Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah opens by describing the dream Yaakov had at the site of the Beis HaMikdash. The Torah relates that when Yaakov awoke from his dream, he declared (Bereishis 28:16-17):
Indeed, Hashem is present in this place, and I did not know. … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God – it is the gate to heaven.
In Ohel Yaakov, Bereishis, the Maggid raises two issues about this declaration. First, it is repetitious: Yaakov initially says that “Hashem is present in this place” and then he expresses the same idea again, saying, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God.” Second, and even more in need of examination, is the following question: Why did Yaakov speak of the place being “none other” than the House of God, as if he were trying to counter some people who were arguing otherwise? The Maggid then explains Yaakov’s words as relating to an issue that many thinkers have considered: Given that Hashem’s glory fills the entire earth (Yeshayah 6:3), how is the Beis HaMikdash Hashem’s abode more than any other place?
He brings out the idea with a parable. A person visiting his country’s royal capital city tours the streets and marketplaces to see the grand buildings there. He notices an especially magnificent fortified mansion and asks whose it is. He is told that it is the king’s palace. He enters into the outer courtyard of the palace and he sees many individual dwelling chambers there. He asks some people about these chambers, and they tell him that each one belongs to a different member of the king’s court: the king’s doctor, his advisors, his ministers, and so on. Eventually, he reaches the splendid inner chamber where the king himself lives. He asks about this chamber as well, and he is told: “This is the king’s chamber.” Baffled, he replies: “You told me before that entire mansion belongs to the king. Now you are telling me that this chamber alone belongs to him.” The people responded: “It is indeed true that the entire mansion is the king’s. At the same time, the king granted use of the outer chambers to the various members of his court, each according to his needs. But this chamber here belongs exclusively to the king. It is set aside for his use alone, and he does not allow anyone to enter it except by appointment, and those who enter must be dressed in fine clothes in his honor.”
Similarly, Hashem owns the entire world, but He grants use of most of it to us humans and to the other creations He put here. He provides each of us a domain within the world to use as he needs, while maintaining His presence in every one of these domains. He is with us even when we are defiled, as it is written (Vayikra 16:16): “Who dwells with them in the midst of their defilement” (see Yoma 57a). At the same time, He set aside a special place within the world to serve specifically as a seat for His Name – the Mikdash. Only Kohanim qualified to perform the Mikdash service could enter the main Mikdash grounds, and only under set conditions. Entry to the Holy of Holies was restricted even to the Kohen Gadol, as it is written (Vayikra 16:2-3): “He shall not come at all times into the [inner] Sanctuary, within the curtain … with this shall Aharon come into the [inner] Sanctuary ….” The Mikdash was exclusively Hashem’s domain.
When Yaakov awoke from the dream he had at the site of the Mikdash, he declared: “Indeed, Hashem is present in this place.” He then felt a need to elaborate, and he exclaimed: “How awesome is the place!” He marveled at how the place was much more awesome than any other place on earth. He then explained to himself why the place was so awesome: “This is none other than the House of God” – it was the place that Hashem had set aside for Himself alone.
In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaYirah, Chapter 4, the Maggid discusses this idea further. He says that, while we are supposed to feel fear of Hashem with all our being and at all times, there are places that call for an elevated degree of fear – Batei Knesses and Batei Midrash, which are set aside for prayer and Torah study, and the places which had been specially infused with the Divine Presence in earlier times, such as the place where the Beis HaMikdash stood. A person should not be “like a horse or a mule, devoid of understanding” (Tehillim 32:9) and treat these places casually, as if he were in his own home. If he acts this way, Hashem’s anger is directed toward him. Regarding people who do not show proper reverence for holy places, Hashem declares (Yeshayah 1:12): “When you come to appear before Me – who asked this of you, to trample my courtyards?” And He declares further (Yirmiyahu 7:11): “Has this house, upon which My Name was called, become a criminal’s den in your eyes?” Rather, a person should enter a holy place with the utmost humility, and while he is there he should continually bear in mind its great loftiness. He should imagine how he would act and feel if he were meeting with important officers – how he would humble himself, how all his limbs would tremble, and how he would be acutely aware of his state of fear. If this is how he would act and feel in the chamber of mortal governors, all the more should he be filled with fear in the house of the King of All Worlds, the Holy One Blessed Be He.
L’ilui nishmas R’ Shimon Feivel Shraga ben R’ Mordechai HaLevi Grossnass z”l
Passed away on Sunday 14th November 2010 – 7th Kislev 5771
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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