Make for Me a Sacred Place
by Jhos Singer
I dedicate this Musing to the memory of our friend, teacher, and Chochmat HaLev member, Shaykh Dr. Ibrahim Baba Farajeje
Julie and I just are back from a whirlwind trip to the auld sod, my ancestral homeland, Ireland, where our son Michael is studying this year. After a week in Dublin, we stopped for a few days in London to visit a small gaggle of dear friends who are there. We had a great time with our loved ones, ate lots of delicious food, and were in a state of nearly constant awe at being surrounded by the impressive centuries-old remnants of previous generations. Castles and graveyards, monasteries and drinking pubs, houses of parliament and cathedrals are everywhere, constant reminders of the importance of a solid foundation—literally and symbolically.
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19), begins with God telling Moses to instruct those Israelites whose hearts are willing to make an offering of a precious metal, stones, fine oil, or other choice materials so that they might come together:
“V’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham—And make for me a sacred place, and I will dwell in their midst.” Exodus 25:8
This oft quoted and salient verse points out the importance of creating sacred and special places, where something much greater than ourselves can manifest. It gives us a reason to accrue precious things for the explicit purpose to give them away. It establishes the framework for why we need to design and build our own expressions of greatness in the world, if only to focus our own creativity and grandiosity. It asks us to apply our prowess, vision, talent, and wealth for the greater good.
Dublin Castle, Christchurch and Westminster Cathedrals, and the National Gallery are all magnificent structures, designed to both wow and inspire. They cast a spell that makes us feel small and in wonder of the Divine. But we are also aware that the gilded and vaulted ceilings, the skillful carvings, the heft and weight of stone floors, pillars, steps and ceilings, were all imagined and created by human hands. And that is thrilling and humbling.
“And see that you make [all of these sacred things] according to the patterns you see in the mountain.” Exodus 25:40
Julie and I also visited some sacred spaces not of human design. Glendalough, in the Wicklow mountains, has attracted spiritual seekers to its charging waterfalls, its verdant forests, and its misty and mystical lakes for centuries. The Cliffs of Moher, which dramatically rise 750 feet above the sea, draw a steady stream of visitors from around the world to witness their majestic edge. The natural world is filled with places where the human heart beats faster, the mind’s eye is challenged, and the spirit is elevated and chastened. Perhaps the Torah is just stating the obvious—we need awesome places to feel awe. And creating those lofty spaces is not the sole responsibility of the Divine. We can, and must, take closely after our creator, by seeing in the natural world examples of amazing and beautiful sanctuary spaces that we might manifest.
The Chochmat HaLev community is blessed to have a building—it was an awesome accomplishment to procure our sacred home some 20 years ago. But, perhaps now it is time for all in our community whose hearts are willing to bring forth their precious resources to make our sanctuary more beautiful, light-filled, safe, and sound. This is a year that will require great investment and involvement of all who care about our spiritual home in order to ensure that it survives and thrives. Let all who are willing help us emulate and expand our creativity into our sacred space, let us bring forth the Mystery that dwells amongst us, and let us turn our personal resources into a lasting and beautiful refuge for all who seek a spiritual home.