Connecting to the Tabernacle

The concluding Torah portion of Shemot, Pekudei, which we will read tomorrow, completes roughly 2 months worth of discussion about the construction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is the mobile dwelling around which the Children of Israel pitch their camps, and it is understood as the point at which G-d’s divine presence (Shechinah, which comes from a root meaning dwelling and neighbor) resides in the physical world. This is important, because it indicates that although there is a distinction below holy and mundane, there is also a way for the two to come together.

Many aspects of Judaism focus on the intersection between the divine and the mundane — ours is a religion in which even the most fundamental and everyday occurrences can be imbued with some aspect of holiness through the recitation of a bracha (blessing) or prayer. Even using the restroom can be followed by a short prayer that helps us to recognize the miraculous fact that if all our tubes and openings weren’t working properly, we wouldn’t survive long.

It is for this reason that Judaism doesn’t ask practitioners to abstain from taking pleasure in the physical world – it is understood that humans are meant to fully live in their bodies and their environments, rather than to seek perfect transcendence. Instead of transcending, we are given rituals and practices that allow us to find the divine in others, in the world around us, in our creations, and in ourselves. This grows from the idea that we are each created B’tzelem Elokim (in G-d’s image), and that we each therefore carry a spark of holiness within us.

This week our faculty engaged in a professional development session about inclusion in our classrooms. Inclusion is an educational term that refers to the degree to which students with learning differences or disabilities are supported and welcomed. If we truly believe that each of us contains a spark of divinity, then this core value should lead Jewish institutions to continually be exploring ways in which we can be more inclusive. From thinking about the ways in which we speak to each other to the expectations we lay on our children, we strive to instill an awareness that we are each different and each worthy. Our speaker used the following quote (attributed to Albert Einstein) to convey part of her message:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

The Parsha concludes with the completion of the Tabernacle, and describes the divine presence inhabiting that space in the physical world as a fire at night and a cloud leading the people’s travels each day. This symbolic union of physical with divine serves as a model. Of course we can’t literally spend each moment noticing miracles and imbuing the mundane parts of life with holiness. But we also recognize that there is potential holiness all around us, and that when we do spend a moment mindfully seeking the guiding cloud or the resting flame, it will be there for us.

Shabbat Shalom,