There is a hymn with a beautiful melody that many Jewish groups have been borrowing from our Christian neighbors in recent years that begins,
to be a sanctuary,
pure and holy,
tried and true….”
The words are also beautiful. The idea that an individual person could be a sanctuary is not foreign to Judaism. In fact, many congregations use a Hebrew verse from the Torah as a free translation of this line of the hymn:
“They will make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The rabbinic commentators ask a question on the wording of this verse, “Shouldn’t it have said, “They will make for me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in it?” They answer their own question: the verse says it this way to tell you that God’s dwelling is more about dwelling in us than it is about dwelling in any kind of building.
It struck me the other day as we sang this song as part of our Shabbat morning service that this is a very appropriate sentiment for Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the holiday, more than any other, when we bring the Sanctuary into our homes. The candles that we light on Hanukkah are in remembrance of the candles that were lit in the Sanctuary, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. But they are even more than that: they are holy like the candles in the ancient Sanctuary.
After lighting the candles, many people recite the words, “…these lights are holy…” The Hanukkah candles are almost a bit of the ancient Temple transported into our homes; which is another way of saying that our homes are the new Sanctuaries.
Holiness doesn’t reside in buildings. It starts with each person. When we are conscious of our own divine spark and see that same divine spark in others, treating others as holy images of the divine, then our hearts become the Sanctuary. When we create homes that reflect those values, finding the image of God in all people, our homes become Sanctuaries.
We cannot ignore the fact that today when we speak of sanctuary, we often are not thinking of an ancient temple, but of a safe place where undocumented immigrants can feel safe from being picked up and extradited for some minor offense; a place where they don’t need to fear calling the police if they need assistance because those police might instead turn on them and separate them from their families.
But, perhaps the meanings aren’t that different after all. When we start in our hearts with a sense of the sacredness of all life and all humans as in the divine image, instill that idea in our homes and families, and from there into our communities-how else would a ‘sanctuary city” come about?
This has always been the organic, natural way of changing the world: starting with our own hearts, striving (to borrow Gandhi’s words) to become the change we want to see in the world; then letting this consciousness pervade our homes, our families, teaching by example to our children, talking about it at the dinner table; then letting that light shine out into the world – so that eventually we may see that day that the whole world is revealed as a Sanctuary, a place filled with holiness and sparks or divine holiness. Looking at our Hanukkah candles tonight, we can think of all these concentric circles of holiness, beginning in the sanctuary of our hearts, homes, and out into the world.
Organic Torah is an organization dedicated to learning and teaching this organic, natural Torah. By becoming a member or donating to Organic Torah you help bring this kind of Torah into the world. We believe that the Torah (in the broad sense of Jewish sacred wisdom) is a Tree of Life that sustains us and helps us reveal the beauty and holiness in the world because the Torah and the natural world work on the same principles: The ancient wisdom contained in the Jewish tradition, such as the nestedness which we see in our expanding circles of Sanctuaries, is also found in every cell and every eco-system on earth. At Organic Torah we believe that finding that spark of wisdom in our bodies, our communities, all around us in the natural world, and in our ancient traditions, is the best way forward to bringing about a world of light, life and joy.
In this first year of our new launch, we’ve been moving forward in exciting ways. We’ve launched our membership program and already have over 70 individual members! We are building our institutional memberships and we welcome our newest institutional members: Temple Beth Zion (TBZ) in Brookline, MA, Temple Emanuel Sinai in Worcester, MA, and Congregation Sof Ma’arav in Honolulu! Organic Torah is all over the world! We’ve just started our eight part Webinar Series: Paradigm Shifting Conversations: Healing Ourselves and the World. And we are working on a couple of Days of Learning created especially for JOFEE (Jewish Farm, Food Environmental Education) young adults. This is just the beginning! I hope that you’ll join us in this exciting and vital exploration. Please join Organic Torah as a member or help to sponsor your synagogue or other institution to become members. Memberships in Organic Torah are for one year, starting from the time of joining. So, if your synagogue joins now, you’ll be eligible for our programing until December of 2018! Or, if membership isn’t right for you at this time, please make an end of year donation of any amount to Organic Torah. And, let our lights shine together.