Picture from the Parasha 370.
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
‘They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell in their midst’ (Exodus
The details of the construction of the Sanctuary, its furnishings and the
garments of the kohanim are painstakingly and exquisitely described when God
issues the commandment (in the portions of Truma and Tetzaveh) and again when
the Israelites carry it out (in Vayakhel-Pekudei). If the construction of the
Sanctuary merited such repetition, it must have been of supreme importance. Why?
Conventional wisdom would have it, and all ancient and even modern religions
would concur – that if indeed God created a world in which we may dwell, the
least we can do is to return the compliment and create a Sanctuary in which the
Divine Presence may dwell, at least here on Earth.
The Yom Kippur drama
for forgiveness would certainly suggest that that High Priest “meets” (as it
were) the Divine in the Holy of Holies once a year on the fast day which the
hassidic world calls The Day of Holiness (Yom Hakadosh
) just for that
However, the passage at the conclusion of Tetzaveh
otherwise: “I shall set my meeting there [at the entrance of the Tent of
Meeting] with the Children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified with my glory.
I shall sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the Altar; and I shall sanctify Aaron
and his sons to minister to Me. I shall dwell among the children of Israel and I
shall be their God, who took them out of the Land of Egypt in order that I may
dwell in their midst; I am the Lord their God” (Ex. 29: 43-46).
here God’s dwelling place is within the Jewish people – and not within the
sanctuary. This is precisely what the introductory verse of the last five
chapters of the Book of Exodus tell us: “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary so
that I may dwell in their midst.”
But what does this mean? Can God enter
a physical human being and reside within human physicality? Does God
“incorporealize” within the Jewish nation? Is this not dangerously close to the
Christian notion of God-in-man which Judaism considers heretical? Let us go back
to the time of the miraculous splitting of the Re(e)d Sea, the drowning of the
Egyptians and the salvation of the Jews. The Hebrews then sang, “God had become
for me salvation; this is my God ‘ve’anvehu
’” (Ex. 15:4).
The last word
of this verse is difficult to translate. Targum renders it to mean “I shall make
a house for Him” and since the Hebrew word naveh
means a house; accordingly the
meaning of the verse would be, “This is my God and I shall build him a
Sanctuary” – presumably in which He will dwell on earth (a notion which we have
Rashi maintains that the root word in ve’anvehu
” which means beautiful: “This is my God and I shall beautify Him with my
melodic prayers,” or as others would rather have it: “I shall beautify Him by
beautifying His commandments,” by wearing the most beautiful tallit
, by decorating His succa with the finest adornments.
sage ingeniously splits the difficult word in two: “ani vehu
,” He and I.
According to this interpretation, the verse is rendered: “This is my God, and I
shall do what He does, as it were: just as He feeds the hungry, so shall I, and
just as He clothes the naked, so shall I.”
But perhaps the best
interpretation of the verse is that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who renders
it, “This is my God and I shall become His house; I shall attempt to express His
will in every word I utter and every action I perform.”
Thus we see that
the Bible never means to teach that God assumes physical form; the Bible is
merely conveying that when a human being, or a nation, expresses the will of the
Divine, that it is tantamount to having the Divine presence living among us, to
having God truly in our midst.
A beloved mentor and friend, Reb Aharon
Landau once told me of a hassid who saw a magnificent kiddush
cup which he
purchased for his rebbe. Handing over the gift, he requested that his rebbe
“pray that Elijah the Prophet reveal himself to me at my Seder this year.” The
hassid lived in anxious expectation, but he had no revelation of Elijah at his
When the disgruntled hassid complained, his rebbe gave him the
following advice: “Next year, be sure to invite poor people to your home for the
Seder. Have special concentration when the door is opened for Elijah and you
will surely experience him!” Once again, the hassid followed the rabbi’s advice,
certain that at the Seder he would witness the great prophet.
again, he was again doomed to disappointment.
This time, he angrily
confronted his rebbe. The rebbe took his hand and said, “But of course you
experienced Elijah; when you invited 10 paupers you became Elijah the
This is the point of the biblical text. When we express God’s
will with our every act and word, we becomes Godlike.
manifest in the world through such individuals.The writer is the founder
and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi