Tag Archives: mishkan

Where Do We Encounter God?

They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day,” Tammuz 26

That sounds incredibly like this:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

Well, maybe not exactly. Actually, the “Pentecost event” sounds more like this:

The Lord descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was on him and bestowed it on the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue.

Numbers 11:25 (Chabad Torah Commentary)

So we have two examples from the Bible, Numbers 11:25 and Acts 2:1-4, where we witness the Holy Spirit of God being imparted to groups of devout Jews and whereupon they prophesy. Then we have a Midrash on a portion of the Torah that says it was God’s intent to dwell among Israel by dwelling within each individual Israelite, rather than in (or in addition to) the Sanctuary itself.

When the Midrash states God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them”, it seems more like clever word play than an obvious interpretation leading to the aforementioned conclusion.

Still, it’s a compelling thought, since it summons images of God desiring, even as He commands the Mishkan to be built, to dwell within the devout of His people.

But dwelling among His people can also be compared to this:

They heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9 (JPS Tanakh)

Here too we see God “dwelling” among His people in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) but we don’t see the Divine Presence dwelling within Adam and Havah (Eve). Can we say that the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel with the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) as the focus of His presence in the same manner as He dwelt (or at least visited) the Garden?

After all, the Midrash presented by Rabbi Twerski isn’t the only one referencing Exodus 25:8:

And they shall make Me a sanctuary: And they shall make in My name a house of sanctity.

Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 25:8

Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin

Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, wrote a commentary on Exodus 25:8 in 2003 called Why Do We Need Synagogues in which he offered numerous Midrashim on this particular verse.

Of all of the Midrashim proffered, he believes this one best defines the reason for the commandment to build the Mishkan:

This whole matter of the Menorah, the Table, the Altar, the boards, the Tent, the curtains, and the utensils – what is it for? Said Israel before the Holy One Blessed be He: Lord of the Universe, the kings of the nations have a tent and a table and a menorah and incense and these are the trappings of kingship, for every king needs this. You are our king, our redeemer, our savior – shouldn’t you have the trappings of kingship until all people know that you are the king? God said to them: My children, flesh and blood need all that, but I do not, because I don’t eat or drink and I don’t need light… [Finally God relented:] If so, do what you want, but do it as I instruct you: As it is written: “And let them make me a sanctuary… make the menorah… make the table… make the altar…” (Midrash Aggadah to Parashat Terumah, p. 170).

The Jewish people built the mishkan and later the mikdash and later the synagogue because they – like all human beings – had a need for a physical place in which to worship God.

We are physical beings designed to live in the material world. God is Spirit and exists outside of Creation and indeed, there is no place where God does not and cannot exist. We are limited and He is limitless. So if He desires to dwell among us, where do we meet? We cannot go to His realm for how does a finite human visit infinity? He must somehow “reduce” Himself and come to us where we live. It was for us that all of Creation was made.

And who knows what aspect of the Almighty was “moving about in the garden” on that breezy day?

But R. Golinkin also quoted his father Rabbi Noah Golinkin from the senior R. Golinkin’s booklet Say Something New Each Day (1973, p. 18):

God, where are You?
Where do I find You?
You do not live here.
You have no address.
The Universe is filled with Your glory.
You live in every mountain
and in every valley
and on the busy turnpike outside.
You live in the beautiful riot of many colors
of the Indian summer;
and You live in my soul.

“You live in my soul.” But there’s more:

And yet
I have built for You a special building,
Beautiful, dignified, majestic,
Intimate, warm and friendly.
For whom did I build it?
For You and me.
For our conversations together.
For Your glory, O God,
And for my humble need.
I should be talking to You –
When I see You in the beautiful sunrise,
When I see You in the innocent smile of a child
When I see You in the kind deed of a man.

Inner lightIt seems there doesn’t have to be an inconsistency between God dwelling among us and God dwelling within our souls. He speaks to us from within ourselves but also meets with us in Holy places of worship.

I should say that, particularly in Judaism, personal worship and study is conducted in the home and the synagogue is reserved for communal worship and study. Jews pray individually but to join a minyan, must go to the synagogue.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…

Genesis 2:18 (NASB)

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!

Psalm 133:1 (NASB)

In the Garden, in the Mishkan, in the Temple, in the Synagogue, and dare I say it, in the Church, people were not meant to encounter God as individuals, because we can do that anywhere, including within our souls. God commanded the Mishkan to be built so that the community, the nation of Israel could gather and dwell with God.

The indwelling of the Spirit is inexorably coupled with the New Covenant:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the Lord your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Joel 2:27-29 (NASB)

In Gan Eden, human beings had an unparalleled intimacy with God which they took for granted because they had never known separation from God. It was only after the first act of disobedience that they truly understood was it was to be separated from God, the anguish, and agony of having known God and then becoming alienated from Him. How like our Master when he took upon himself the sins of humanity, thus for the first time also becoming separate from the Father:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

Matthew 27:46 (NASB)

exileHumanity has been separated from God for virtually all of human history. And yet not only has God desired to once again dwell with us, but as the Midrash testifies, we have yearned to dwell with Him. But once broken, shattered, torn asunder, intimacy with God is not so easily recovered. We see a series of steps, from the Mishkan, to the Temple, to the Master (John 1:14) and the Master’s Good News that the New Covenant was (is) near, to the giving of the Spirit to the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

But the best is yet to come.

While most Christians don’t give much serious thought to Midrash, it’s a reminder that the desire for intimacy with God is much older than the Church and that the people who authored the Bible also witnessed the Divine Presence descending upon a structure that man built at the command of God.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:34-38 (NASB)

The Divine Presence of God descended upon the Tabernacle but God also dwelt within the souls of each individual Jew. Messiah will someday come to rebuild the Temple, but Paul also called our bodies Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We don’t have to conclude that an infinite God can only reside within one domicile within our world, for nothing is impossible with God.

But if not for human frailty and folly, where would God be to be among us?

The purpose of the tabernacle and the subsequent Temples was “they shall make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them” (Exodus 25:8).

The great kabbalist Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (1560-1630), author of the monumental work the Sheloh, writes that since the verse employs the plural “them” rather than the singular, the Torah must be referring not to the sanctuary but to the people themselves.

According to this mystical interpretation, God’s commandment was never for a home of gold, silver and marble. Rather, God’s desire is that we create a space in our hearts and souls for him to abide in. Our very beings should function as portable temples that elevate our lives to be sanctified wherever we are.

-Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi
“Torah: Why do we pursue justice? The answer lies inside all of us” – March 7, 2013

R. Twersky concludes his commentary on a similar note:

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

PrayingWe meet God in multiple venues in the present world, within our churches and synagogues, but also within ourselves. But even as God resides within our souls and as His Spirit infuses our flesh, the union is still incomplete. The word is not yet written upon circumcised hearts. The Messiah has not yet brought that to us.

So we yearn. Our souls groan for what they don’t know but have once known in antediluvian ages past. May the Spirit of God quicken within us and may Messiah come soon and in our days.


God Within Us

pillaroffireThey shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

There are two types of possible relationships. A person may relate to an object, which is a one-way relationship, since the object cannot reciprocate, or a person may react to God and to people, which should be a two-way relationship. Another difference between relating to objects and to beings is that things should be used, whereas God and people should be loved. Unfortunately, the reverse may occur, wherein people fall in love with things but they use God and people. People who behave this way perceive God and people as if they were objects. Inasmuch as the love of oneself is an inevitable fact, love of God and people can occur only when they are permitted to become part of oneself, because then one loves them as one does one’s own eyes and ears.

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

Today I shall…

…try to make my relationship with God more than an object relationship, by incorporating the Torah to be my will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 26”

The midrash suggests something about Judaism that most Christians don’t see…the idea that there is something of God’s essence or spirit inside each Jewish person and within Israel, the Jewish nation. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as being given only at Acts 2 to the apostles and subsequently to each Jewish and non-Jewish person who comes to faith in Christ. In Jewish midrash, this event, or something like it, would have occurred at the end of the book of Exodus.

OK, midrash isn’t scripture, so I can’t say that indeed, a portion of the Divine Presence really did inhabit each and every Israelite who lived during the time of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and beyond. But at least in post-Biblical times, if not before, Judaism had the concept of a personal “indwelling” of God as well as God’s general presence among corporate Israel.

No, I’m not forgetting this:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.

Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)

Not literally every Israelite had this Spirit, only Moses and the seventy elders. But this event is remarkably similar to the event of the giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 and the Spirit in both scriptures is given for the same reason: empowerment. The seventy elders required the Spirit of Hashem in order to judge with fairness and wisdom that matched God’s standards, and the apostles needed wisdom and empowerment to exceed their own human limits and to boldly go forth as emissaries of Moshiach to Jerusalem, Samaria, and beyond.

But Christianity tends to sell the average Israelite in the Tanakh (Old Testament) short. Some Christians hold themselves up as superior spiritually and personally to the Israelites because of the belief that the Holy Spirit automatically inhabited them when they confessed Christ during an altar call or other similar circumstance.

AbrahamI’m having a tough time believing that I have a closer relationship with God than men like Abraham (who we have no record of a Spirit coming upon) or Moses, both of whom spoke with God personally. What was the experience of an Israelite farmer or shepherd who brought a sacrifice to the Mishkah, who brought a Todah (thanksgiving) offering, who approached a God who actually, physically inhabited the Tabernacle as the Divine Presence? What was it like to actually see the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night?

Can we say that the hearts and souls of the Children of Israel were empty of God as He dwelt among them in an incredibly tangible form?

In Torah-study the person is devoted to the subject that he wishes to understand and comes to understand. In davening the devotion is directed to what surpasses understanding.

In learning Torah the Jew feels like a pupil with his master; in davening – like a child with his father.

-“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tammuz 26, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Sometimes Christians believe they are more “spiritual” than religious Jews, but one of the reasons I tend to read and quote from sources such as Chabad.org and Aish.com is that they show me a spirituality in Judaism that I don’t always find in Christianity. This isn’t to say that there isn’t great spirituality in the church, far from it. It’s just that I don’t believe we have to make an “either/or” selection. I think that God dwelt among and within His people Israel in the desert of Sinai. I think He did so in a very physical and human way during the days when Jesus walked the earth.

And I believe that God is among His people Israel, the Jewish people even today. This does not undo the fact that God is also among and within the Gentiles who are called by His Name in the church as well.

No man can claim to have reached the ultimate truth as long as there is another who has not.

No one is redeemed until we are all redeemed.

Ultimate truth is an unlimited light—and if it is unlimited, how could it shine in one person’s realm and not in another’s?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All or No One”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

messiah-prayerI’m not saying that coming to faith in the Messiah doesn’t mean anything, quite the opposite. I’m also not saying there are two paths to salvation, one for the Gentile and one for the Jew (although very soon, I plan on expanding the definition of the “good news” of Messiah considerably in one of my blog posts). I am saying that God didn’t leave His people Israel to save the Gentiles, since we Gentiles only have access to God through the Abrahamic covenant, which comes to us only through Israel; the Jewish people.

I’m also saying this:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

This fits with what I just quoted from Rabbi Freeman (though I doubt the Rabbi would have applied it as such). In Christianity, we evangelize to take the good news of Messiah to all people. Judaism doesn’t evangelize but believes that all will be drawn to God through the Messiah, both Jews and Gentiles. From both points of view, God must be present and active in the lives of everybody everywhere, not just “special people.”

A friend of mine sent me a link to a commentary on last week’s Torah reading and pointed me to the last paragraph in the article:

The Midrash of Rav Yitzchak concludes that even today Elijah and Moshiach are still recording accounts of all our deeds to be included in future holy books. These works are sealed and affirmed by God Himself. From this we learn that our actions are not something between us and God alone, but must be done in such a way as to bring the respect and admiration of the surrounding society so as to promote the observance of Torah.

Again, this is midrash and not scripture, but it suggests something that “either/or” literalists may never consider. That the names of the “elect” in the book of the Lamb were written and sealed from before creation, and that names and acts are continually written inside the sealed book. If time were linear for God, words like “before,” “during,” and “after would mean something, but God exists quite outside of linear time. So when something was written before creation, since it is written outside of the linear stream of time and outside the bounds of a created universe, does our concept of “before” that exists within the universe even apply?

Who knows?

Inner lightI was talking earlier to some people at work about genius and “thinking outside the box.” Smart and clever people can be creative and even occasionally brilliant within their own “box” or how they conceptualize the world around them. Only a true genius or arguably a mystic can see themselves, how they think, and what they think about, from outside their own box, observing themselves, observing what they are considering, and realizing that there is an entirely different set of situations and circumstances outside of the box we continually are trying to put God in.

God’s Divine Presence was “contained” in the Tabernacle because God chose to allow it, but God also said that “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49).

There are great mysteries about the nature of salvation, who is saved, and the role of Messiah in the salvation of Israel and the nations. While it is important for us to examine the meaning of all this, it is arrogant for us to assume that we can come to an understanding equal to God’s.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

-Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

How is God with the Jewish people today? When God approaches us, are we able to respond to Him? Can we change our mind about God? How does God indwell human beings? I’m not convinced we should be absolutely sure how to answer any of those questions. All I know is that we should all sincerely seek God, and we should all sincerely seek peace, mercy, and justice by performing them day by day.

As it is said, when we study, we are a student and God is our Teacher. When we pray, we are a child and God is our Father. As it has also been said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). Whether we see ourselves as students, as disciples, as children, or as slaves, we can only humbly turn to God, walk before Him, and wait His good pleasure to reveal what He will.

And only He will judge.

Addendum: See Rabbi Carl Kinbar’s comments below for some corrections to what I’ve written and quoted from in this blog post.

Gifts of the Spirit: Building God’s Dwelling Place, Part 2

tabernacle-sea-caveAnd Moses finished setting up the Tent of Meeting.

Exodus 40:33

…no place on earth is devoid of the Shechinah. Rabbi Joshua of Sikhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, What is the Tabernacle compared with? With a cave situated on the edge of the sea. When the sea rises and floods it, the cave is filled by the sea, yet the sea is not diminished. Likewise, the Tabernacle was filled with the radiance of the Shechinah.

-Pesikta Derab Kahana 1.3

If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this “meditation” before continuing here. This is a continuation of my commentary on the teaching “For God’s Dwelling Place” presented at the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship by Rabbi Carl Kinbar.

Yesterday, I suggested that there is no inconsistency between the Spirit of God dwelling within each of us as disciples of the Jewish Messiah and God dwelling among His people Israel in the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Holy Jerusalem. That’s not exactly traditional thinking for most Christians, and at least in the western world, we tend to think in terms of “either/or” rather than “why not both.”

But to borrow a little “rabbinic language,” to what can the dwelling place of God be compared?

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.

Hebrews 3:5-6 (NRSV)

The end of the Book of Exodus records Moses finishing the work of setting up the Tabernacle and then the Divine Presence covering and filling the Mishkan. Moses was faithful in the construction of a dwelling place for God among His people Israel as God’s servant. But there is one who is more than a servant. He is a son. How much more faithful is the son over the house of the father than the servant?

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5

Reading Hebrews and Peter’s first letter gives the impression of an “either-or” situation. Either God dwells in a Temple of stone or He dwells in a Temple of flesh and blood, with a flesh and blood Son being the cornerstone of the “structure.” But is this necessarily true in a permanent sense? It is true that there is no Temple in Jerusalem today, and it is true that the Spirit dwells within each of God’s people, that we come together as “living stones” and united, we form a “Temple” of God, the body of Messiah.

And it is true that today we offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Messiah.

The sacrifices God desires are a broken spirit; a heart broken and humbled, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Not too long ago, I wrote about what it is to be broken in heart and in spirit before God and among other heartbroken people. These were the sacrifices we offered to God at Shavuot and His Spirit filled the synagogue in Hudson, Wisconsin during the days of the festival.

There is no Temple sacrifice that atones for murder and adultery, both of which David was guilty of, except on Yom Kippur. He must have known this when he wrote his famous Psalm. But what is the state of the heart of one who approaches God in abject humility on Yom Kippur? Is not every Jew heartbroken, contrite, and humbled? Are these not the sacrifices we make to God with our lives as we turn away from our sins and turn to Him begging for forgiveness?

Rescue me from blood-guilt, O God, God of my salvation, let my tongue sing joyously of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise.

Psalm 51:16-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

David seems to paint a portrait that is completely appropriate for the disciple of Jesus in the world today. No stone Temple is required when we turn to God and offer spiritual sacrifices of the heart. But then, David says something that doesn’t fit into the Christian template.

Then You will desire the offerings of righteousness, burnt-offering, and whole offering; then will bulls go up upon Your altar.

Psalm 51:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The Jewish disciples of Messiah in the days of the apostles would have had no problem with Temple sacrifices, and it is said that under certain conditions, even the God-fearing Gentiles could offer sacrifices at the Temple through the Priests. It is only today, and especially with no House of God standing on the Temple Mount that Gentile Christians balk at the thought of “bulls going up upon God’s altar.”

jerusalem_templeAnd yet we know that there will be a physical Temple in Jerusalem again, and we know that each of the nations who went up against (who will go up against) Jerusalem in the final days, will be commanded to send representatives to Jerusalem for Sukkot each year (Zechariah 14:16). True celebration of Sukkot in the days when there is a Temple in Jerusalem require that sacrifices be made in the Temple (Leviticus 23:33-43).

In the days of the Temple, will the sacrifices of the heart no longer be required? Hardly. Read Psalm 51 again. Once our hearts and spirits are broken before God as spiritual sacrifices, then will the offerings of bulls be accepted upon the Temple altar.

And God will once again dwell among His nation Israel and in the hearts of His devout ones, first the Jew and also the Gentile who is called by His Name.

But let’s take a closer look at what’s happening now.

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:17-22 (NRSV)

Notice that we Gentiles who were far off were brought near and united as members of God’s household through the Spirit and not by the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. Rabbi Kinbar says that the phrase referring to Gentiles “who were far off” literally describes being “outside the house” in Greek. He also said, according to my notes, that the reference to “house” both means “house” as a structure and also the process of “building the house.”

Gentiles are brought near to Israel, bringing us inside the house, but we also join Israel in the process of building the house of God with Messiah as the cornerstone. Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master are all part of a single household; a holy Temple of God. Jesus is the house and the house is also in him. Jesus is pre-eminent and pre-dominant in the house.

For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

1 Corinthians 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, Rabbi Kinbar suggests that we should be careful what materials we use to lay upon the foundation stones of the house. A quick look at the condition of “the church” today, at least in the United States, suggests that many Christians aren’t using the finest materials for the construction job. In fact, sad to say, many churches are using sub-standard materials, flimsy and faulty wood, stone, and tools. Precious stones were used in the construction of the Jerusalem Temple. Should we use anything less in the Temple where we are the stones?

Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church…So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church…What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

1 Corinthians 14:4, 12, 26 (NRSV)

These are all images of building up the house of God as members of the house, the body, the community of faith. We build with our spiritual gifts, we build with prayer, with hope, with love, with faith. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says that we are all one by the same Spirit but each one of us individually has specific gifts. We’re not all alike. We each have something unique to contribute, just as Bezalel and Oholiab and “every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill” had unique talents they used in making the elements of the Tabernacle (Exodus 36:1-3).

I’ve said previously that we are a work in progress as a body of faith. God has not yet written his Torah on our hearts, nor have our hearts been fully transformed from stone to blood-pumping hot flesh. We still cry out to one another, “Know God!” (see Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8; 10).

Receiving the SpiritRabbi Kinbar finished his presentation by stating something I consider remarkable about our “living house.” God is actually living in the dwelling place we are constructing while it is still in the process of being built. This is completely unlike His dwelling in the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, because those projects had to be fully completed before the Divine Presence filled them. For He lives within us as we are still measuring and hammering and raising wooden beams and laying precious foundation stones.

The plans for the Tabernacle and the Temple were exquisitely precise and each and every piece of stone and wood was of the finest quality, constructed by exceptionally skilled craftsmen. Not so God’s living house today. We stumble half blind to draw and redraw the blueprints, reach for any tool handy, and much of the time, employ shoddy workmanship and poor materials in our efforts. And yet God is tolerant of us and what we’re doing. He continues to live among us and to live in us as we build and rebuild ourselves as believers, striving forward, falling back, but never taking our gaze from the soul of our Master.

The dwelling place of God is past, present and future all at once. Just imagine when the house if finally complete, when the imperfections have been burned away like dross, leaving only a precious and perfect product. When that day comes, then our King will be evident in the house, and he will be one and His Name one. And God will dwell within us as the Presence dwells in the Jerusalem Temple. And Messiah will walk among His people again.

But He’s also in His house now, and we are here too, united in His Spirit as His Spirit unites us.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Troy Mitchell

119 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Building God’s Dwelling Place, Part 1

creation2And there was evening and morning: one day.

Genesis 1;5

R. Samuel b. Ammi said: From the beginning of the world’s creation the Holy One, blessed be He, longed to enter into partnership with human beings… When did the Holy One, blessed be He, compensate them [those below for not partnering with them at that time] there? At the erection of the Tabernacle, as it says, “And he that presented his offering the first day” (Num. 7:12), meaning, the first of the world’s creation, for God said, “It is as though on that day I created My world.”

-Genesis Rabbah 3.9

Rabbi Carl Kinbar’s notes for his teaching “For God’s Dwelling Place” presented at the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin begin this way. It’s really a two-part lesson that Rabbi Kinbar managed to offer to us in a single session on Shabbat (I’ll write it as a “two-parter” presenting the second part tomorrow).

You may be put off by the Talmudic references and I’ve been avoiding them until now, knowing how Christian audiences sometimes react to the teachings of the Rabbinic sages. On the other hand, it is sometimes helpful to access Jewish commentary on the Word of God and the Spirit of God in order to re-insert what we are learning back into it’s “natural Jewish habitat” (as D.T. Lancaster puts it).

But what does the act of creating the world and building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert have to do with “gifts of the spirit?”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24:15-18 (NRSV)

Rabbi Kinbar told a story about how this verse was once taught in a class. One woman in the class responded that it must have been incredibly boring for Moses to sit up on that mountain for forty days and forty nights with nothing to do.

When I heard him describe this woman’s comment I immediately thought, “Sure, if he were alone!” Rabbi Kinbar kindly suggested to his class, “Let’s assume that God is exactly as the Bible describes Him.” Apparently, it doesn’t occur to some folks to take the Bible at face value and to believe God is as He is described in the pages of His own Word.

But let’s “assume” that He is and that at Eden, He desired to dwell among people. In Exodus, He desires to dwell among His people.

I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate, to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.

Exodus 29:43-46

But it’s more than just God living in the human world. God wants something special from people, something that He doesn’t want from any other portion of creation. He wants to be partners with us. He want us to work with Him, not just for Him. He wants more than servants, He wants sons and daughters to help in building His dwelling place; building the Kingdom of God.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Luke 17:20-21

looking-at-heavenWe tend to think of the “Kingdom” as either Heaven or the future Messianic era, but Jesus is talking about it in the present tense: “…the kingdom of God is among you.” When he says it’s near, he doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right around the corner or that it’s coming soon, he means that as we pursue our partnership with God and perform the mitzvot necessary to help repair our broken world, we are drawing nearer to the Kingdom, we are building little bits and pieces of the Kingdom every time we perform an act of kindness, charity, or justice.

I don’t mean that God just wants to “dwell” with us in some abstract or metaphoric sense.

Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Exodus 40:16-19

As far as I know, there’s nothing in the Hebrew text that suggests Moses had help when he built the Mishkan for the first time and Midrash states that Moses built the entire structure single-handedly. Moses “partnered” with God in constructing God’s dwelling place. All of the Children of Israel who either directly participated in making the elements of the Mishkan or who donated funds and materials for the work “partnered” with God in constructing God’s dwelling place among them.

And when the Divine Presence descended upon the Mishkan so that even Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting (Exodus 40:34-38), it was possible for the first time to make offerings to God directly in His presence and God dwelt among His people Israel. In fact, it was not possible to make sacrifices to God unless the Divine Presence was in the Mishkan. And this, according to the Sages, was God’s compensation for the lack of human participation in the creation of the world; allowing human participation in the construction of God’s Mishkan and God dwelling directly within Israel and her legions.

In the Garden, God comes down to human beings. At Sinai, when God gives the Torah, God comes down to human beings. And when the last element of the Tabernacle was constructed, God comes down to human beings.

And God came down to human beings in the form of a human being, not in the totality of all that God is (for the Divine Presence is not the totality of all that God is, for even the earth is His footstool, see Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49) but God came down to us and dwelt among us as living, breathing flesh.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13

Most Christians have a difficult time understanding what the Temple means to the Jewish people. Most Christians don’t understand what the big deal is about Jews praying at the Kotel (Western Wall, Wailing Wall). Most Christians don’t get the importance of Exodus 40 because they (we) believe that now that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God lives in us more than ever, and who needs the Temple anyway?

We do.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I mentioned in a previous blog post about the conference, that the Holy Spirit has always been moving among humanity and particularly among Israel. The Spirit didn’t show up for the first time in Acts 2. If we can say there’s any sort of difference between the time of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Apostolic Era, it was that the Spirit did not previously dwell upon literally every man and woman in Israel, but after the first Shavuot post-ascension, the Spirit does dwell upon each person who has come to faith in God.

Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them — they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent — and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!” And Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” Moses then reentered the camp together with the elders of Israel.

Numbers 11:26-30 (JPS Tanakh)

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” Wow.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Acts 10:44-46

Wish granted, Moses.

jewish-temple-messiahAnd even beyond that, there will still be a Third Temple in the Messianic Age, and it is in the Temple that Messiah will be enthroned as King over all.

And it will be God’s House and He will dwell among humanity again.

It’s not an either-or proposition. We can have both. We can build both in partnership with God. But we in the church must never forget that our “connectedness” to God is wholly dependent on Israel’s “connectedness” to God. We are made partners through Israel’s partnership with God.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its towns when I restore their fortunes:

“The Lord bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!”

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me forever.

Jeremiah 31:23, 34-36

This set of verses is meaningful in at least two ways. It teaches us that we are not “there” yet. It was quite obvious to me as I was sitting in a conference listening to a Rabbi teach me about God’s partnership with humanity that I still needed to be taught about God. Teachers were still saying “Know the Lord.” We are still in the process of building. God’s finger is still in the process of writing His Word on our hearts, of turning our hearts from stone to warm and beating flesh.

The other thing it teaches is that Israel will not cease to be a nation before God as long as there is a Sun by day and a Moon by night, as long as the waves of the sea continue to come to the shore. Only when this “fixed order” stops will the offspring of Israel stop being a nation before God.

Israel by design and the people of the nations who are called by the Lord’s Name by being grafted in have a job to do. We must continue to build God’s dwelling place among us. How do we do that? By obeying the will of God for our lives, by loving God with all of our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. By feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, comforting the grieving. By studying His Word, by living the life that God has provided for us in accordance with His wishes. By loving and by humility.

praying-at-the-kotelThe generation of Israelites in the desert weren’t circumcised. The consequence of not obeying the commandment of the brit milah is to be cut off from among the people. This is a serious consequence. Why didn’t God cut off that entire generation that came out of Egypt?

According to Rabbi Kinbar, it was because of God’s love and humility. We don’t often think of God as being humble, but we do know that even Moses was considered the most humble of all men (Numbers 12:3). Maybe Moses, as a “disciple” of God, was imitating his Master.

I want to mention two more items before I end my “meditation” for this morning. Remember the woman Rabbi Kinbar told us about, the one who thought spending forty days and forty nights on the mountain with God would be boring? Another woman responded to her after Rabbi Kinbar suggested we could accept what the Bible tells us about God at face value. The second woman said she heard from God. It was just after her husband died and she was feeling intensely grief-stricken. The woman didn’t say what God told her, but the implication was that His presence was very comforting and very real…and not boring at all.

The last thing I want to say is that Rabbi Kinbar suggested something I hadn’t considered before. Is the Birkat Kohenim (the Priestly Blessing) a blessing for the Messianic Era?

May the LORD bless you and guard you – יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you – יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace – יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

I’ll pick up Rabbi Kinbar’s lesson in Part 2 tomorrow.

120 days.

41 Days: Still Processing Sunday

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’”

Acts 7:44-50 (ESV)

Conclusions from Pastor Randy’s sermon on Acts 7:44-53:

  1. Israel’s history is one long story of their stubborn, rebellious tendency to reject God’s gracious dealings with them.
  2. Israel’s history has been characterized by limiting worship to a sacred placed, rather than a sacred person.
  3. We must take great care that we are not guilty of the same things!
  4. We should faithfully imitate Stephen’s bold witness, rather than have undue concern for our own safety or protection.

I don’t know. For the most part, what Pastor Randy said about this portion of Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin was supportive of the Tabernacle and the later Temples, including the idea that Ezekiel’s temple is literal and not figurative, and will someday exist in Jerusalem.

On the other hand, I’m bothered by the “either/or” concept of “Israel’s history has been characterized by limiting worship to a sacred placed, rather than a sacred person.” I think it would be valid to say that there were times in Israel’s history when they were faithless and even when offering sacrifices in the Temple, did so only to pay “lip service” to the commandments, while their hearts were far from God. But I don’t think that Israel’s temple service was always without value. Point 2 above seems to imply that rather than the Temple, the Jewish people should always have been focused on the Messiah, but didn’t God command Israel to build the Tabernacle? Didn’t the Shekhinah inhabit first the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38) and later Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10-12)?

Did Jesus replace the Temple? But then Pastor believes Ezekiel’s Temple will be built, so can he believe that?

The title of the sermon was something like “Putting God in a Box.” I think the idea was that it’s a bad thing to put limits on God in any sense, but I never really got the impression that throughout the history of the Jewish people, anyone actually thought God was confined to the interior of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) or Temple. The Divine Presence, what most Christian Bibles translate as “the Glory of God,” was understood as a manifestation of God’s Presence without being perceived as anything like His totality. This is where understanding a little bit about Jewish mysticism and concepts such as the Ein Sof and Shekhinah would be helpful.

In Sunday school class, I did hear one gentlemen using examples of the specific type of clothing worn by Orthodox Jews and praying at the “wailing wall” (Kotel) as illustrations of Jews “putting God in a box.” It was one of the few times during class that I didn’t speak up, mainly because it would have taken too long to try to explain why those practices aren’t necessarily bad things (for Jews, anyway).

I was also a little disturbed about where I would lead such conversation if I allowed it to go down the predictable path. At the beginning of services, Pastor Randy reminded everyone that he would be leading a tour of Israel this coming spring and that “affordable prices” for airline tickets needed to be purchased by the end of this month. He was extremely supportive of Israel’s efforts in defending itself during the current crisis, and said that we should not let ourselves be put off in planning to visit in the spring because of what is happening right now.

As he went through the slide show of where the tour group would be visiting, the last place is to be Jerusalem, including stopping at the Kotel. How was I supposed to tell this fellow in Sunday school that when I saw the slides of the old city, that I have always desired to offer prayers to God at the Kotel? What would he say? How much more trouble would I stir up than I already had?

I know I don’t fit in to a Jewish community. I’m not Jewish and I’m not going act in such a way that pretends otherwise. But while I say that I’m a Christian because it’s the closest approximation of an accurate description of my faith, I don’t believe a Jewish devotion to the House of Prayer that God Himself requested and required of the Jewish people is a vain and empty effort, even relative to the person and power of the Jewish Messiah King.

And I don’t believe that Jews who choose to observe the mitzvot by a certain way of dress, or who honor their Creator by praying at the Kotel is “putting God in a box.”

Am I just looking for excuses for not going back to church? Maybe. I’ve already concluded that this particular church is about the closest I’ll ever come to finding what I’m looking for within the Christian world. If I blow it here, I’ve blown it completely. I knew I’d never find perfection, but then, what did I expect?

I just don’t know if I can agree with how Stephen’s defense is being interpreted. More from last Sunday’s study notes:

  1. They had accused him of reviling the Holy Place; He accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit. (vs 51)
  2. They had accused him of belittling the Law; He accused them of breaking the Law. (vs. 52a)
  3. They had accused him of making light of Moses, the man of God; He accused them of murdering Jesus, the Messiah of God. (vs. 52a-53)

Granted, Stephen was limiting his accusation to the Sanhedrin (as opposed to leveling it toward all Jews everywhere) in turning the accusations around to apply them to his accusers, but did he not defend the Temple, the Law, and Moses as well as the Messiah?

What am I doing here?

For the most part they were willing to support the state and to partake of the cultural bounty of the Hellenistic world, but they were unwilling to surrender their identity. They wished to “belong” but at the same time to remain distinct. Support for the state was not to be confused with the abnegation of nationalist dreams. Hellenization was not to be confused with assimilation. This tension is also evident in the social relations between Jews and gentiles.

-Shane J.D. Cohen
Chapter 2: Jews and Gentiles
Social: Jews and Gentiles, pg 37
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition

That’s not really describing me, but when I read this paragraph from Cohen’s book, I couldn’t help but think of my attempts at “belonging” in my current church context. However, at the same time do I want to remain distinct? Distinct as what?

I’ve described both Judaism and Christianity as cultures in addition to “faiths” (for lack of a better word). Judaism is notoriously difficult to define since it is a nation, a people, a faith, a culture, and an ethnicity, all rolled into one thing. Worse than that, Judaism encompasses multiple cultural and ethnic elements as well as variations on religious practices, but at its core, Jews will always be part of a single nation; Israel, because God has so ordained it.

By comparison, what is Christianity? It is primarily a religion, but it encompasses many “Christianities” and it has many different cultural and theological expressions. In the middle of all that, what identity do I have among them, and of what they teach, how much can I believe?

Terumah: Waiting for God On Earth

When dedicating the Beis HaMikdash, King Shlomo exclaimed in wonderment: “Will G-d indeed dwell on this earth? The heavens and the celestial heights cannot contain You, how much less this house!” For the Beis HaMikdash was not merely a centralized location for man’s worship of G-d, it was a place where G-d’s Presence was and is manifest. Although “the entire earth is full of His glory,” G-d’s Presence is not tangibly felt. He permeates all existence, but in a hidden way. The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, was “the place where He chose to cause His name to dwell.” There was no concealment; His Presence was openly manifest.

Why was man’s activity necessary? Because G-d’s intent is that the revelation of His Presence be internalized within the world, becoming part of the fabric of its existence. Were the revelation to come only from above, it would merely nullify worldliness. To cite a parallel: when G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, the world ground to a standstill. “No bird chirped… nor did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar.” Although G-dliness was revealed within the world, material existence did not play a contributory role.

When, by contrast, the dwelling for G-d is built by man himself part of the material world the nature of the materials used is elevated. This enables G-d’s Presence to be revealed within these entities while they continue to exist within their own context.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“A Dwelling Among Mortals”
from the In the Garden of the Torah series
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 902;
Vol. XVI, p. 286ff; Vol. XXI, p. 146ff

The building of a Mishkan foreshadows the transformation of the entire world into a dwelling place for G-d. This is accomplished through Torah, Divine service, and deeds of kindness – the “three pillars” upon which the world stands. (Avos 1:2.)
-Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI, pp. 292-297.

In this week’s Torah portion, we see the Children of Israel being commanded to bring contributions that will be used as materials for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. Moses is provided with what me might think of as a “diagram” of the Heavenly Court and told to direct the Children of Israel to build, for all intents and purposes, a “scale model” so that God might dwell among His people. This is a strange enough request when you try to picture the “environment” where God dwells in the Heavens, and then imagine what it would be like to build a physical representation of that metaphysical “place.”

But it gets even stranger.

Thus, it is understood that although the construction of the Mishkan and the bringing of donations had to have happened in accordance with only one of these three schedules, all three opinions are true as they relate to the spiritual Mishkan within the heart of every Jew.
-Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VI, pp. 153-156.

The use of the term ‘them’ rather than ‘it’ has been interpreted as a message that the purpose of the Mishkan sanctuary was to facilitate the dwelling of the Divine Presence within the heart of every Jew. The role of the Mishkan in the wilderness and during the first four centuries of a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael was perpetuated by the first and second Beit Hamikdash Temples which spanned a period of nine centuries. All of this is today but a memory to which a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) gives a special dimension. This does not mean, however, that a Jew cannot build a mini-sanctuary in his heart even today. The Divine Presence is waiting to dwell within the hearts of all Jews if only they will let it enter!

-Rabbi Mendel Weinbach
‘The “Holy Sites”‘
For the week ending 8 February 2003 / 6 Adar I 5763
Ohr Somayach

If it seems unusual or even incomprehensible to be able to build a “scale model” of the Heavenly Court and then expect God to take up residence, how much more incredible is it to expect God to take up residence within the “spiritual Mishkan within the heart of every Jew?”

Oh, have you heard of this before?

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. –Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

Perhaps this isn’t so strange, since the Jewish disciples of the Master had a precedent for the Pentecost event act at Sinai, but what came next was completely unexpected.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. –Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

God desires to dwell among His people, which we can understand, because God once did dwell among His people in Eden before the fall. God once again, though in a somewhat different sense, arranged to dwell among His people Israel, and that dwelling was to be a light to the nations. As part of the process of God being among man, each Jew was to consider that the Divine Presence was also dwelling within each of them. This was repeated at the Pentecost event and while all of that is magnificent, the truly amazing thing in the eyes of God’s chosen ones, was (and perhaps still is for some Jewish people) that the Creator extended His splendid and compassionate grace, even to the Gentiles.

But is this the whole story and, now that Christianity boasts of the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” is this work finally complete?

On the ninth day of the month of Av (“Tish’ah B’Av”) we fast and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Both the First Temple (833-423 bce) and the Second Temple (349 bce-69 ce) were destroyed on this date. The Shabbat preceding the fast day is called the “Shabbat of Vision,” for on this Shabbat we read a chapter from the Prophets (Isaiah 1:1-27) that begins, “The vision of Isaiah…”

On the “Shabbat of Vision,” says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third and final Temple — a vision that, to paraphrase the Talmud, “though we do not see ourselves, our souls see.” This vision evokes a profound response in us, even if we are not consciously aware of the cause of our sudden inspiration.

Adapted by Yanki Tauber
“Shabbat of Vision”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

I previously mentioned that Christianity abandoned a major portion of it’s history and heritage by tossing the Jewish foundation of our faith aside, so I can understand that the church would view any Jewish “vision” of the Third Temple with skepticism if not utter disbelief. Perhaps they are right, but could there be any way to reconcile all of the imagery we have of the bodies of believers being as Temples for the Spirit of God and the coming of a Third, physical Temple where God will once again dwell among His people Israel?


Especially in western thought, we tend to see conditions as “either or”. Either the Spirit dwells in the Temple, or it dwells within the heart of the believer. For some reason, it can’t be both, although I’m not sure why. After all, in Judaism, the Divine Presence dwelt within the Mishkan, but it also dwelt within each Jewish heart in some mysterious, spiritual, and mystic way. God, in a metaphysical manner, dwelt within the Heavenly court, but He also made it possible for a physical replica of His “abode” to be created among His people Israel so He could also dwell among men, even though no structure could possibly contain Him.

God’s desire to be among us is fraught with problems when we actually make ourselves wonder how it is possible, and yet we see reliably, that God has indeed done so, in Eden, in the Mishkah, and in Solomon’s Temple. Jews are said to be able to have a vision, on a mystic level, of the Third Temple on the Shabbat just before the Ninth of Av. What are the Jewish people supposed to see and understand? Perhaps this.

The First Temple was built on Divine command and assistance. The Second Temple was constructed at the orders of a human being. The level of revelation associated with it, and the accompanying miracles, were far less intense. Yet, precisely because it came to be built through human efforts and on human initiative, it had a greater impact on this world. It was larger than the first Temple, taking up more of this world in terms of space, and it lasted longer, occupying this world for a greater length of time.

The Third Temple, like the Shabbat on which we are shown its image, combines the strengths of both the first and second Temples. It combines the Divine revelation, an inspiration from Above, along with human effort, an inspiration from below, to create a permanent home for G-dliness. Thus is the lesson and inspiration of this Shabbat. We are given a Divinely revealed vision which we must combine with human efforts to permanently alter the world we live in, and, even more challenging, ourselves.

-Chana Kroll
“Make It Real”
Shabbat Chazon

Repeatedly, we’ve seen how God must contribute to the construction of His dwelling on Earth, but so must man. While God does not need human beings to offer their efforts in the service of Divine tasks, we see in the Bible how people are continually involved in “building” with God and repairing the world. While God does not “need” our help, something about the nature of God dwelling among us requires that we be actively engaged. In this, we must take “ownership” of our desire to return the holy sparks within us to Him, not by our going up to God, but in allowing God to come down to us. Somehow, God dwelling within us and God dwelling among us in a Temple are all interconnected. We must change the world for Him but we must also change ourselves. Paradoxically, we can do neither without God’s help, but then, those tasks cannot occur without us, either. I can’t explain how it all works. I only know that God is showing all of us, not just the Jewish people, a picture of His future with His people; His human beings.

Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev uses the following metaphor to explain the necessity of the Three Temples and why we must wait such a long time for Him to be truly among us again.

A father once prepared a beautiful suit of clothes for his son. But the child neglected his father’s gift and soon the suit was in tatters. The father gave the child a second suit of clothes; this one, too, was ruined by the child’s carelessness. So the father made a third suit. This time, however, he withholds it from his son. Every once in a while, on special and opportune times, he shows the suit to the child, explaining that when the child learns to appreciate and properly care for the gift, it will be given to him. This induces the child to improve his behavior, until it gradually becomes second nature to him — at which time he will be worthy of his father’s gift.

God has shown us His gift in the Messiah, but He also withholds the Messiah’s coming until we are ready. But God is gracious enough to show us what will happen once we reach this state of being worthy. Through the vision of a prophet, we can see the return of the Messiah, our later return to Eden, and finally, the placing of the Throne of God among us at a future time when the requirement for Ezekiel’s Temple is no longer necessary.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. –Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)

But before all that happens, we must come to terms with our struggle between life in this world, in the spirit and in the body, as Rabbi Tzvi Freeman relates:

The human mind despises the body that houses it, but the soul has only love.

The mind would soar to the heavens, but for a body that chains it to the earth. The mind would be consumed in divine oneness, but for the body’s delusion of otherness, as though it had made itself.

But the soul sees only G-d.

In that very delusion of otherness,
in that madness of the human ego,
even there, the soul sees only G‑d.
For she says, “This, too, is truth.
This is a distorted reflection of the Essence of all things,
of that which truly has neither beginning nor cause.”

And so she embraces the bonds of the body,
works with the body, transforms the body.
Until the body, too, sees only G-d.

—Basi LeGani 5712

Good Shabbos.