Kosher Sutra: Sanctuary (Terumah)
“Oh Lord Prepare Me
To be a sanctuary
Pure and Holy
Kind and True
I’ll be a living sanctuary
For You” (Gospel Standard)
Our Kosher Sutra reads: “Make for me a sanctuary and I dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). The rabbis teach that there is an apparent mistake within this verse in that ‘sanctuary’ is a single noun, but ‘them’ is plural. They resolve the problem by explaining that every single one of us is a sanctuary, and a dwelling place for God.
This is all nice and fluffy, but what does it mean? The context of the verse is at the beginning of a long passage that describes the incredibly specific details for building the mishkan, the structure which will become a ‘house’ for God. It describes beams, staves, joints, foundations, furniture and accoutrements of all sorts.
The traditional purpose of asana - yoga postures - is to strengthen our body so that we can sit and meditate for extended periods. ‘Asana’ means ‘seated’ (in Hebrew it would be ‘yoshev’ or ‘yeshiva’!), and they are supposed to be rigorously applied to bring strength and vitality to our body. This is so much more using yoga just as a flexible workout or relaxation practice. Although it has all of these benefits, it is supposed to really focus our body so that it is a powerful dwelling-place for prana (yogic energy).
In our modern world, spirituality is often described in very vague terms. Teachers talk about ‘doing what you feel is right’, ‘follow your heart’, ‘listen to your intuition’. These statements are all truthful but they are incomplete if they are all that is taught. Spirituality takes a lot of work and continued application if it is to come to fruition.
Yoga postures are a very helpful tool for strengthening our body, which is the dwelling-place of our soul. Standing poses help our feet and legs provide a firm foundation for the structure, backbends help open the upper cavities for the breath and create openness in the spine, while twists help cleanse toxins and clear blockages to keep the life-force flowing.
Our reading begins with saying that ‘everyone whose heart will motivate them’ should get involved (Ex 25:2), but it then goes on to say how they should get involved. If we really want to create a dwelling place for the Divine, then we have to work consistently to make a vessel that can hold the spirit of the universe. The stronger the vessel, the more light it can contain.
Marcus J Freed is the creator of Bibliyoga (www.bibliyoga.com), President of the Jewish Yoga Network (www.jewishyoganetwork.org) and CEO of Freedthinking (www.freedthinking.com). He lives in Los Angeles.