Four and a half years ago, when I had first arrived in Los Angeles to begin rabbinical school, I made a scary decision. I took out my phone, navigated to the number that read, “Home,” deleted “Home” and wrote “Mommy and Daddy.”
With a few keystrokes I fundamentally changed where I was in the world, and how I felt about it.
When I first stopped living at my parents’ house, I was 18 and went away to a college forty-five minutes away. It felt far, but I went home on weekends. After I graduated, I spent one year at home, another year in Israel, another year at home, and another year in Israel before I moved to LA. I was always someplace temporarily. Something better – something different – was always around the horizon, and no place was really home for me. Even LA, far-flung from New Jersey, was for rabbinical school.
With those keystrokes, I said to myself that Livingston, NJ was no longer my home. I wanted to be free. I wanted to feel untethered. It was terrifying. And it was accurate. My childhood home felt smaller every time I went back. I used to look forward to my bed just the way I liked it, and my pillows just the way I liked them. But as time went on, my bed felt smaller and smaller, less and less mine.
At the end of next year, I am graduating rabbinical school, and I don’t know where I’m going to go next, or where I’ll work. I’m afraid. Will I have enough money? Will I be able to get a job in an area that is queer-friendly? Will there be eligible bachelors? Will I enjoy my work? Will I make friends? Will I be happy? What if I make a mistake?
In this week’s parashah, Pekudei, the book of Exodus is finished. Not only that, but the building of the Tabernacle is completed, about which God said to Moses a few parshas ago, “Build for me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8). The Tabernacle was a precursor to the Temple, the site where the Israelites made their offerings to God and where God’s Holy Presence was most felt. The Tabernacle was also portable – it was made so the Israelites could carry it with them as they wandered through the desert, and eventually to the land of Israel. After the Tabernacle is completed, God’s Presence in this realm, called the Shekhinah, descends into it.
There is something curious about this Tabernacle, intended to be a home for God. Why does God need a home? And why wouldn’t God choose someplace more permanent? One answer that God, Godsself, brings is that The Infinite One wants to be among us, to dwell amongst us. Indeed, the Tabernacle and the Presence of God are with the Israelites as they wander through the desert.
Not only this, but when the Temple (the “permanent” form of the Tabernacle) is destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans and the Jews are sent into exile, Jewish legends personify God’s presence, the Shekhinah, as a great weeping female spirit. The Shekhinah, who has also been exiled from Her Temple, is said to be always with us. She cries with us as we cry, suffering with us when we suffer. The Shekhinah is said to wander aimlessly in the desert, in Jerusalem, wailing that Her children are in exile, waiting for the day when she can return home again. That day is said to be the beginning of the Messianic Age.
Living in tension between being in exile and yearning to be home has been a central part of Judaism for hundreds of years, not only speaking to a Jewish experience, but a central human need for shelter, for home, for stability. I am grateful that my own “wanderings” have been relatively trouble-free compared to others’. I also take comfort in the reality that our texts acknowledge that it is a human pain, this craving for a home, and that God is with us, loving us, crying with us, as we are on that journey home.
Where is home for us? When have we been exiled? When have we exiled ourselves or exiled others? Some of us just want to feel rooted. Some crave acceptance. Some crave a warm blanket, quiet, peace. A place to be ourselves. A place where we won’t feel alienated. I pray and hope that we all can find or even create that place, that space, if we haven’t already.