V’asu Li Mikdash and the ‘holiness project’

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 16 Feb 2017: V’asu li mikdash v’shochanti b’tocham.

Recording with English words: “We’ll make You a holy home, and You will live with us.”

Buy the sheet music: $2.25 (approx. £1.80), minimum 4 copies

The sheet music for this is available for purchase as part of ‘Five Sacred Chants’.

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

V’asu li mikdash, v’shochanti b’tocham.

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, and I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8)

When a group of us intentionally creates space and time for turning to God, God dwells not in that space, but in us. We can look for God not so much in things or objects, but in people’s actions, in relationships between people, and in people themselves. And, just as with the building of the mikdash (sanctuary) in the wilderness, each of us can contribute from our heart, and from what is within our means.

Creating an English verse to complement the Hebrew offers the chance to hear different possible intentions in the Hebrew. For example, ‘let them make Me a sanctuary’ can mean more than one thing. Making a sanctuary for God, we put aside a time and a place to focus on and acknowledge God. A J Heschel wrote: “To pray, then, means to bring God back into the world.” [1] We invite God into our awareness, using Torah and the Jewish wisdom of the ages to be our guide. Making a sanctuary ofGod, we can live with the consciousness that God is hamakom, ‘the Place’ in which we all exist, and can give reverence to all God’s Creation.

The English lyric for this setting is: “We’ll make You a holy home, and You will live with us.” Chanting these words, and turning them over in our minds, will reveal multiple meanings. It expresses that part of Jewish life that is about both yearning, and intention to make a better world. God will come, if we make the effort to make time and space for Her; at the same time, God comes – is here – regardless of whether we make space for Him.

This chant can be sung with a group, or with a slight adjustment, become a personal, private prayer: “I’ll make You a holy home, and You will live with me.” V’asu li mikdashcan offer an experience of sacred community, or an experience of sacred intimacy. We move towards God, and God moves towards us. Or is it the other way around? The point is, we meet each other half way.

The ‘holiness project’

We are told several things about holiness:

  • “You shall be holy (k’doshim); for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2)
  • “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (goi kadosh).” (Ex. 19:6)
  • “Let them build me a holy place (mikdash), and I will dwell within/between/among them.” (Ex. 25:8)
  • “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (l’kadsho).” (Ex. 20:7)
  • [to Moses] “the place on which you stand is holy ground (admat kodesh).” (Ex. 3:5)

So, God is holy; we are to be holy, be a holy nation, and make a holy place for God to live within/between/among us; the earth is made holy by God; and time can be made holy. All of these are part of what I call the ‘holiness project’ that is fundamental to Judaism.

As I sing these words of the chant, I feel both love (ohev) and fear (yirah – ‘awe)’. Yes, I yearn to create holiness in my own home, my marriage, my heart, my friendships, my work, my community – and to create a holy place for God. And the music is there to express the love I have, and feel, and that I want to put into this both as intention and in practical terms.

At the same time, I remember what Heschel wrote: “Words of prayer do not fade. They remain alive in the holy dimension. Words of prayer are commitments. We stand for what we utter.” That is scary. I am struck by the enormity of this ‘holiness project’, and how easy it is to get it wrong, and not live up to its ideals. Sometimes, I would prefer to run away, admit defeat, and declare myself unequal to the challenge. But, in the Ethics of the Ancestors (Pirket Avot 2:16), we are told: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” And, as my beloved rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi (zt”l) often said, “The only way we can get it together is together!” Truly, it cannot be done alone, but must, and can only, be achieved in community, with others.

This chant can be used in a variety of contexts: the opening of any service, perhaps especially for Shabbat; community building; the dedication of a synagogue or home; a wedding; Parshat Terumah; or private reflection. Perhaps, with our voices, we can make the whole world holy.

Notes

[1] Heschel, Abraham Joshua (1954) Man’s Quest for God, copyright Susannah Heschel 1996

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2 comments on “V’asu Li Mikdash and the ‘holiness project’
  1. Thank you, Alexander!
    Beautiful round and interpretation of this verse of Torah.
    Is there sheet music available for purchase?
    I am considering it for shabbat services next week, using both the Hebrew lyric and English.
    Sounds like your recording is from a midi. My band this coming week will include piano, violin, percussion and guitar.

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