When I watched the Super Bowl, I have to admit I was a little jealous. Like other sports there is a simplicity to which I'm attracted. I'm not saying it's easy. But at the end of the day, you have either won or lost.
We rarely have that sense of knowing in our lives, even more so when we take stock of our relationship with the divine, or whatever you relate to that helps you connect with something bigger than yourself.
How do we know if we have succeeded or failed to have something holy in our lives?
Maybe this is the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking, "Am I able to build space for the divine to be present in my life and my community?"
Every week Jews around the world read a chapter from the Five Books of Moses, what we call the Torah. This week we read from Exodus, chapter Vayakhel, meaning assemble, referring to Moses assembling the people Israel. The Israelites, recently liberated from slavery in Egypt and in receipt of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai, still are figuring out what it means to have God in their lives.
Moses communicates how to build the mishkan, the portable dwelling-place or tabernacle, in which God will accompany the Israelites as they wander through the desert. Earlier in Exodus God says to Moses, "If they build a sanctuary, I will dwell among you." This verse in Hebrew is sometimes paired with the beautiful Christian song "Sanctuary," by Randy Scruggs and John Thompson, which says, "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you." Individually, and when paired, these two lines inspire a shared message: We need to be the builders of the sanctuary in our lives and our communities. When we make space for the divine, God will be present among us.
But like scoring a touchdown, this is no simple task.
Vayakhel provides us some guidance on how to do this as God tells Moses, "And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded." When we look at the Hebrew for skilled, we see two words, hacham-lev, which might be translated separately as wisdom and heart. In biblical times, the heart is associated with thinking and wisdom, whereas today we assign these capacities to the brain. A more colloquial translation might be "one who has the power of discerning and judging as to what is true or right."
This is not your typical job requirement. It does not say that God seeks "artisan with five-plus years experience, skilled in working with a buzz saw, capable of surviving desert conditions, open to travel."
The only qualification to be a builder of holy space for God to reside is to be hacham-lev. Only those who posses the capacity to discern between true and right for themselves and in their communities are able to be the builders of the mishkan.
Our relationship with the divine is not a game to be won or lost, but a path we all walk, as individuals and communities, cultivating our hacham lev.
- Ross is a student rabbi at Temple Beth Ha Sholom in Williamsport.