The River that Flows Between Us

I'm returning to an old, well-loved topic, reciprocity, because yesterday a friend shared this beautiful quote with me; it has been on my mind ever since:

as the river gives itself to the ocean

what is inside me moves inside you


Reservoir 2

This quote from Kabir is a welcome reminder of mutuality in human relationships: your heartbeat, my breath; your sorrow, my tears; your trust, my faith. 

I wonder about the conditions and agreements that make safe reciprocity possible. We are always holding that tension between openness and privacy, hidden and revealed, boundaries and connection. 

This week I was invited to write a reflection piece for the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in which I explored these very themes as they relate to an upcoming Torah reading, Terumah. Terumah is one of my favorites, as it invites us into the beautiful traveling sanctuary. One does not have to be religious, or Jewish, or believe in God, to relate to these themes of holiness and human dignity.

I have included below the full text for your reading pleasure.

Sacred Impermanence:

Torah Reflections on Parashat Terumah

25:1 – 27:19

This week
we are reading the section of the Torah that describes in elaborate detail the
construction of the
mishkan, the
sanctuary that travels with the Israelites on their journey.

Terumah gives us precise instructions about
the colors and types of jewels, stones, clasps and cloths that are used to
build the mishkan. The mishkan is a temporary structure, a movable tent of
sacred impermanence, constructed with painstaking intentionality and detail; it
is also a reflection of these qualities as they exist in our own lives—in other
words, our mortality, our strength and our limitations, and ultimately, our


Carry the Ark of Witnessing there,
behind the curtain, so that the curtain shall serve you as a partition between
the Holy and the Holy of Holies. Place the cover upon the Ark of Witnessing in
the Holy of Holies.                    

    (Exodus 26:33-34)

The term Ark
of Witnessing (
Aron ha’Edut) is
particularly powerful because having witnesses to the deepest truth of our
experience is part of what creates a sense of sacredness.

challenging times, people often feel exposed or isolated as they journey
through loss, illness or change. Sometimes what covers us is a simple curtain
or cloth; despite its austerity, even a hospital gown or drape allows us to
maintain our dignity and sense of safety.

When we are
grieving or healing, it can be challenging to move through the normal routines
of life; sometimes we need different boundaries between our regular roles and
responsibilities and the imminent, tender feelings and experiences.

That which covers and protects us is
as important as what is inside, hence the significance of the “cover” and the
“curtain.” As Terumah progresses, Moses is instructed to “couple the cloths to
one another with the clasps, so that the Mishkan becomes one/whole/oneness—
v’hayah ha-mishkan ehad” (Exodus

Mishkan Ehad—the sanctuary of oneness, of unity;
How we are connected creates sacred wholeness.

What is it
that connects us to one another? Sometimes it is our shared experience of loss
or sorrow, as we have seen with natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the
recent earthquake in Haiti, as well as personal challenges like healing from
illness or injury.

ethical teachings emphasize the importance of maintaining human dignity,
particularly during times of vulnerability.

One who publicly shames a neighbor is as though that person
shed blood…One who whitens a friend’s face in public has no share in the world
to come.

  (Talmud, Baba Metziah 58b-59)

There is a
palpable tension in
Parashat Terumah as
we hold a delicate balance between the safety and dignity of boundaries on one
hand, and the power of human connection and witnessing on the other hand.  This ongoing experience of holding the
balance includes both autonomy and interdependence, boundaries and
transparency, privacy and vulnerability; we are individuals and we are part of
a community.

May we
serve as humble witnesses to one another, recognizing our shared experiences of
connection with grace and dignity. As we walk together along this path of
sacred impermanence, may we feel the presence of God in both hidden and
revealed moments.

© Karen Erlichman, LCSW, Bay Area Jewish Healing Center