Isn’t it nicer to be in your home when it is clean, orderly and beautiful? In fact, isn’t it calming and uplifting at the same time? In this week’s Torah portion, we are commanded to bring beautiful objects and our best skills to creating the mishkan, a home for the presence of God.
The Hebrew word for command (mitzvah) is related to the Aramaic word tzavta, which means connection. When I used to come across the term commandment in Torah, part of me would balk. I tended to bristle at being commanded to do something, but now I reframe it as an opportunity to connect. This helps me relax and consider if what I am being asked to do resonates with me as an opportunity to connect with myself, God or others. As you read this, notice if creating your own mishkan, a sanctuary for Divine Presence, resonates with you as an opportunity to connect more deeply.
The Torah describes with exacting specification the way the mishkan should be built, and the gorgeous types of wood, metal and yarns that should be used in the mishkan and in the sacred vestments. ("...gold, silver and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen and goat's hair: tanned ram skins... and acacia wood;...") Precise directions are given for exactly how to use these materials to build the ark and it’s poles, the table and it’s poles and utensils, the lampstand, and more.
As I read these verses, they remind me of the importance of beauty and order in the mishkan/sacred space that is my own home. To cultivate peace and enter into a sense of the holy, it helps me to not only address my inner life (such as prayer and meditation), but also have the outer pieces in place, such as neatness, beauty, pleasant fragrances and pleasing textures.
My home is my nest – it is where I pray and meditate daily, where I connect with myself and God on a deep level. It makes a huge difference to me when my home is organized, clean and has decorative items, even simple ones, arranged in a beautiful way. For example, I like having an altar where I put objects and pictures that are imbued with meaning, such as pictures of my family, feathers and other natural mementos, and candles and scents. Having order and beauty on my altar and in my home makes it easier for me to engage in my spiritual practice.
I also strive to make my home a welcoming and comfortable space for my family and friends to spend time together- a place of calm and harmony within the storm of our tumultuous world. This is another aspect of the mishkan / holy space I create. Some of the other ways that a beautiful and orderly home contribute to my sense of holiness and peace are that I feel calmer from being able to find things easily, I focus better on my work, and my heart opens at the sight of the simple beauty surrounding me.
In addition to commanding us to contribute to the creation of the mishkan, God states that everyone whose heart is moved to should contribute. In Torah, when we read the word lev (heart), we know that it does not mean heart in the modern sense, but a combination of heart and mind. It is the deep wisdom of the heart- not merely intellectual nor simply emotional. When I check with the wisdom of my heart, I know that it is not pride that drives me to want my home to be orderly and beautiful. It is a wisdom that knows the benefits that ensue on so many levels.
Recently, I read an article by Nigel Savage of Hazon which further inspired me to focus my attention on creating my home as a sanctuary. He said that one of the ways to prepare for Passover was to get rid of the excess “stuff” that most of us have. He likened these unnecessary items to chametz- the leavening we remove from our homes for Passover. This chametz is physical but has connotations on spiritual levels such as getting back to basics and focusing on what is important instead of acquiring.
It takes time and effort to go through closets, de-clutter and organize, but I know the results will bring me not only outer neatness, order and beauty, but inner peace and connection. So I will begin now, a little at a time, and make progress towards creating my own mishkan. May we all be blessed to create a home that is a true sanctuary for ourselves and our loved ones.
I am a Rabbinic Chaplain in the Jewish Renewal tradition who brings a light-filled and joyful Judaism to others who want to experience the beauty of Jewish spirituality.