Spiritual Investment by Gevura Davis
I recently moved into a new house – our dream house, actually. Moving was an interesting exercise in learning what was valuable to me. As we packed our boxes up, the question we kept asking ourselves was, “How will we feel when we see it on the other side of the country in our new house?” Will we think, “Why did I schlep this old piece of junk?” or, “YES! So good to see you again.”
The things that made the cut, things I was happy to proudly place in our new home, were the objects that possess sentimental value, represent a memory I want to hold onto, or are worth money. What I ended up with, in our dining room in particular, was everything that was truly valuable to us. The first kiddush cup my daughter made. Our grandmothers’ candle sticks. The silver, gold and crystal we were given at our wedding.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we learn about the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that was the central place of worship for the Jewish people while they traveled in the desert, the dwelling place of G-d’s presence here on earth. To build the Mishkan, Moses instructed the people to bring all of their valuables, the things that were important to them, their silver and gold, and other precious items.
Why would the holiest of places be built with collected items from the people? The Sages explain that G-d wanted them to have buy-in, that He wanted the people to invest with their physical objects, making it more likely that they would invest their spiritual efforts as well.
G-d wanted us to look at the Mishkan as truly ours. G-d wanted us to look around at the objects inside, and for us to feel like we built this, like it is truly our house. We learn a deep lesson here about the purpose of holy places. G-d wants us to feel connected to them, like they are our spiritual homes. Too often we view our synagogues more like museums than places to pray and open up our hearts and minds to spirituality. I have noticed that the people who feel most connected to any organization, be it their children’s school or their synagogue, are the people who invest the most – of their time, or their resources, or their energy.
Classic Rabbinic commentaries take this concept a step further. The Torah says, regarding the construction of the Mishkan, “They shall make a sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). This, the Rabbis say, is an invitation to understand how our relationships with G-d work. Wherever we make space for G-d, that’s where G-d is. It’s easy to feel disconnected to G-d and prayer. Sometimes we sit in services and the words don’t speak to us. Perhaps we don’t understand the Hebrew or we are distracted.
But, G-d is actually everywhere that we allow Him – in all the spaces we build for holiness and spirituality. In the sunsets, in the night sky, in a baby’s breath, and even in our dark moments, in the times we feel so alone and scared, G-d is there. The first half of the statement tells us how: “Make a sanctuary for Me.” Create space. Invest effort. Bring our silver and gold, or our thoughts and prayers.
In the second half of the statement, G-d tells us the outcome of that work: “… so that I may dwell among them.” There, in that place where we open ourselves up to G-d, that is where G-d dwells.
Like all meaningful things in life, creating holy space requires our effort. It wasn’t easy for the Jewish people to donate their prized possessions for the construction of the Mishkan. After all, they only had the things they took with them when they left Egypt in haste. But, they understood the principle of “no pain, no gain” regarding their personal spirituality. Anyone who has ever worked toward a meaningful goal is well aware of this principle.
A friend of mine, who is a personal trainer and health coach, often tells me when he presents the eating, exercise and lifestyle plans he thinks will create the desired results for his clients, they often respond, “But, this is so hard!” His insightful response: “I know it’s hard. But, so is being overweight, so is suffering from early disease and other consequences of not being healthy. So, you have to choose which ‘hard’ you would rather live through.” Creating time and space for spirituality and investing effort in our relationship with G-d is also hard. But, so are the consequences of not connecting to our spiritual selves: loneliness, depression, apathy, cynicism, disillusionment.
G-d is telling us, make space for Me, carve out a place for Me in your life, build Me an area to connect, set aside time to build our relationship and THERE, in that sacred space, in that beloved area of your thoughts and feelings and prayers, that’s where you can find Me.
G-d is waiting for us. Now, go build.
Gevura Davis is an educator who currently works as the Director of Women, Youth, and Family Division of The Etz Chaim Center in Elkins Park outside of Philadelphia. She recently moved from Kansas City with her husband and five children.