V’nasati Mishkani b’sochichem, v’lo sigal nafshi eschem – I will place my Mishkan among you, and My Sechinah will not reject you, (Vayikrah 26:12)
This week’s parsha begins with a listing of potent brachos that await the Bnei Yisroel when they lead lives according to the mandates of our Holy Torah. Hashem promises the Bnei Yisroel that adherence to the laws of the Torah will result in bountiful harvests, silos bursting with grain from previous years, and lives of joy, peace and tranquility.
SEEMINGLY OUT OF PLACE
After several pesukim (Vayikrah 26:3-11) that vividly describe a life of contentment and peace, the Torah switches to a description of the spiritual blessings that await those generations that devote themselves to meaningful lives. Hashem informs us that he will ‘dwell’ in the Beis Hamikdash and the presence of His Shechinah will grace our environs. In fact, as Rashi comments on this pasuk, Hashem informs us that our relationship with Him in Gan Eden, will be similar to that of a king walking with his subjects – a close and intimate bond.
In the midst of this vivid and beautiful portrayal, however, there are several words that seem jarringly out of place in this context. Hashem informs us at this point (26:12) that He will not be repelled by our presence and He will not reject us. This hardly seems like much of a compliment, and is so out of place in the context of these other lofty and beautiful brachos. It would seem to be like a teacher effusively complimenting a student, and ending with something to the effect of, “and by the way, I do not dislike you.”
Why would the Torah introduce the phrase of “v’lo sigal nafshi eschem” at all?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
Rabbi Shimon Schwab z’tl, in his sefer Ma’yan Beis Hashoeivah offers a fascinating answer to this question – one that has powerful ramifications for our relationship with Hashem.
Our Chachamim (sages) teach us “l’olam ya’asok adam b’Torah u’mitzvos shelo lishma shemitoch … ba lishmah.” One should involve himself or herself in the service of Hashem, even if his or her motives are not entirely pure at that particular time. Although this is not the ideal avodah, engaging in spiritual endeavors and observing mitzvos for less than perfect motives, will eventually result in the performance of these mitzvos with the purest of motives.
Rav Schwab explains that it is therefore entirely possible and in fact probable that as we begin to “warm up” in our Torah and tefilah, our observance level at the initial stages will be far from perfect. When Hashem informs us that He will dwell among us and His presence will enrich our lives, this is a beautiful blessing – but at the same time, it may raise the anxiety level for us, as we realize that He will be close by and will be observing our each and every action. We may be concerned that we will not meet with the exacting standards of Hashem, who sees our actions, and perceives our very thoughts.
THE BLESSING – AND CHALLENGE – OF CLOSENESS
To give a school analogy, that would be like having your favorite rebbi/morah relocate to the house next door to your home! As much as you may respect this individual, having them next door to you may be a bit too much of a good thing.
In this light, this pasuk takes on new and profound meaning. Hashem informs us that His Shechina will grace us. He also immediately addresses our possible concerns about living in such close proximity to Him. He assures us that He will never be repulsed by our less-than-perfect mitzvah observance. Hashem offers each and every one of us the comfort level and the opportunity to begin serving Him, with the knowledge that our spiritual ‘beginner steps’ are appreciated and treasured.
A PATIENT AND LOVING FATHER
All parents embrace the moment when their child begins the first wobbly attempt at walking. They treasure and often record their child’s first words and call the child’s grandparents with the great news. These same imperfect word fragments, if uttered by the child a few years down the road, would result in an immediate visit to a speech therapist. It is only because we embrace the beginning and see the potential, that we rejoice at the milestone.
It is in this spirit, explains Rav Schwab that Hashem reaches out to us and informs us that He will rest His Divine Presence among us – all the while allowing us the comfort level and opportunity to grow and serve Him.
I will dwell among you, says Hashem – like a loving and patient Father. Your goal is to strive to reach the highest spiritual level. But you need not worry that your actions may be less that the ideal ‘l’sheim Shamayim at first. I rejoice in your avodah – and see the potential in each of you.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and Director of Agudath Israel of America’s Project Y.E.S.
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