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Rabbi's Corner

Does G-D Need A Home?

“Build Me a home so that I may dwell among them (i.e. the Jewish People).” This is a quote from the opening section of the Torah portion we will read this week.

Now the question is, was G‑d really homeless? Wasn't He already dwelling with the people? Why, it was just the other week that we read of the revelation at Sinai and the Ten Commandments where G‑d came down from heaven to earth. So why suddenly the need for a sanctuary for Him?

The answer is that there is a fundamental difference between Sinai and the Sanctuary. At Sinai a revelation was thrust upon us from above. G‑d initiated and activated that encounter. In this experience the Jewish people were somewhat passive. All the thunder and lightning, physically and spiritually, came at them from On High. 

The Sanctuary, however, had to be built by the people themselves. They had to take the initiative. From the fundraising campaign to collecting the raw materials, down to the nuts and bolts of construction - the sanctuary was a man made edifice.

At Sinai the heavens opened for the greatest sound-and-light show on earth leaving a nation mesmerized and awe-inspired. But they themselves were passive recipients of this unique, never-to-be-repeated gift from above.

To build a sanctuary, however, took a whole building campaign. Men and women, young and old, everybody rolled up their sleeves. It took weeks, months of hard labor, and meaningful contributions by every individual, planning and programming, designing and then actually building a holy house for G‑d. We made it happen. And thereby, it was the people who brought G‑d down to earth.

And this is a lesson we can take from this week’s portion. True revelation is rare. While there certainly are those special moments when we witness the unmistakable presence of G‑d in our lives, we cannot wait for lightning to strike. If we seek true inner peace and wish to truly fulfill our mission for existence we need to build our personal sanctuaries for G‑d in order to embrace Him and bring Him into our homes and families.

The Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked by his teacher, "Where is G‑d?" He answered, "Wherever you let Him in."

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Refining Life Itself...

Just one week ago, we read the story of the dramatic revelation of G‑d to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It was a spiritual trip so powerful that every Jew literally had an out-of-body experience. The ultimate "wow!"

This week's follow-up, Mishpatim, is one of the longest Torah portions, containing an exhaustive list of over 50 separate mitzvot. Included are laws regarding murder, theft, property damage, etc.

The juxtaposition of these two Torah Portions is striking: After the spiritual high on Mount Sinai, why would G‑d "bring us down" (so to speak) with all the details and intricacies of our mundane daily life?! It's like being all heated up and then thrown into a cold shower.

Yet in truth, these portions are merely two sides of the same coin. The spiritual high of Sinai is gratifying, but it doesn't solve one problem of the world in which we live. Spirituality is not achieved by meditating alone on a mountaintop or by learning in an out-of-the-way monastery. Jewish spirituality comes through grappling with the mundane world in a way that uplifts and elevates.

Jews don’t retreat from life, we elevate it. Tonight, we will raise the cup of wine and use it - not to get drunk - but to make Kiddush and sanctify the Sabbath day; sanctifying time iteslf. Spirituality, says Judaism, is to be found in the kitchen, the office, and yes, even in the bedroom.

And through the combined efforts of the entire Jewish people resting upon centuries of mitzvoth, we will, no doubt, very soon merit to witness the accomplishment of our refining and elevating acts with the coming of the righteous moshiach – a truly spiritual world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Maintaining a Healthy Balance

 

What is Judaism’s definition of a well-balanced individual? One who has a chip on both shoulders!

Tomorrow in synagogue we will read the Ten Commandments (or, the “Ten Suggestions”, as some like to refer to them). As we know, the commandments were engraved on two tablets. The tablet on the right focuses on our responsibilities to G‑d, such as faith and Shabbat, while the other side dealt with our inter-personal duties, e.g. no murder, adultery and thievery.

And the message we need to bear in mind is that both these areas are sacred, both come directly from G‑d and both form the core of Torah law and what being Jewish is all about. We must be well-balanced Jews and we ought not to take the liberty of emphasizing one tablet over the other. A healthy, all-around Jew lives a balanced, wholesome life and is, as the Yiddish expression goes, Gut tzu G-tt un gut tzu leit--good to G‑d and good to people.

If we focus on one side of the tablets to the detriment of the other, we walk around like a hinke’dike, a handicapped Jew with a bad limp. Thus a good Jew is a well-balanced Jew.

This means that it's not good enough to be "religious" on the ritual side of Judaism and free and easy on the side of being a “mentch” (a proper and decent human being). We have to be honest and live with integrity. If we are "religious" towards to G‑d but not fair with people, we become fanatical fundamentalists blowing up people in the name of G‑d! The same G‑d who motivates and inspires us to be G‑dly and adhere to a religious code also expects us to be mentchen.

But neither can we neglect the right side of the tablets. A good Jew cannot simply be a humanitarian. Otherwise, why did G‑d need Jews altogether? It is not enough for a Jew to be a nice guy. Everyone must be nice. All of humankind is expected to behave honestly and honorably. To be good, moral, ethical and decent is the duty of every human being on the planet. A good Jew must be all of that and then some. He or she must be a good person and also fulfill his or her specific Jewish responsibilities, the mitzvahs that are directed to Jews which are uniquely Jewish.

In order that we maintain a healthy balance and don't start limping, we ought to bear in mind that the very same G‑d who said we should be nice also said we should have faith, keep Shabbat, kosher, mikvah and the rest of it.

Thus, as we read the Ten Commandments this week, let us resolve to keep our Jewish balance, not to limp or become "one-armed bandits." Let us be well rounded and permeate every facet of our lives with meaning and purpose. And in this merit we’ll reach and fulfill the purpose of creation and usher in the era that we have long awaited; an era when the Ten Commandments will become the instinctive reality for each and every one of us – the coming of moshiach.

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

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