“My body is a temple, ancient and crumbling.” How many times have I seen that cartoon on Facebook? Why have I never seen a post that says, “My body is a temple, it’s filled holiness”?
I thought about this as I walked out of the gym today, singing Sanctuary, a Shaker hymn based on this week’s parashah, Terumah. In Shemot/Exodus 25:8 God tells Moses, V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tokham, “Let them build me a sanctuary and I will dwell within their midst.” What a beautiful commandment to engage in such holy work! God further tells Moses to instruct the people whose heart moves them, to bring gifts of various items that will be used in the building of this dwelling-place on earth for the Divine presence.
“Oh Lord, prepare me,
To be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true.
And in thanksgiving,
I’ll be a living sanctuary to you.”
Decades after the hymn became popular, the Hebrew was added by Cantor Mia Cohen– v’anachnu n’vareikh Ya, may atah v’ad olam, “And we, we will bless Yah/God, from now until forever.”
I could chant this all day; it reminds me of my worth as a human being in all my glory–or not! The chant reminds me that if I don’t nurture my body, I can’t nurture my soul. As one of our morning blessings reminds us, Elo-hai n’shama shenatata bi t’hora hi, “God, the soul you have put into me is pure.” Interestingly, we recite this after the blessing acknowledging that God fashioned our bodies with wisdom, etc., because if any of our parts wouldn’t work properly, we “wouldn’t be able to stand before God.” The Sage who arranged that must have been an elder!
Turning 60, and more recently 61, was a wake-up call; I had to accept that there were things I couldn’t do like I used to, and I had to learn to be kind to myself physically and emotionally. This has been good. I’ve established care with specialists so I have baselines moving forward, and I’ve learned (often the hard way) what my body can and can’t handle.
I walked out of the gym marveling at the body that carried me through my workout and will carry me throughout my day. My body doesn’t always cooperate, and there are days I barely make 20 minutes on the treadmill, and when that happens, it happens.
Just as the Mishkan in the wilderness was built by those who “volunteered in their hearts”–asher yidbenu leebo, my body was built with love (and Ben & Jerry’s, because we do need to feed our souls!). Parshat Terumah is a reminder to treat myself and my body as a vessel for holiness. It took years, but I’ve learned to care for and respect the temple I call my body, so I can nurture God’s presence within me.