Homeless with a Heavy Heart
As our sedra concludes a lengthy description of the priestly vestments, completes an extensive walkthrough of the inauguration of the holy tabernacle, and prepares to shift gears to discuss the sacred vessels, a few pesukim are thrown into the mix as way of explaining why we are learning about the Mishkan in this way and at this point:
וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיהֶם.
And they will know that I am Hashem Their G-d who took them out of Egypt to dwell among them, I am G-d. (שמות כט:מו)
In other words, Hashem created the idea of a permanent dwelling among His people not because they need a constant babysitter (though following perakim in Chumash will show that they may in fact need one), but because He likes to be near us. While we cannot begin to comprehend or exactly relate to what this means, it’s clear that Hashem enjoys our company and wants to dwell in our nation’s midst.
This passuk is very similar to others that are in a similar “אני ה’ אלקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים …” format, with one very distinct difference. Usually, the message is expressed from the perspective of the Jewish People (i.e. “to be for you a G-d”), but, here, it is the opposite- an insight to G-d’s own perspective as to why He took us out from Egypt.
“Why did I take you out of Egypt?” G-d asks the Jewish People, “To be for you a G-d and to dwell in your midst.” How does G-d dwell among us? By building a permanent structure for His shechina to inhabit. In that way, not only can He metaphorically dwell among us, but we can also truly appreciate how much this means to Him. As Ramban explained at the beginning of last week’s sedra, the Mishkan was built to continue the Sinai experience into the day-to-day lives of the Jewish People. Why is it so important to Hashem that we do this? “אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם.” Hashem took us out of Egypt, freed us from slavery, so that He could give us the Torah and dwell among us as we serve Him and keep His mitzvot. How could Hashem make sure that we never forget this important reason for our redemption? To build a physical home for His spiritual presence that will truly ensure that “וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם,” that we constantly remember how much it means to Hashem that He took us out of Egypt and dwells among us.
In the first perek of Gemara Berachot (3a), Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Eliezer disagree over the ancient breakdown of the night watches in the Temple as a source for the deadline of our modern-day commandment of kri’at shema. In proving his teaching that there were three graveyard shifts in the Bet Hamikdash, Rabbi Eliezer taught:
דתניא, רבי אליעזר אומר: שלוש משמרות הוי הלילה, ועל כל משמר ומשמר יושב הקדוש ברוך הוא ושואג כארי, שנאמר: “ה’ ממרום ישאג וממעון קדשו יתן קולו, שאוג ישאג על נוהו”
As Rabbi Eliezer taught in a baraita: There are three watches in the night, and during each watch, Hashem sits and roars like a lion [in pain], as it says: “The Lord roars from on high, from His holy dwelling place He makes His voice heard. He roars mightily over His dwelling place.” (Yishayahu 25:30)
A little bit later in the same Gemara, Rabbi Yitzchak Bar Shmuel explains the imagery of Hashem roaring like a lion:
על כל משמר ומשמר יושב הקדוש ברוך הוא ושואג כארי ואומר: אוי לבנים, שבעוונותיהם החרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין אומות העולם
During each watch, Hashem sits and roars like a lion, saying: “Woe to Me that due to their sins I destroyed My house, burned my Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world.”
In an expression of pain as rare and extreme as the mighty lion’s, Hashem spends His nights crying out in pain that He had to destroy His home and exile us.
Based on what we’ve seen in our sedra, it’s no wonder that Hashem is in such pain- after all, the Mishkan and subsequent Temples were the physical manifestation of Hashem’s “personal” reasons for taking us out of Egypt. He loved living among us, first in the wilderness, then in various locations in Eretz Yisrael, and, finally, in the divine city of Jerusalem on the holiest mountain in the world. Imagine how painful it must have been for G-d to get rid of all of that in order to stop our ancestors from continuing to sin.
When we think of exile, and we hope and pray for redemption, the reasons are often more self-focused. We want mashiach to come, so that we can return to the ideal level of avodat Hashem that can only happen in a Bet Hamikdash. We want mashiach to come because of the global peace that will follow the terrible war of Gog and Magog which, according to most gedolim, has already been waging for decades. We want mashiach to come so that there will be a place where Jews can live and serve Hashem without fearing for their lives.
How often do we think about how much Hashem wants mashiach to come? How much pain He is in now, and how desperately He wants to gather in the exiles? We’ve previously discussed how every day that the Jewish people continue to remain exiled is a chilul Hashem in the worst way. Now, we see that there is more to this. Not only is it a constant embarrassment to our Creator that there is a golden monstrosity sitting on the site of His Temple, and that His people are scattered among the nations- it is also a tremendous source of pain for Him. Hashem wants us to come home and rebuild His Bet Hamikdash, He desires for us to undue His two millenia-long embarrassment and end His pain… if only there was a way for us to accomplish this.
I have made it very clear in the last three and a half years that it is my belief that our modern-day shivat Zion is the antidote for Hashem’s pain. Rav Teichtel, in Em Habanim Semecha, teaches many times that G-d cannot directly send a redeemer because the prosecuting angels will not allow it to come, saying that our people are not worthy yet. So, Hashem “snuck in” a very subtle beginning to the geulah and allowed it to blossom into Medinat Yisrael in the hope that the Jewish People would flock home and become worthy of being redeemed.
To this day, more than half of the Jewish population of the world live in the State of Israel. A large group of those that remain in the exile have thrown away their allegiance to G-d, whether consciously or inadvertently, by marrying out of the fold and denouncing their faith and nationality. Despite this, many faithful, good Jews remain exiled among the nations. Some of them don’t even have any plans, whether immediate or eventual, to return home to our eternal inheritance.
To those stubborn individuals who do not yet recognize in their place in the unfolding ge’ulah, I remind them of the pain and suffering their very residence causes to G-d. Even if they do not want to move to Eretz Yisrael for their own sake, they should at least consider it for Hashem’s. Our G-d, the eternal redeemer, spends every night crying out in pain. He wants to dwell among us, and return His home to its proper place in Jerusalem. But, He cannot do it until our people make reparations for the sins of their forefathers, return home to Eretz Yisrael, and do teshuva.
Hashem once again wants to redeem our people to dwell among us. All that remains to be done is “וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם,” we must know that Hashem is trying to redeem us so that He can dwell in our midst… if only we could ease His pain.