Parshat Terumah 5779: Marie Kondo and the Mishkan

This week I’ve been plagued by the nagging question (and perhaps you have, too): what would Marie Kondo think of the Mishkan?

For those of you who haven’t gotten hooked on either the book or new Netflix series, Marie Kondo believes in the “magical art of tidying up.” On the show, she encourages people to let go of anything that doesn’t “spark joy” for them. If you’re wondering what that means, you’re not alone. She explains in almost every episode that to spark joy is to feel what you would feel when you hold a puppy---and she often squeals when she is explaining this. People often end up letting go of much of their belongings--but never without a good cry and some somber music playing. Through tidying up, Marie Kondo believes that we honor our lives and our space, and foster a greater sense of holiness in the home.

This week, the Israelites are commanded to build the Mishkan: the heavy and ornate portable home for G!d that they schlepped through the desert for 40 years. It was a dwelling place for G!d, and a meeting point for them together. Even with its power and beauty, I wonder if it sparked joy for them, or if they ever considered leaving it behind.

I recently counted and was shocked to find out that I have lived in not 10, not 15, but 20 different homes since graduating high school. I’m sure I’m not alone with this. But this means that 19 times I have taken that familiar heavy sigh, looked at all of my belongings and said out loud or to myself, “Okay. What’s coming with me?”

What comes with us on our wanderings through this world? What makes the cut? What makes us feel at home in our wanderings?

The Netivot Shalom asks this week, “How is this mitzvah--the mitzvah of building the mishkan eternal?” Meaning, how does it transcend that time and space to reach us now, when we are not wandering through the desert per se but wandering through our lives. He answers his own question beautifully, saying, “Every person is an entire world before G!d--therefore, we are each commended to make a mishkan within us, in our bodies. This is why G!d says in this week’s parsha ‘make for me a Mikdash that I may dwell within them.” The Netivot Shalom draws a beautiful and in retrospect obvious conclusion--what is the one thing that we take with us throughout our time on this earth, albeit changing, evolving, growing. To fulfill the commandment of building the Mishkan we must build a mishkan within our bodies to take with us in our wanderings through the desert of life.

I just wanna pause the Netivot Shalom for a second to take you into my wanderings a couple weeks ago. I was on vacation, and for those of you who don’t know me very well, I don’t do well on vacation. A lack of structure and surplus of wandering time leaves me in my own thoughts in a way that does not exactly feel restful. It became ever apparent to me, as I was in a new and unfamiliar place, just how unknown the future is. Around sundown nearly every day, I felt the familiar creeping feeling arising in my heart. My response felt almost primal, a need for a home, for something familiar. It was as if an ancestor or some spirit guide or who knows what possessed me in that moment, because I knew exactly what to do in a way I never have before, and I started to davven. I took out my phone with my little siddur app and, wherever the primal call seized me, there I was davvening--on a cobblestone sidewalk, by a river, waiting for a train. It occurred to me that--at least in that time--the words offered themselves to me as shelter. A home wherever I am. And I could be a home for them, speaking them through my mouth.

The Netivot Shalom must have known this primal call, or perhaps foresaw someone just like me; a wandering Jew in her last year of Rabbinical School with no idea of what’s to come, and wrote so beautifully just how we are to create this portable mishkan. He explains that it’s through our words, and through communicating our needs and desires and yearnings to G!d, that we build something. A relationship. A home. This relationship, and the words we speak to each other in our relationship, can serve as a home to orient us when we feel that things are being pulled away from us and we have no idea what’s to come. As G!d can be a home for us, we can create a home for G!d within our words, in our bodies, in our mouths.

May we be blessed to build our Mishkan through our words and song, and find grounding in life’s most uncertain moments. And throughout this process of building, may we feel that spark of joy, carrying it with us through our wanderings.