When Moshe was commanded by Hashem to make the Mishkan, he trembled. He thought to himself, “how is it possible to build a house for G-d – who encompasses and transcends all the heavens?”
Hashem replied, reassuring him, “not by my standards, but in accordance with their abilities: twenty boards in the North…” (Midrash Shemot Raba 34)
Moshe was startled as to how it would be possible to build a dwelling place for Hashem in this world. After all, Hashem’s presence is everywhere. Furthermore, whatever he would build would never justify what a palace of G-d should be. Hashem calmed his fears; it was a command from Hashem, yet Moshe was commanded to build it in accordance with the people’s abilities.
The Ramban explains that the “secret” of the Mishkan, was that the glory of Hashem which had rested on Har Sinai in the open would now rest among Bnei Yisrael in a concealed way. There are deep ideas behind the building of the Mishkan, yet as the Chafetz Chaim points out, we can see from here that Hashem doesn’t demand the impossible or the unreasonable. Every person is obligated to do only that which he or she is able to.
Let us take a closer look into this Midrash.
The Midrash relates that Hashem’s Shechina would rest upon the Aron HaEdut – the Holy Ark, where the Ten Commandments were placed.
What is the idea of having a fixed place where the Shechina dwells? What can we derive from this and how does it affect us nowadays given we have not yet merited living with the Bet Hamikdash at our side?
Looking back over the years have you ever wondered which the best spent moments of your life were? Was it in your youth, perhaps your early days as a baby, or perhaps the best days are yet to come?
The Gemara in Nida 30b states that the best moments of a person’s life were when he/she was a foetus in the mother’s womb! Whilst tucked in warmly in the mother’s womb, the foetus is supplied by a nutritious diet; there is constant benefit without loss, the developing child ingests food but does not expel excrement. Moreover, the embryo gains spiritual insight, a personal angel sits with him or her and a glowing candle atop allows them to see from one end of the world to the other.
Wow, I’m sure you remember those good old days!? On a deeper level we can understand what force was behind this pleasure. Our sages explain that best results are achieved when one is . When the baby is in its mother’s womb, it has nowhere to go, no distractions; it is aware it will be there for a long time and can concentrate on the special spiritual light that it is granted. At times, being limited gives us the ability to grow.
In the last decade for example, people rushed to take out credit; borrowing at every available opportunity. Yet as the credit crunch came in, people got scathed and realised they should have limited themselves.
After Avraham’s dialogue with G-d concerning Sodom in which Avraham was unsuccessful in his petition to save the city from destruction, the Pasuk tells us that Avraham went back to the place where he originally petitioned G-d.
“Rabbi Helbo said: Anyone who has a set location for his prayers will be assisted by the G-d of Abraham. And when he dies, they will say about him, ‘What a pious individual! What a humble person! He was a disciple of our forefather Abraham.’” (Berachot 6b)
Avraham always had a fixed place to pray to Hashem. It was there that he would focus, and garner his thoughts to beseech the Almighty. By praying in a set location, he was able to infuse that place with Kedusha. The energy of his Tefilot were not lost, rather they emanated throughout that place and enhanced his prayers.
There is a true story that occurred around 40 years ago, of a family whose son was kidnapped in London. The police were called to investigate, but could not locate the child. In their despair the family flew to Israel to consult the famous Baba Sali who referred them to his son Baba Meir. The rabbi told the family to return in the morning. The next morning they returned, and Baba Meir presented them with a hand-drawn map of London (which he had never visited or seen), marking the location of the child. They were perplexed and thanked the Rabbi profusely. They handed over the information to the police, who checked the location and the boy was found.
After the episode one of the Baba Sali’s students asked him to explain how Baba Meir knew exactly where the boy was. He explained that although Baba Meir spent most of his time in the Bet Hamidrash learning, and had not ventured out, he would always take care wherever he was to protect the sanctity of his eyesight. Due to the sanctity of his physical eyesight, Hashem granted him a tremendous degree of spiritual insight.
To be focused and enable oneself to concentrate on the real matters of this world enables one to really live.
Alas, the Bet Hamikdash is no longer with us and we might think that there is no longer a place for us to focus our thoughts.
Yet our Sages teach us that the Shechina never left the holy Kotel. There is still a place for us to focus our prayers towards.
We are also taught that Rabbi Chiya ben Ami said in the name of Ulla, ‘Since the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One has no place in this world except for the four Amot of Halacha’” (Brachot 8a).
The Temple might be destroyed, but the spiritual Temple exists. When we attend synagogue and learn Torah in the Bet Hamidrash the Shechina is with us.
Someone once asked the Rosh Yeshiva of Netzach Yisrael, Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman, zt”l, why one is permitted to eat meat at a Siyum during the nine days. He explained that in a place where there is Torah, there was in fact, no destruction of the Temple! Just as the Shechina dwelt in the Bet Hamikdash, today, it dwells in the halls of Torah study! Indeed, when we study Torah, the Holy Temple is still standing for us, and the Shechina continues to dwell in our midst.
Let us remain focused on our goals in life and our service of Hashem and let us experience the Shechina in our times.