that reflected to me, in utmost sincerity and love, from someone who had dedicated their life to one religion was really powerful. It allowed me to move forward into my yogic studies, which is really what allowed me to eventually to feel safe coming out.
Since I began my home practice, I have had an “altar” of practice- lots of yogis do, but I have always sort of struggled with how to balance that with my Jewish faith. I had a symbol of my yoga lineage, a statue, which has been very meaningful to me, but I’ve known it wasn’t quite right for a long time. In the past few months I finally decided that although the things I have on it are only symbols, and I don’t see them as anything more than that, I needed those symbols to be different and more cohesive with my Judaism. I researched and did looked for a long time, and discussed with my teacher, and nothing felt right until recently. But now I have found something, something small- no idols here- but from Israel- that checks all the boxes, and that that wouldn’t take anything away from my Yoga practice, but RATHER, like this week’s parshah says, it will help bring me closer to G-d, by allowing me to be an active participant in the building of the relationship.