And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exodus 25:8
This week’s Parasha Terumah, finds the Israelites recovering from their humbling experience at the foot of Mount Sinai listening to the words of Moses. We read the next set of instructions to the people in the beautiful verse, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). These words have inspired musical scores, art objects and the construction of ritual spaces. As I read these words again this year, I am struck by two words; “sanctuary” and “dwell” that resonate with stark new meaning for these times.
The word “sanctuary” is everywhere in our public square referring to our sudden need to create safe spaces for refugees and immigrants. Here the word refers to both physical safety and a mental state of being in that place. Sanctuary offers both physical and spiritual comfort—a place where boundaries create a safe zone. The verse calls out to the Israelite people as a community to create a space so that the Holy One can live among us and in us. Today, we are called to create a safe space among us so that “the other” can be protected.
Similarly, the word “dwell,” has sudden new meaning. This verse occurs when the Israelites are wanderers after fleeing the prosecution and slavery from Egypt. They are not setting out to create a permanent residence anytime soon, yet they are told to create unique place for God to not just take up temporary residence but to live among them. To dwell implies more than just being there for a bit. To dwell is to be a presence—a moral and responsible presence. To make that point even clearer, the parasha continues with exacting instructions and intricate details about how to construct that sanctuary so that it stresses the important function and purpose of the place.
As Yachad begins its home repair work this spring, we are all reminded of our unique responsibility and work to create functional dwellings that create sanctuary for those in our community who find themselves in unstable and fragile conditions. As Judaic scholar Dr. Erica Brown shares, “In Jewish life we move from house to house, imbuing sacredness to each space by virtue of the activities that take place there. A person needs a home, an anchor of stability; in this changing, chaotic world, every soul needs to be an island of repose.”
Yachad, working with hundreds of volunteers, makes that a reality for people of all faiths.