Parashas Vayeitzei

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah describes the striking dream Yaakov dreamt the night he slept at the future site of the Beis HaMikdash. Upon awaking, Yaakov declared (Bereishis 28:17): “How awesome is this place! This is nought but the House of God.” The Maggid offers various explanations of Yaakov’s statement. Here we present one of them. The starting point is a Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 65:23):
It is written (Bereishis 27:27): “And he [Yaakov] approached, and he [Yitzchak] kissed him, and he smelled the scent of his garments, and he blessed him. And he said: ‘Behold, my son’s scent is like the scent of the field that Hashem blessed.’” This verse teaches that Hashem showed Yitzchak the Beis HaMikdash being built, being destroyed, and being built again. My son’s scent – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being built, as it is written (Bamidbar 28:2):  “My pleasing aroma, be vigilant to offer in its appointed time.” Like the scent of the field – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being destroyed, as it is written (Michah 3:12): “Zion shall be plowed like a field.” That Hashem blessed – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being built again, as it is written (Tehillim 133:3): “For there Hashem has ordered the blessing – everlasting life.”
The Maggid remarks that this Midrash is utterly mysterious. He offers one possible explanation, and then links the discussion to Yaakov’s statement.
As we know well, the kind of mitzvah observance that Hashem wants from us is performance of the mitzvah act coupled with a pure desire to carry out His will. Now, many mitzvos, such as fasting on Yom Kippur or giving charity, run counter to our worldly desires. When observing such mitzvos, it is easy to carry them out with the proper intent. But other mitzvos, such as honoring Shabbos and Yom Yov with fine food, involve physical pleasure. With such mitzvos, it is clearly a challenge to focus our minds solely on bringing Hashem satisfaction. Now the Beis HaMikdash benefitted both the body and the soul, as it is written (Tehillim 84:3): “My heart and my flesh shall sing to the living God.” As reflected in Yaakov’s dream, the Beis HaMikdash was like a ladder set upon the earth, with its top reaching to heaven – it was a conduit through which bounty flowed from Hashem’s storehouse in heaven down to earth. Unavoidably, the Kohanim who performed the service in the Mikdash felt a sense of satisfaction that their actions were bringing bounty into the world. It therefore had to be very hard for them to stay focused on honoring Hashem, and keep their minds from dwelling on the physical benefit that their actions were producing.
It makes sense to say that the reason the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed was an excessive focus on extracting material gain. On the whole, we do not find lapses in the actual performance of the service, so the fault must have been with the intent with which it was done. We know for a fact that many Kohanim in the era of the second Beis HaMikdash took on the service solely as a means of catering to their personal needs. This exploitation is alluded to in the prophet’s lament that “Zion shall be plowed like a field” – the Kohanim were running the Beis HaMikdash for personal gain like a farmer plowing his field to make it produce crops he can benefit from.
We can read the Midrash as speaking about how Yitzchak understood these matters. The Midrash says: “My son’s scent – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being built, as it is written: ‘My pleasing aroma, be vigilant to offer in its appointed time.’” If the Kohanim perform the service with a focus on bringing Hashem satisfaction – offering Him a “pleasing aroma” – their devotion will make the Beis HaMikdash well-built and it will remain standing. But if they perform the service with a focus on personal gain, as if they were working a field, their materialistic motives will turn the Beis HaMikdash into a spiritual ruin, and lead to its physical destruction.
We now return to Yaakov’s statement: “How awesome is this place! This is nought but the House of God.” The holy site is one that prompts great fear. There is much reason for fear regarding the service to be performed at this site. Because of the flow of bounty that the service will generate, those performing the service will be prone to focus on the material benefit involved. But the site is supposed to be “nought but the House of God” – the service is supposed to be done for no other motive aside from fulfilling Hashem’s will. It is so easy to slip, and the consequences are so very grave.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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