Out Of Place
"He afflicted you, and caused you to go hungry, and gave you manna to
eat which you did not recognize, nor did your ancestors experience it, so
that He could teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but by
whatever G-d says should exist, does man live." (Devarim 8:3)
To understand the importance of the message of the manna, we must first
understand the raison d’etre of the Jewish people.
We have been called “The Wandering Jew”, since we have been wandering for
over 3,300 years now. Not only did we wander for 40 years in the desert
after leaving Egypt back at our beginning, but we been wandering ever
since. Indeed, no people has been exiled and sent packing as many times as
the Jewish people have throughout their long history, no matter how
hospitable the host nation was at the beginning. Exile, for the Jewish
people, was so inevitable.
Amazingly, this has been true even after assimilation. Unlike other
peoples who assimilate into their host cultures and lose their unique
identity after long periods of time, the Jewish people still get singled
out and exiled. The Nazis, y”s, surfaced, exiled, and murdered Jews who
long ago had stopped being Jews, at least as far as they were concerned.
It seems as if the concept of “settling down” does not apply to the Jew in
the Diaspora, for the simple reason stated explicitly in the following
"I am G-d, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you
the land of Canaan, to be G-d to you." (Vayikra 25:38)
Thus, according to the verse, the idea of G-d being the G-d of the Jewish
people is intrinsically bound up with Eretz Yisroel, as the Talmud says
(Ketuvot 110b). And, since the entire point of saving the Jewish people
from Egypt was for G-d to become the G-d of the Jewish people, and as the
posuk says, Eretz Yisroel is the only place for this to really happen, and
all the Jewish people can really do until such time as this truly happens
Thus, when Moshe Rabbeinu tries to convince his father-in-law Yitro to
join the Jewish people on their journey to Eretz Yisroel, he does not use
the name Eretz Canaan or Eretz Yisroel. Rather, he refers to the land
as “HaMakom” — “the Place”.
Moshe said to Chovev, Moshe’s father-in-law, the son of Reuel the
Midianite, “We are journeying to HaMakom (the place) which G-d said He
would give to us. Join us; you will benefit, for G-d has promised Israel
good.” (Bamidbar 10:29)
This is a euphemism for G-d as well, to indicate to Yitro that finding G-d
was not merely about converting to Judaism, but also about living in Eretz
Yisroel. The question is, what is it specifically that allows Eretz
Yisroel to be such a ladder to G-d, more than any other land? And, another
question is, what is so special about the Name “HaMakom” that Rabbi Chaim
Volozhin spent 15 chapters of Nefesh HaChaim to explain?
They say in Avot, “And when you pray, don’t make your prayer fixed, rather
[pray for] mercy and [offer] supplications before HaMakom, Boruch Hu”. By
using the word “Makom” they hint to a very deep matter, which requires
explanation in order to understand the depth of their intention. (Nefesh
HaChaim, Sha’ar 3, Ch. 1)
One thing is certain, in the context of G-d, “HaMakom” is about far more
than a place, it is about an idea, or rather, a state of being, a state of
existence. It is the sum total of all understanding of the wondering Jew,
and therefore it is the end destination of the wandering Jew.
Rather, the word “Makom” is used to describe G-d, as explained in
Bereishit Rabbah, Ch. 68, on the verse, “He [Ya’akov] arrived at the
place…” (Bereishit 28:11). Rebi Huna in the name of Rebi Eliezer
said, “Why is The Holy One, Blessed is He, called ‘Makom’? Because He is
the place of the world, but the world is not His place.” …According to the
simple explanation, it means, just as a place holds that which is placed
upon it, likewise is the Master of Everything, may His Name be blessed,
the true place that “holds” and sustains all the world and creations.
Hence, if He were to remove His reality from them for even just a moment,
G-d forbid, the place and the existence would become nothing, as it
says, “You give life to everything” (Nechemiah 9:6). (Ibid.)
However, that was only the simplest explanation of the word.
"On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from
afar." (Bereishit 22:4)
At first, explains the Nefesh HaChaim, he didn’t even want to delve into
the matter further, since it is so esoteric, and the earlier generations
only hinted to it. However, he further explains, the need of the
generation, and he was living at the end of the 18th century, pushed him
to do so, and therefore he did.
Thus, he explains:
Therefore, Chazal call Him, may His Name be blessed, “HaKadosh Baruch Hu” —
The Holy One, Blessed is He, for included in this holy Name are the two
levels. “Kadosh” means “separate” and “elevated,” and that is with respect
to Himself, for in truth, He is very separate and elevated above any
matter of distinction and change. Rather, He fills everything completely
and equally, and is exalted above any blessing or praise; He requires no
blessing, G-d forbid… However, regarding our understanding of existence
and the worlds, He is called “Baruch”, so-to-speak, because with respect
to His connection to Creation, there is the need for an increase and an
enhancement of blessing through the good actions of man… Hence, “HaKadosh
Boruch Hu”: with respect to Himself, “Kadosh”, but with respect to
us, “Baruch”, but it is all one. (Ibid., Ch. 5)
The Nefesh HaChaim is addressing an issue that we take for granted,
although we never should. Any Torah-observant Jew knows that there are
places that you can learn Torah and make blessings, and places where you
cannot. Any place that is, according to the Torah, an impure place, such
as a garbage room, a bathroom, or even a bath house in which people are
likely to sweat, one should not mention anything to do with G-d or Torah.
On one level, this is obvious: it is disrespectful to G-d and Torah. On a
Kabbalistic level, it is more than disrespectful, it is dangerous, since
such places are often locations of the Chitzonim, “messengers” of
spiritual impurity who feed off of holiness and become strengthened by it.
Even though theoretically, G-d is also in such places, and on the same
level He is everywhere else in Creation, including the Holy of Holies in
the Temple, and in all the upper holy and spiritual worlds.
As easy as it is to state such a dichotomy, intellectually, it is not one
that is easy to fathom. Thus, the Torah is very explicit about the laws of
purity and impurity, most of which fall into the category of “Chukim” —
statutes whose meaning and purpose is not so clear to us, if at all. Some
people can’t handle the paradox at all, and either give up on the holiness
of G-d or the impurity inherent in Creation. However, for the Jew, living
with such inherent intellectual inconsistency is part-and-parcel of what
is called “Emunat Yisroel” — the Faith of Israel.
Indeed, it is reminiscent of one of the most important and ground-breaking
episodes in Jewish history: the Akeidah. What made the Akeidah unique was
not Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak to G-d as commanded, for
he was the perfect, loyal servant. What made the Akeidah unique was that
it was a contradiction of an earlier promise made to Avraham:
G-d told Avraham, “Do not be bothered because of the boy and your
maidservant. Everything that Sarah tells you, listen to her, because it is
through Yitzchak that you will have posterity.” (Bereishit 21:12)
Really? And how did the Akeidah fulfill that promise? Yitzchak had yet to
marry and therefore, had yet to provide Avraham with grandchildren through
whom his spiritual legacy could live on. Had G-d changed His mind? G-d
forbid. We can’t imagine how many times this question must have run
through Avraham Avinu’s mind over the course of his three-day journey up
to Har HaMoriah, the place referred to as:
"On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw HaMakom (the
place) — from afar." (Bereishit 22:4)
Apparently, Avraham had “arrived”.
"G-d said to Avram, 'Go for yourself from your land, your birthplace,
and your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.'"
The word for prohibition in halachic language is “issur”. Thus, if you ask
most Torah-observant Jews what the word “issur” actually means, they will
answer, “prohibition”. However, they would be incorrect, because it really
means “binding”, as in tying up.
What’s the connection? It is simple, yet profound: sin is the result of
being overly bound up to the pleasures of this world. For, almost
everything the Torah forbids there is a permissible version of it; it is
often a question of when, and how, more than of if yes or no.
Unlike with respect to other religions, the Torah acknowledges the basic
instincts and needs of man, and offers a way to fulfill them in a holy
manner. According to Kabbalah, history is about elevating all aspects of
Creation and making them “holy to G-d”, which we do by partaking in the
pleasures of this world in a Torah manner.
The trouble with this world is that life is fleeting; it has no
permanence. As the rabbis taught:
This world is like a corridor before the World-to-Come. Rectify yourself
in the "corridor" in order to be able to enter the Banquet Hall. (Pirkei
Hence, in this world, we can only be just passing through on the way to
the main event, the World-to-Come. In fact, the idea of permanence is the
idea of eternity, the amount of permanence being dependent upon the amount
of eternity. Even from the moment you are born you are dying, and from the
moment you drive the car out of the showroom it drops in price. Nothing in
this world is stationary; nothing in this world really has a place, at
least in the ultimate, eternal sense of the word.
The myth, or perhaps the genius, of the Western world is its ability to
give a sense of permanence to that which is really transient. It is really
nothing more than the golden calf, which represented the worship of the
illusion that the pleasures of this world can be permanent, and therefore
worth the supreme sacrifice.
In the end, the builders of the golden calf watched it being ground to
dust, and were killed because of it, or made to drink water with which it
was mixed. It was symbolic of what happens to anyone who is overly bound
up to the pleasures of this world. How many trillions of lives have passed
over the course of 5700 years having accomplished little else than
survival and the enjoyment of some temporal pleasures?
And that includes countless Jews, until they were made to wander — again.
In fact, it is amazing how, at the height of material prosperity we tend
to fall, and usually in a big way, forced to move on with barely our
shirts on our backs. Don’t believe me? An exaggeration? Read the
book, “Anti-Semitism: The Causes and Effects of a Prejudice”, and see how
hundreds, if not thousands of times this was the case.
We know it's true. Each time we know it's true. It’s just that each time,
we hope it won’t happen again, and then all of a sudden, one day, we find
ourselves wandering once again.
"He said to him, 'I am G-d who brought you out of Ur Kasdim, to give to
you this land as an inheritance.'" (Bereishit 15:7)
The word “place” implies permanence, a place is to stop, to settle down.
Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu told Yitro, “You want to stop wandering? Then you
have to attach yourself to G-d. The more you attach yourself to G-d, the
more you can settle down. The less you attach yourself to G-d, the more
you introduce wandering into your life.”
It is amazing how many Jews today view Eretz Yisroel materialistically.
Some come because they believe they can have a relatively comfortable
lifestyle while living in Israel; most don’t come because they believe
they can’t. And when the newspapers publish that there are over 7,000
millionaires in Eretz Yisroel today, there is joy, as if to say, “Eretz
Yisroel is finally coming into its own materially.”
And then we wonder why there is a sense of wandering even inside the
borders of Eretz Yisroel! Yes, there is a time when Eretz Yisroel will be
a haven of worldly pleasures, that is, after the Jewish people become more
focused on eternal pleasures. Once the Jewish people are prepared to go
to “HaMakom”, and they cease to be bound up in the pleasures of this
world, then the pleasures of this world become theirs on a permanent,
Technically-speaking, there is no reason why Israel today should not be
the Hong Kong of the Middle-East. We are living in an age when ideas, as
abstract as they may be, can sell for a lot more than actual physical
products. A good idea can make a person into a millionaire overnight, and
yet, it can take a manufacturer many years to make a million dollars. More
good technical ideas come out of this country per capita per year, and the
big companies pay big bucks for them. Hence, there are many new
millionaires… in the secular community.
Furthermore, if this is really G-d’s place, and this is the belief that
inspires many ideologists to come eastward from wealthier, more material
countries, shouldn’t He be taking care of His own? What kind of message
does it send back to the rest of the Jews in the Diaspora when jokes
circulate like, “How do you make a million dollars in Israel? You come
with two million dollars!”
Indeed, one rabbi jokingly told a UJA mission that the reason why the
Israeli Ministry of Tourism chose a picture of two of the Biblical spies
carrying grapes to symbolize their ministry was to act as a warning to
tourists: "Remember what happened to the last foreigners who came back
home with an evil report about the country! Don’t make the same mistake!”
However, as a Jew living in Eretz Yisroel who feels as if he is
flourishing spiritually, but who still struggles financially, I have to
say that I have this sense of “stability” that I never had while living in
the Diaspora with a larger, steady income. I have less material
possessions than I did when living in Toronto, but a far greater sense of
permanence than when living there. And, I might add, as far as cities in
the Diaspora go for living a Torah life, Toronto is still one of the best.
I’m not the only one, apparently who feels this way. In fact, even Jews
who didn’t come looking for that particular form of Torah Judaism, and who
happened just to “fall” into it, happily concur, and usually with a sense
of awe. There are deep Kabbalistic reasons for the transformation, but the
main reason is that they “arrived” at HaMakom, in the realm of the manna,
in the world so above the physical reality that one can give up his son
and still fulfill the promise made by G-d to continue the legacy through
Bound to this world, the possible is possible, and the impossible is
impossible. Bound to HaMakom, the temporality of the “corridor” of history
is a thing of the past, a step already taken to get to the eternal reality
of G-d, Eretz Yisroel, and the manna.
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.