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Vayakel-Pekudei: The Shechina Dwells Within

Originally posted on 

“Each woman who was wise of heart in her hands wove and brought her weaving… All the women whose hearts lifted them up in wisdom wove the goatskins.” (Ex 35:25-26)

Our rabbis taught that “wise of heart” is understood as the Shechina. (The Shechina is referred to as the “earthly wisdom” in kabbalah, a female aspect of the Divine, the nurturing mother who stays with Israel through exile, weeping with her children.  )  “Her hands wove” refers to the women themselves who directed their minds to piety and “the work was done by itself”. Their “hearts were lifted up” bringing them to a “heavenly wisdom”.  (For we learn in Berachot 35b: “If they are so pious as to pray all day, how will the work get done?”  “If they are so pious the work will get done by itself.”) The Zohar thus concludes that the Shechina, Herself, wove the curtains for the Mishkan.  I can see in this verse the women sitting by their weaving, their hearts swaying to the rhythm of God’s presence, their hands moving as though of their own accord, guided by their union with the divine.  The Divine acted through the hearts and hands of the women of Israel, yet it was still they, by their own efforts who did the work.  God acts through us, and yet we give make the effort entirely our own.  This is the union, the coupling, of our action with Divine presence in our lives.  We can not hold back, even for a moment, from stretching toward the work of the Divine.  (Rabbi Arthur Green, Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings from Around the Maggid’s Table)

Shechina שכינה  and Mishkan מִשְׁכַּן‎ are taken from the same Hebrew root, ש.כ.נ., meaning “to dwell.”  Mishkan, Tabernacle, is the dwelling place for God, and Shechina is the presence of God that dwells among or within us.  We are used to thinking of the Shechinaas a cloud, something with form outside of ourselves, resting in the Tent of Meeting for Moses and the prophets to confer with and translate to us.  Rabbi Shefa Gold offers us the image of the Shechina as “she who dwells within us.”  She writes “By stepping forward in service, by taking responsibility for our own triggers, by acknowledging the mystery of Love, by paying attention to the details of kindness… [we create a space within for God to dwell and] the Shechina speaks.”  By lifting our hearts and hands, directing them to higher goals, we open a place within our soul for the God to dwell, for God to act through and in union with us. This is the Shechina.

In Hebrew we refer to our core prayer as Avoda, service, or work.  We come together in prayer not just to recite theological teachings, but in service, in labor, to the truths that bring us to the higher realm of God.  It is service, to ideals, to kindness, to our fellow human being, that makes a dwelling place within our soul into which we can welcome the Divine.  Why do we require a minyan for a complete service, because that which we labor for can not be achieved without the effort of grace and generosity to our neighbor.  There is a comfort in the precision and the pageantry of our service, but the real effort is to make space between the details for the Shechina to speak from within us.  Relationship comes from labor.  We hear the “still small voice” of God in the quiet moments of love between one human being and another.  Our hearts beat to the rhythm of the Divine as we hold in closeness that which we have sought and achieved.

Kavanah  (My thanks to Rabbi Shawn Zevit for allowing me to reprint his words) 

I am my prayer to you

I call myself present

And into alignment with the passing of time

May the abundant generosity that fills our world

Come through me

And answer my yearnings

With truth

And expansive understanding. Psalm 69:14

We remember we are all sacred vessels through which the Divine flows into the world.

Each of us fashioned in our own particular way so as to bring forth our unique gifts.

Our lives are our offerings.

May our hearts be open and our minds be clear

So the work of our hands bring blessing

And the work of our hands brings peace.