Preliminary note: Though it’s the latest to be actually posted, this reflective overview is in fact a prelude to the sicha summaries for Vayakhel and Pekudei (in this order), that I shared on the Blog earlier.
“V’asu Li mikdash veshochanti besocham”: G-d instructed us to take various materials and construct the portable Tabernacle, and later the permanent Temple, in which He promises to dwell. Wherever the Sanctuary was, He rested His glorious presence firmly there, even resigning it to rove with the nomadic Mishkan. It defies reason that an Infinite G-d which no realm is devoid of desires a specific domain in which to be manifest, furthermore since we are endowed with the mission and ability to elicit Divine energy (as was the Sanctuary’s objective) wherever we go, in whatever we do. Then why does Hashem limit Himself (figuratively speaking) in such a way to a physical structure and established location (particularly in the post-Mishkan era)?
To probe the question deeper, consider what the fundamental service of korbanos, or offerings, entailed:
1.) There was a physical element – the object (sacrificial animal or other food-item) and the action;
2.) There was a spiritual element of intention and prayer as the process was carried out.
Only the second dimension is perpetuated today in absence of the Temple, but both are deeply associated with a particular context. Once the Bais Hamikdash was built, restrictions on sacrificial service were increased; korbanos couldn’t be offered upon an altar anywhere else! The potency of prayer is also enhanced when articulated alongside Har Habayis, or directed towards the location; even in service of the heart, a purely non-physical activity which one might think should remain esoteric and unstructured, is governed by myriad details. Each aspect of the Sanctuary’s construction and the holy services performed within it are extremely precise (as is every Torah law), and even one minor neglect may invalidate the entire function. But why do we make such a big deal about all this order and specification; why can’t we ‘just be spiritual,’ abstract and unregulated?
Atzmus Hashem, G-d’s very Essence, is revealed within the precisions of the Mitzvos (i.e. their halachos), and the confines of mundane existence; but how so? When we mindfully engage this world according to the Infinite and His innermost Will (expressed through the Torah and applied through its Mitzvos), we cause the states of “bli gvul – without boundary” and “gvul – [within] boundary” to converge in a suprarational way! The definitive criteria of Jewish observance is to embody a revelation even loftier than the transcendent “bli gvul,” through recognition of an Infinite G-d’s presence in a finite setting and halachic minutiae as well (otherwise you’d be limiting His Infinity)! Atzmus Hashem is Divinity expressed in definition; Hashem’s greatness reflects in His ability to be metzamtzem (contract, diminish) Himself, as the Talmudic saying goes, “Where you find His greatness, there you (also) find His humility.” He’s not relegated to any realm – rather, everything is subsumed in Him! – but He can choose to be if He wills.
A tenet of inner Jewish wisdom is, “Kol hagavoha b’yoseir yoreid milmatah b’yoseir” (Sefer Shaarei Orah). Simply, the higher something is, the lower it is capable of descending, and must. After all, “descent is for the sake of ascent,” i.e. a descent is (only) for the sake of a (greater) ascent. The limitations of worldly reality compel you to dig deeper in search of the G-dliness hidden within, a more internal energy whose intensity would void you if just unleashed. Thus, the incomprehensible, higher-sourced Atzmus must descend to the lowliness of concrete dimension (resulting from constricted Divinity) in order to be effectively expressed, and enable you to intimately bind yourself with G-d’s Essence – not just the dazzle of overt holiness and unbounded light. Through our task to become familiar with G-d in every aspect of our lives and see Him in the contours, we merge the polars of transcendence and immediacy, Infinite and finite; this reveals their common Origin, effecting the union between them where He chooses to dwell. Therefore, that “veshochanti besocham” can only be truly achieved through an set corporeal place, testifies to the soaring caliber of its intrinsic Divinity waiting to be revealed.
If prayer and korbanos (encompassing all our other Avodas Hashem) lacked orderly structure or a physical element, and instead were a purely intangible application, they’d resonate exclusively with the level of “bli gvul.” Though it’s holy, detached from worldliness and consistently radiant, it lacks the deep, authentic union achieved by a marriage of opposites – Heaven and earth – where Atzmus Hashem is expressed. When we are taught, “Nisava Lo Hakadosh Baruch Hu dira betachtonim,” that G-d desires a dwelling in the lower realms, this sums up the purpose of Creation: In all its definition, limitation and even coarseness, we must do all we can to welcome back the Creator into the constructs of our existence from which we’ve banished Him by saying He’s too lofty and foreign here, a view that contests His very Oneness.
The more bound the entity, the more profound the ultimate emanation effected through it. One example may be found in the contrast of the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash: While the Tabernacle freely roved with the Jewish nation, the Temple was strictly established in one location. Also, in the hierarchy of creations’ spiritual animation fauna ranks above the inanimate and was a Mishkan-resource absent from the Mikdash, thus rendering the latter’s revelation superior, due to the further encumberments its construction imposed. “Kol hagavoha b’yoseir yoreid milmatah b’yoseir…” Maintaining this lens, G-d promises to dwell “besocham – within them” – us! – and we can ask, “Is a greater manifestation of G-dliness achieved through the Sanctuary, or within an individual Jew and his/her physicality? The latter possesses the advantage, since in the Sanctuary all substance was overtly dedicated for holiness, but we personally must choose to utilize our “gashmiyus” for G-dly purpose! It’s one success when we conduct ourselves in such a way “for the sake of Heaven,” i.e. as a means to something holy, but just like in the Beis Hamikdash we need to go further and transform the material experience itself to be G-dly, internalizing and expressing His desire to have a place with us in our mundanity. In everything I do, in every dollar I manage, every bite I consume, every child I raise, I see Hashem. My home is G-d’s home, and my very life is transformed into a dirah (betachtonim!) for Him.
And now I would like to ask you, dear friends: Is everything for the sake of Heaven… or is everything Heavenly?
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