Project of Holiness
The conclusion of the book of Shmot describes the attainment of Israel in
having the Divine Presence rest upon the Jewish people through the medium
of the Mishkan that it had built in the desert of Sinai. Ramban states
that this accomplishment of having the Divine Spirit dwell amongst the
people of Israel was equal to that state of being during the period of the
Avot, the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel, when the Divine Spirit was
resident in their tents and homes.
However, it is one type of accomplishment for an individual family to
attain the degree of spirituality that the presence of the Divine Spirit
in its home signifies and a far different matter for an entire nation of
people, millions in number, to do so as well. This achievement borders on
the extraordinary and in fact has rarely again been achieved in Jewish
Of course, the revelation and granting of the Torah at Sinai undoubtedly
contributed to this spiritual feat though the incident of the Golden Calf
indicates to us that even the experience of Divine revelation does not
guarantee the maintenance of spiritual heights and Torah behavior.
There must therefore be a deeper personal reason for the ability of Israel
at that moment and place to merit the Divine Spirit’s presence within its
midst on a steady basis.
For it is clear from the Torah that the presence of the Divine Spirit
amongst a human society is obviously more dependent on the actions and
behavior of that society itself than on the Divine Spirit, so to speak.
I feel that the attainment of the generation of the desert, in spite of
its many failures and ultimate doom, to achieve Divine Presence in its
midst was due to its sacrifice and willingness to build the Mishkan
itself, no matter what the cost and detail. The building fund drive, so to
speak, was oversubscribed.
A project of holiness and nobility, that merits across the board support
and great generosity from the society that it intends to serve, is the
main stepping stone to reach spiritual heights. The concerted willingness
of Israel to have the Divine Spirit dwell amongst it itself drove the
effort that resulted in that goal being achieved.
The great rebbe of Kotzk is reported to have said that God can be found
wherever humans allow Him to enter. Seeking God has always been a Jewish
goal. A society that devotes itself to that task with sacrifice and
sincerity has that ability, even in weaker generations, to achieve great
spiritual and societal accomplishments. But it requires unity, persistence
and a willingness to sacrifice wealth, talent and effort for the cause.
A generation that is bitter, divided, intolerant of others and selfish as
regarding its blessings will never be able to build a society worthy of
God’s presence, so to speak, residing within it.
We are engaged in a struggle to have our present Jewish state and society
become more traditional and spiritual, more idealistic and less
iconoclastic. If we are able even to glimpse a glimmer of God’s presence
amongst us, it will be worth all of our efforts and sacrifice in achieving
Rabbi Berel Wein