From the Beis HaMikdosh to the Dining Table: Finding Holiness in Everyday Life
Parshas Terumah provides us with a detailed description of the Mishkan and all its components. But the question is, why did Hashem command us to study the Mishkan with great effort? Why do we need to pay such close attention to the details of the physical world and the actions we perform as Jews?
As we read through the Torah, we see that Hashem spends a great deal of time on seemingly small matters such as Kashrus, Shabbos, and Tefillin. It begs the question, why can’t we just believe in Hashem and lead an honest life? Why isn’t that enough to be a good Jew?
The answer is simple: there is no insignificant law in the Torah. Every single mitzvah, every obligation of a Yid, is an avenue towards a better and more Jewish life. The Torah demands observance on Yom Kippur, and it demands equally that a storekeeper’s scales are honest. Just as davening is a way to approach the Aibishter, so does a meal, with the correct Brachos, before and after.
The windows of the Beis HaMikdosh were wide one side and narrow on the other. The temple was not illuminated from the outside, but instead the light of the Beis HaMikdosh was to go outside and dispel the darkness of the world around it.
Also a shul must serve as a source of light and warmth for a Yid– not only when they are in the shul, but throughout the entire day, where ever he goes, whatever he does.
Then there is the Jewish home, which we cannot say has less kedusha than the shul. The table we eat on becomes a small mizbeach, not a place where we have a korbon, but instead a place where we sacrifice the animal instinct, the yetzer hara within us.
Through the strict observance of hilchos Kashrus, we demonstrate that we are not a slave to our appetite, that our desires do not control us, and that we are a master of ourselves. This self-discipline elevates everything we do as Jews. A yid who is accustomed to controlling his appetite and resisting whatever is put in front of him, even if it looks delicious can also realize that he needs to exercise the same self-control in the face of all the temptations of the world.
This may very well then be the answer to the question on why the Torah keeps concerning itself with purely physical matters such as Kashrus. The rabbis just a century ago posed the same question, and they answer לְצָרֵף בָּהֶם אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, in order that man purifies himself through the mitzvos. This is the goal of Kashrus, the elevation of the Jew. The standard of conduct for a Ben Torah is not what is more convenient, what is more profitable, or more popular— but instead what is right and just.
The Torah emphasizes the physical world because the physical world is where we exist. We live in a world filled with temptation, distractions, and desires. We need to learn how to master our physical selves in order to become closer to Hashem. The performance of a mitzvah elevates the physical act, and we can use that elevation to elevate ourselves.
As Jews, we recognize that there is no difference between the secular and the religious. Everything we do can become a religious act, bringing us closer to the Ribbono Shel Olam or chas v’shalom, create a barrier between us and Hashem. We need to use our entire being and body to serve Hashem, as the Torah demands this.
For example, the tefillin that we start wearing when we become a Bar Mitzvah may seem like a small action, but it holds great significance. The Shema, perhaps the best-known prayer in Yiddishkeit, is the expression of faith. It is quite logical that this should occupy an important place in our davening. Similarly, the tefillin contains the remembrance of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the liberation and leaving of Egypt.
Even when the future seems most hopeless, when slavery and persecution threaten the very existence of Klal Yisroel, the Jew has faith in the Adon Olam. This reminder makes practical and real the emunah expressed in the Shema.
Moreover, the tefillin itself is a physical reminder of our connection to Hashem. The straps of the tefillin represent the bonds that tie us to Hashem, and the boxes contain the verses that remind us of Hashem’s power and greatness. By physically binding ourselves to the tefillin and reciting the prayers, we are reminded of our connection to Hashem and are inspired to lead a more meaningful and purposeful life.
The tefillin are worn on the arm, the symbol of action. In Judaism, it is not enough to believe, to love and fear Hashem, or even study the Torah. One must act profoundly Jewish. Being a hypocrite, that professes tzedakah but is selfish, who talks about being honest, but lies – this is not the realm of Judaism. Yiddishkeit requires us to act, to purify and raise ourselves through mitzvos.
Once, the legendary Tzaddik, Rabbi Elya Dushnitzer asked a pharmacist on how he did teshuva and ended up back on the Derech of Toras Emes. He said that many years ago after he strayed from Torah, he met the Chofetz Chaim, who asked him what he did for a living.
He told him that he was a pharmacist. The Chofetz Chaim, who always had a way of connecting with people, responded simply, “when you prepare your medicines and bring them to your sick, have in mind that you are fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim, helping heal a fellow Jew. That way you will be transforming an act that is merely physical, a way to earn money, into a precious mitzvah.” The chofetz chaim’s words, spoken so sincerely, and with such purity made a huge impression on the Jew, so much that he returned to the path of Torah.
Ideals without actions, believing without doing mitzvos, are like a tree without roots – it may seem tall and impressive, but it lacks a strong foundation and cannot bear fruit. Shabbos, Taharas Hamishpacha, Teffilin, Tzitzis, are the roots that nourish and bring Judaism to life.