It should have said “And I will dwell in its midst”; instead it says, “And I will dwell in their midst.” This is because every person is obligated to make a sanctuary [for G-d]. And this [element of the mitzvah] can always be fulfilled, [even during the era when there is no temple].
Rabbi Yeshayah HaLevi Horowitz
Shenei Luchot Haberit
Masechat Ta’anit 28
When a person reflects on this, his soul will burn with love. He will say to himself, “Am I worthy that G-d Who cannot be contained by the upper heavens shall yet desire to dwell with me – a mere mortal being, but dust and ashes, carved from clay? Who am I that the King should come dwell in my home? It is therefore fitting that I make a beautiful dwelling place for Him to dwell with me.”
Rabbi Eliyahu ben Moshe Vidas
Sha’ar Ha’ahavah 6:19
This blog continues my series based on the JLI course book for Toward a Meaningful Life. If you haven’t done so yet, please review the previous blog, Time is the Fire, and then return here and keep reading.
How amazing that God would want to dwell among mortal humanity, not only as a collection of beings but as individuals, which is what both of these esteemed Rabbis is suggesting. This is a direct extension of my previous blog post Who Are We to God where I explored why God would want to “marry” the nation of Israel or why Christ would want “the church” as his “bride”. I still find it a stunning image and rather mind-boggling to entertain the thought, but I can’t deny that God does desire this.
God wants to dwell among His creation, among human beings. We see this in Eden when God walks in the Garden and speaks to Adam (Genesis 3:8-9). We see this at the end of all the things (Revelation 21:22-27) when people from every nation and tongue will enter into the Holy City of God and of the Lamb. We also see some sense of it here:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14
We see that God, His glory, His Divine Presence, did dwell among His people Israel in ancient times:
And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst. –Exodus 25:8
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. –Exodus 40:34-35
I surely have built You a house to dwell in; a settled place for You to dwell in forever….But will G-d indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; much less this temple that I have erected. –I Kings 8:13-27
Though it seems more than a little crazy and even impossible from a totally human perspective, God not only wants to enter into a close, intimate relationship with corporate and individual humanity, but He wants to live with us, both as a group (looking at the examples of the Tabernacle and the Temple when He dwelt among Israel) and within our individual homes and lives.
The church readily accepts the concept of God; the Holy Spirit actually, dwelling in our hearts and that people, individual Christians, are “spiritual Temples”, effectively replacing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (and sadly from a supersessionist point of view, permanently replacing the Temple), so the idea of God living with us as individuals doesn’t come as too big a shock. However, if Christianity took this imagery more seriously and literally, would individual believers try to amend their behavior (since God is with you, right next to you and dwelling inside of you, even when you think you’re alone)?
But is the heart of man God’s “home” so to speak, or are there times when He is more “with” us than others? For that matter, what is a home (as opposed to a house)?
The JLI course material for Toward a Meaningful Life has an extensive set of definitions comparing a home and a house. A home is a “shelter” for who we are spiritually and emotionally. A place where it is safe to nurture our families with the values we have received from God. It is a place where we can fully welcome God into our lives without the distractions of the outside world, where we can embrace Him completely and open ourselves to Him. A house is just wood and plaster, a roof and walls, but we transform it into a home, as the Tabernacle in the desert was transformed, from its raw materials into a structure, and into a place that incredibly could contain the Presence of the living God, even though the Universe itself cannot encompass Him.
But how do we welcome God into our home? Is He just “there”? Do we take him (God forbid) for granted, like the kitchen table or our old, worn out sofa?
If a person does not have enough money to purchase both Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles, or if a person doesn’t have enough money to purchase both Shabbat candles and wine for Shabbat kidush, the Shabbat candles take precedence because [they bring] peace to his home…Peace is so great that the entire Torah was given to bring peace to the world, as it says (Proverbs 3:17), “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
-Maimonides, Mishnah Torah
Laws of the Megilah and Chanukah 4:14
Relative to how a Jew makes a house a home, this is especially important. Christianity doesn’t have an analogous process for welcoming God’s peace into the home and I believe that’s our loss. The “feeling” that God is with us is one thing, but people so often ignore what they “feel” and pay attention to the concrete. I think that’s why God mandated so many visual and physical “reminders” for the Jewish people. Part of the JLI lesson book contains a list of what a Jew can do to help welcome God into the home:
- Place mezuzot on the doors to remind all that this is a G-dly home.
- Fill your home with Torah books to inspire and set the tone of the home.
- Place a charity box in each room of the house to create an atmosphere of giving.
- Light Shabbat candles to create an environment permeated with peace and love.
- Invite guests into your home to share the warmth with others.
- Use your home to host meaningful classes and charitable functions.
The list goes on, but this gives you a general idea that a home with God in-dwelling is one that is actively used for His purposes and one in which everyone feels His Presence.
One of the commandments observed by religious Jews is to cling to God. In order to fulfill the commandment, a Jew must attach himself or herself to a tzadik or Torah scholar, since they are considered closer to God due to their studies and status. Often, this means inviting such groups of scholars and teachers into your home, creating a welcoming atmosphere for them and in doing this, God is also present.
For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” –Matthew 18:20
I’m nurturing a little bud of hope taking root within me. Maybe God isn’t so impossibly distant after all. Perhaps He really does want to be close to people and has taken incredible steps to make Himself available to us, ashes and dust though we are. This is why I love to watch my wife lighting the Shabbat candles and anticipate God dwelling among us in a particularly close and special way as the first two or three stars appear in the Friday night sky.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. –Revelation 3:20
Is it really as simple as answering a knock at the door? So it would seem.