Tetzaveh: How Can the Almighty Dwell Within Little Ol’ Us?

God didn’t say He’d dwell "among us,” but rather “within us."

The “Divine within us” gets a lot of lip service. How do we turn that thought into knowledge?

Table for Five: Tetzaveh

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

They will know that I, the Lord, am their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt in order that I may dwell in their midst; I am the Lord, their God.

– Ex. 29:46

Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Thirtysix.org

The Torah is vast, and fulfilling its directives is no small chore. This is why so many people have avoided checking out its authenticity though they should. If fulfilling commandments is not a labor of love, they simply become a labor, and people only work hard for rewards they can see and enjoy in the here-and-now.

Even for the person who does love Torah and mitzvos, there are so many details to get right. As the rabbis say, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free from performing it.” You have to always do the best you can, given the conditions at the time. Perfection is rarely possible, and failure is sometimes inevitable but, we are told, “according to the effort is the reward.” And what is that reward? It can be many things, some material and some spiritual. But ultimately, the ultimate reward is summed up by these words, “in order that I may dwell in their midst.”

This is what ALL of it is for, to make it possible for God to dwell in our midst, personally and nationally. All of the mitzvos and their myriad of details allow us to build a world in which the Divine Presence, as holy as it is, can dwell among us. Some might prefer something more tangible, more material, as their reward. But that’s only because they have yet to know the ultimate pleasure of being a dwelling place for God.

Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Scholar in Residence, JMI/Aish

How does G-d become an impactful reality in our lives? Not just an idea or an ideal, but a palpable and influencing presence. In brief, how and when does G-d “reside” within us?

Let’s begin with a statement that is counter-intuitive. Not every child has a parent and not every parent has a child. Let me explain. When children feel unconditional love, encouragement and dedication from a parent, then that relationship indelibly nurtures both the child and the parent. In such a dynamic, even when children disagree with their parents or go through the inevitable rebellious growing pains, their “faith” in their parent’s love never wanes and is never in jeopardy.

Conversely, when children don’t experience their parent’s unbridled enthusiasm and participation in their lives, then their faith in their parents and in the values that they preach, is damaged. So too in our relationship with G-d! If G-d was a metaphysical creator but was an absentee parent, his significance in our lives would be diminished. His commandments would be ignored and his values would be empty vessels that infuriated his children.

G-d resides within us because he took us out of Egypt and has guided our miraculous journey and survival ever since that epochal moment. He resides within us because he gifted us with the Torah, a manual for living a life filled with purpose, passion and perseverance. G-d resides within us because he is the model parent. One who ceaselessly educates, elevates, forgives and loves. Shabbat Shalom.

Tova Leibovic-Douglas, Rabbi, teacher and spiritual counselor, rabbitova.com

I got very angry the other day and as I raised my voice in the kitchen, my three year old looked at me with her big eyes and in a serious tone said, “Mommy you should just yell or talk to God or something and then come back.” I looked at her and smiled. I won’t lie, having a rabbi for a mom may invite more conversations in our home surrounding God/Divine/Higher Power/Goddess/Universe/HaShem, but not necessarily in this way.

It was also the first time she mentioned her personal relationship with God. When I asked her what she meant, she elaborated and shared that when she is angry, she just talks to God and then “my mad goes away.” It was simple, pure, beautiful and made me long for such intimacy with God.

In my experience of a beautiful Jewish education, I learned a great deal of the God character of our bible, of the God that we pray to in our liturgy, but very rarely was I invited to explore my personal and intimate relationship with the Divine. This verse is a reminder that with all of the expansive theology, rabbinic literature and generations of rabbis, there will always remain the possibility that each and every one of us has a potential for such connection in our midst. We are perfectly imperfect, flawed but always with the opportunity to have such a profound relationship with God. Sometimes, we just need someone to remind us of this possibility.

Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

Why does God want to dwell among Israel? Our parsha explains that God desired to dwell among the Israelites so they would know God through service. This could not happen until they were freed from Egypt. In Egypt, the Israelites served another master and weren’t able to serve, and subsequently know, God.

But did the Israelites leave Egypt to go from serving one master to another? This verse gives the insight into how their new Master was very different. First, God wants to dwell among the people, implying an intimacy and caring not typical for a master/slave relationship. Second, the verb used in Hebrew for “to know” suggests that the people should have a deep understanding of God. It is unusual for a master to want his slaves to really get to know him, especially as deeply as suggested in our verse.

Israelites were no longer subject to the service of a cruel, distant Pharaoh. Their new Master, while still looking for devotion, offered intimacy, familiarity, and kindness. And most importantly, the Israelites chose to enter this relationship with God. It was not forced upon them.

There are times when we may feel enslaved, not just physically, but also mentally or spiritually. We may feel like we are serving a master like Pharaoh. We struggle to feel God’s presence. Once we are able to find a way out of the darkness, we are free to make space for the Divine to dwell among us. Then we shall know God.

David Sacks, instagram.com/davidsacksspiritualtools

Hashem is telling us something amazing here. Look at this verse in the Hebrew, it doesn’t say that Hashem will dwell among us. Rather, it says that Hashem will dwell within us — the Jewish people.

Do you know what this means? Hashem is telling us that He lives inside of us!

That’s what it means to have a soul. It means that wherever we go, whatever we do, Hashem is right there with us. And that we’re never alone. Even if we think we are.

We think that as soon as we do something wrong, Hashem leaves us. But how can that be? As long as we’re still alive – that in itself is proof that Hashem hasn’t abandoned us.

So never give up. As long as there’s life there’s hope. We can fix anything that we’ve broken.

The Saadia Gaon, one of our greatest Rabbis, was leaving an inn where he’d been staying, and a crowd rushed to greet him and receive blessings. When the innkeeper saw this, he ran to the Saadia Gaon and begged for forgiveness. The innkeeper said that had he known that such a famous person was his guest, he would have treated him with greater honor. When the Saadia Gaon heard this, he broke down crying.

The Saadia Gaon explained that all of us are innkeepers. Inside of us we have the most special guest imaginable, the Divine Presence. If we truly realized that – how much more honor would we show it!

With thanks to Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Tova Leibovic-Douglas, Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, and David Sacks

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Read more at the Jewish Journal.

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