Then have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them.
After the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, when they were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses was given detailed instructions to build a mishkan, a dwelling place, with its furnishings, and the Ark of the Covenant, all to be constructed of acacia wood. The mishkan, a portable sanctuary, would serve as a visible, tangible symbol of God's presence in the midst of the people, and a sacred space for encountering the Divine.
Several species of acacia were common and accessible on the Sinai peninsula, but only Acacia raddiana is suitable for construction. This thorny tree has an impressive umbrella shape: a single trunk with a broad and flat crown. The bark is brown-reddish and the leaves are small to conserve water. Highly resistant to drought, it grows deep roots and uses water stores that other plants cannot reach. Because the tree grows slowly, the wood is hard and dense, resistant to water and insect damage. Acacia wood is beautiful and nearly indestructible, well-suited for carrying the mishkan as the Israelites sojourned in the wilderness and moved on into Canaan.
The Latin word for "sacred" gives us the word "sanctuary," a place of refuge, a quiet place for reflection and growth, where we can restore our connection with the holy, and nourish our sense of self. In our homes, our gardens, and our community, we can create spaces that open us to the possibility that the Infinite is seeking us. And like the firmly rooted acacia in the wilderness, we can draw our deepest sustenance from the old, wise Earth: our sanctuary as we journey in the vastness of the universe.
Michael Schlesinger is Temple Sinai’s Biblical Gardener. Mike has been gardening since he was eight years old. He used to grow grape vines and make wine when he lived in California. He now tends to our garden, continuing the traditions started by Catherine Walters.