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Judaism: Sanctifying the Mundane

This week's Dvar Torah is by Rav Avi Goldberg - Former Rosh Kollel, Memphis, Teacher in "Himelfarb" high school, Jerusalem.
Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014 11:17 AM


The Torah commands us about the establishment of the Temple (Mishkan), and the building of the holy vessels. But as modern people, it is hard to understand such a commandment. Does G-d live in a house? Even King Solomon during the dedication of the Temple Says:

"But will G-d in very truth dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built" (Kings 1, 8, 27)

How can the worship of G-d enter into physical dimensions, sacrifices, and the ark containing the tablets?

There is a teaching of Rabbi Nachman of Breslau (Likutei Moharn Tinyana 116) in which he tells of his visit to Israel. He describes meeting people who told him they could not believe that the Land of Israel is a physical land, as all other countries. They imagined Israel is in a completely different world. Rabbi Nachman adds that the soil in the land of Israel is similar to the soil in all the other countries.

Summarizing his teaching, Rabbi Nachman writes that - "this matter is important because people are mistaken, by thinking that one must recognize the righteous or other objects of sanctity in a form that is different than regular appearance, and that is really not the case."

As citizens of the land of Israel, we are aware of its high level of sanctity, but also of its simple, physical, existence. Life in Israel is 'normal'. It has economy and trade, education and health, demonstrations and general election. This aspect of life does not contradict the sanctity but is rather a base for it. Sanctity in this world is not detached from materialism, but is riding on it, and dwells in it.

God commands us - "And they should take me an offering... From every man whose heart is willing, take my offering" – If we succeed in doing that, and have good intentions and generosity, then hopefully G-d will dwell amongst us. The dwelling of G-d is the outcome of our physical action, coupled with our good intentions. Whilst collecting the materials of the Mishkan (temple), the children of Israel were full of hope and wishes that G-d will actually dwell within these materials. And on the eighth day of the 'Miluim', the inauguration day of the Mishkan, all the people were anxious to see – did we succeed? Will G-d actually dwell upon these physical materials? In very few, but meaningful words, the Torah describes the moment when people see the evidence of the presence be of God -

"And fire came out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar, the burnt offering and the fat, and all the people saw,  and were happy, and fell on their faces." (Leviticus 9, 24)

In every action, we should remember that although we are acting in this material world, we can bring the Divine Presence to dwell amongst us. The money that can cause envy, pride, theft, etc., can also serve the temple or other holy and important matters. The same grapes that produce wine to drink at clubs and corrupted parties could also produce wine for the libation on the altar, Kiddush on Shabbat, and blessing and praising G-d during a wedding or a Brit. The question is not only what the physical material is, but also what we make of it, and whether we are attempting to bring G-d's presence into it.

The Talmud Megillah (10b) Says - "A Tradition from our fathers teaches us that the Ark is not of measure" and Rashi explains - "does not hold any ground space…" This means that although the Ark has a length and a width (as we read in this week's Parsha), it became clear that the Ark did not take up space, as if it is not there. This tradition (along with other daily miracles which occurred in the temple), teaches us about the correct approach to the temple. On one hand there is an actual house with physical dimensions, made of physical materials and in specific forms. But at the same time, if all the preparations and donations of heart were made properly, this same house becomes and entirely spiritual place. The Ark that is the heart of the temple, containing and preserving the tablets of Mount Sinai, "is not of measure". The Ark that continues the testimony of Mount Sinai for all ages is a material, but also a spiritual entity that does not take up space and physical dimensions.

The story of the Book of Esther, that take place during the destruction, occurs between the first and second Temple. The sages found ten banquets in the Megilla, and therefore established a mitzvah to drink on Purim. The banquets at Shushan were feasts of debauchery and wickedness, and in comparison we are commanded to drink on Purim in a holy way.

Some may think that the existence of Israel exempts us from our duty to try and bring sanctity to the land. But just as the existence of the temple did not guarantee us life of holiness, so too living in Israel does not automatically create sanctity. We are the ones who brought holiness down to the Temple, and who can bring holiness to the Land of Israel.

Every Shabbat we sing the poem of the R. Shlomo Alkabetz, a Safed Kabbalist of about 500 years ago, and among other things we sing - "Sanctuary of the King - royal city, get up get out of the destruction." R. Alkabetz defines a full role of the Temple and Jerusalem - "Sanctuary of the King, "but at the same time - "A royal city". Let us not think that the temple is something detached from this world, a spiritual creation distinct from the material. On the contrary - the Sanhedrin which sat in the temple mount discussed the laws of man and woman, cases of murder and damage and etc.

When we will understand the depth of the connection between the sanctuary of the King and the royal city, we will hopefully, very soon Be"h, see G-d dwell in all our actions, especially in the Temple.

The Torah MiTzion movement strives to inter-connect and inspire world Jewry through Torah-centered Religious-Zionism by offering various models designed to reach and impact the Jewish people at both the communal and personal levels, including the setting up of Zionist Kollels in many communities abroad. There are groups in Sydney, Melbourne, St. Louis, Memphis, Moscow, Montreal, Munich, Capetown, Montivideo, Lima and more.