Friday, February 28, 2020

Making Room for God

Dov Ber of Mezritch, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov who founded the Hasidic movement in the late eighteenth century, implores us to open our hearts to God. He writes: 
We, the Children of Israel are forever building up our entire selves to become dwelling places for divinity. That is why the Israelites erected the Mishkan (Tabernacle) from offerings there in the wilderness. This process never ceased and goes on in every generation. We Israelites are called upon to build up the full form of God, the Shechinah, by using our entire selves. Thus our sages taught on the verse “Let them make Me a Tabernacle and I will dwell within them” (Exodus 25). This verse does not say “within it” but “within them”! This teaches that God dwells within every single person. This is what we have taught: that each of us must build up our entire self to be a fit dwelling for divinity. Then God indeed dwells within us.
But how do we make ourselves a dwelling place for God? How do we bring God into our lives?

Is it by observing more rituals? By lighting Shabbat candles every Friday evening? By ridding our homes of bread prior to our Passover Seders? By singing every verse of Lecha Dodi at Shabbat services? By fasting on Yom Kippur? By never eating a cheese burger or only eating at a kosher restaurant? Dov Ber would, I imagine, offer an emphatic yes. He would then most certainly expand the list even further.

Then again he would also add that such ritual scrupulousness must be combined with proper intention, that performing the rituals out of habit or compulsion is not enough. Outer observance must be tied to inner piety.

And yet, I continue to wonder. How do we make ourselves a tabernacle for God? It seems almost, I dare say, too easy to suggest it is only a matter of ritual acts such as lighting candles and keeping kosher. It would be too simple to suggest that all we have to do is follow a list, albeit a very lengthy one.

Instead to become a dwelling place for God we must act like God, to model God’s compassion and understanding at every turn. We must open our hearts to others. This list is much more concise but far more difficult to attain. But imagine how the world might then appear if we were to be scrupulous about our observance of this simple, but difficult, list.

It might seem like there is a tabernacle standing before us at every turn. We might behold God in every person.

Dov Ber continues: “This is what the holy Zohar (the foundational text of Jewish mysticism) meant when it taught that the form in which the world was created is the form of the mishkan (Tabernacle), and the mishkan and the human form are all the same.”

The list is brief. The task is great.

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