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It had been thirty-four years since Jacob escaped his brother Esau’s wrath. During this time Jacob had spent fourteen years studying Torah and twenty years building his family. He had descended to the immoral pit of his uncle Laban’s home, and emerged unaffected and even stronger for the ordeal. Esau, …

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Home » Vayakhel

Vayakhel Pekudei: Playing Host to G-d

Submitted by on March 3, 2018 – 9:29 pmOne Comment | 2,933 views

A Wise Host

The host of the party was worried that there were too many people and not enough refreshments. He was sure that not everyone had been invited, but he had to identify the crashers. So, he called for silence and asked, “Will those from the bride’s side of the family please stand?” About twenty people stood. Then he asked” Will those from the groom side please stand?” Twenty more people stood. Then He smiled and said, “Will all those who stood please leave, this isn’t a wedding, it’s a birthday party”.

Playing host is a tricky business because sometimes unwanted guests show up to the party, and short of throwing them out, there is little we can do. When G-d invited us to Mount Sinai, every single Jew showed up. However, when the host entered the party, most Jews fled. I don’t mean that we actually fled, but that we were so overwhelmed that we were literally blown away.

Our sages taught that when G-d descended to Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments, the experience sent a shock wave of spiritual energy through us; we were thrown back a great distance and landed in a deep faint. G-d sent angels to revive us and escort us back to the mountain, but when G-d spoke again, the same thing occurred.

Holy of Holies

It became quickly apparent that we were not the right gusts for this party. Moses and a handful of others handled themselves well, but the majority had no business at that party.  Of course, G-d knew this would happen and invited us anyway. It was all part of His plan. He wanted us to have some exposure to the unfiltered intensity of His magnificence even if it would overwhelm us. This experience would inspire us to yearn for G-d even if we can only handle a relationship from a distance.

This is why G-d’s first instruction to Moses was that we build a tabernacle, in which we would curtain off a room and call it the Holy of Holies. This would be G-d’s room; inaccessible to ordinary people. The high priest would enter once a year and channel his spiritual encounter to us–uplifting us by serving as a conduit between us and G-d’s unfiltered presence.

Having experienced a raw encounter with G-d at Sinai, we had a general idea of what the high priest would experience in the Holy of Holies. When he would emerge, we would envision the encounter he had just experienced and would thus be uplifted. In turn, this would inspire us to yearn for a deeper connection with G-d through prayer, sacrifice, and Torah study.

Destruction

Alas, this too was not lasting. Approximately eight hundred years later the Temple was destroyed, and the Holy of Holies lay in ruin. The Talmud relates that before the destruction, G-d removed His presence from the Holy of Hollies and receded in stages until He had removed or concealed Himself entirely.

The prophets, who had foretold this destruction, explained that it was a punishment for idol worship. In other words, if we were no longer inspired by the Divine presence to yearn for a relationship with G-d, then there was no point in G-d remaining in the Holy of Holies.

Torah

So, G-d departed, but what was next? Did G-d abandon hope of enjoying a close relationship with us? No, not by any means. Our sages taught that after the destruction of the Temple, G-d revamped the entire construct of our relationship. Ever since Sinai, G-d played host, either at Sinai or in the Holy of Holies, and we were the gusts. Now we would play host, and G-d would be the guest.

The Talmud relates that since the Temple’s destruction, G-d has only one place in the world–in the presence of one who studies Torah. This is a profound thought. When you and I sit down with a book or an ipad to study Torah, G-d makes Himself present within us and around us to the same extent and with the same intensity that He manifest at Sinai and the Holy of Holies.

It is true that we don’t sense it. Our souls are not developed enough to feel the presence of the Divine. We are not sophisticated enough to exult in ecstasy or tremble in reverence as G-d descends to be with us while we study Torah. Nevertheless, simply knowing that this is the case when we study G-d’s Torah, inspires us to study as much and as often as possible. It inspires us to play host to G-d.

Lets put it this way. In days of old, if we wanted to show our child where G-d can be found, we would point to the Holy of Holies, and say, son, I know this chamber doesn’t look different from any other but trust me when I tell you that G-d is in there. We would point to the high priest and say, daughter, I know this man is flesh and blood just like you and me but trust me when I tell you that he has seen G-d.

Today, we don’t need to point to a chamber in the distance or to a person on a pedestal. We can point to our child and say the same thing. Son, I know you don’t feel different when you study Torah than you do when you study science but trust me when I tell you that when you are studying Torah, G-d is in you. G-d is not in a distant chamber or in a different person. The person is you, and the chamber is your heart.

Play Host Daily

What a concept. What a thought. How uplifting and how motivating. Even if we don’t have time to study all day long, we surely have time to study for a moment in the morning and a moment in the evening. We can surely find additional moments during our day to pull up a Torah page on our phone and study. Even if it’s a fleeting moment, its still an incredible thrill. We are playing host to G-d!

Suppose we were living in the days of the Temple and one day G-d appeared and invited us to enter the Holy of Holies for a brief moment, would we accept? Of course we would! Who would turn G-d down? Who would waste this opportunity of a lifetime? A sanctioned visit to the Holy of Holies, the shrine of all shrines, the most sacrosanct place in the universe? Of course, we would grab that opportunity and run.

Today we have that opportunity every day. It might not feel like it, but our sages assure us that it is so. Just like the day is still bright even if the blind man can’t see, so is G-d in our hearts when we study Torah, even if we are blind to it. So, let us grab every opportunity and play host to G-d.

As Reb Mendel of Kotzk once told his students: G-s is where you let Him in. So, let’s let G-d in.[1]

[1] This essay is based on Tanya chapter 34.

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One Comment »

  • Sar says:

    Dear Rabbi,
    For some personal reasons, today more then ever I feel the tragedy of the distruction of the temple, I feel my inadequacy at standing in front of His presesence, my observance is in dismey, as if I do not desrve my own mizvot anymore… In these circumstances yor text was very inspiring. May we all be good host for Hashem’s name, baruc-u, may we have the sacer priviledge and joy to partecipate every day to the reconstruction of our beloved home.

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