Mishkan – Meaning of a Bayis LaShem

In parshas Terumah, we are introduced for the first time to the idea of a bayis for Hashem
– an actual “dwelling place” (mishkan) for the Shechina down in this world. Eventually, this evolves from a temporary dwelling place, the mishkan, into a more permanent one, a house
– the Beis Hamikdash. The very concept of a “house for Hashem” is, of course, a strange, almost sacrilegious, one. Can Hashem be “found” in a particular place?

The pasuk says, “Hinei hashamayim u’shmei hashamayim lo y’chalkelucha af habayis hazeh…”
– “The heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, and surely not this temple…” (Melochim I, 8:27). And “I zeh bayis asher tivnu li…”
– Where is this house that you will build for Me?” (Yeshaya 66:1)

Of course, to fully understand this is to plumb esoteric secrets of G-dliness, the universe and Hashem’s creation, far beyond human comprehension (and certainly beyond the scope of this column). On the other hand, there must be something that we can relate to, even on our level. The Torah, being infinite and eternal, always has something to say to each generation, and to each and every Jew, on whatever level he or she may be.

If we study the famous Tefillas Shlomo, the prayer that Shlomo Hamelech recited at the inauguration of the Bais Hamikdash, we can surmise that the main function of the Beis Hamikdash was to serve not so much as a place of korbanos, but as a place of tefillah. Shlomo Hamelech pleads, “Pray in this place,” “Spread your hands to this house,” and “Pray and supplicate to You in this house.” (Melochim I, ch. 8) These are just three of the many pesukim there which clarify that the Beis Hamikdash is the quintessential makom tefillah. (Incidentally, if you have never studied
– or heard of – this tefillah, you are welcome to join us at Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham every Shabbos morning at 7:25 a.m. for our Nach shiur!) This means that our tefillos are more effective there and are more likely to be responded to by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That is why Tefillas Shlomo is centered around Shlomo Hamelech’s plea that the tefillos of Klal Yisroel
– indeed, the tefillah of every individual in the Beis Hamikdash (including a sincere non-Jew)
– be accepted. In fact, this is actually codified in hilchos tefilloh in the Shulchan Aruch (siman 94), with the din that everyone in the world, no matter from where he or she is davening, has to be facing, concentrating on, and focusing on the Beis Hamikdash.

Shlomo Hamelech expresses this in an interesting way: “May Your eyes be open to Your servant’s supplication, and to the supplication of Klal Yisroel, to listen to them whenever they call You… And let my words be… close to Hashem Elokeinu, at all times.”

Hashem is close to us; near to us; and he thus responds to our pleas.

Even more fascinating is that the Torah expresses this very idea in this same way when it says, “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim k’rovim eilav kaHashem Elokeinu b’chol kareinu eilav.” (Devorim 4:7) Who is like Klal Yisrael in the universe, who has a G-d Who is close to them, as Hashem is when His Nation davens to Him. Hashem’s closeness to Klal Yisroel, then, is primarily manifested by Hashem listening to our tefillos! This is stated in Ashrei, as it says, “Karov Hashem l’chol korav”
– Hashem is close to us when we call Him. And it is inherent in the posuk quoted in Tefillas Shlomo, and in hilchos tefillah.

Thus, one can understand the “house for Hashem” concept as a manifestation of Hashem’s closeness to us: He is here, amongst us; He listens to and responds to our tefillos.

At the end of his introduction to the Yad Hachazaka, Rambam gives a short version of his counting of the mitzvos. Upon their conclusion he writes, “There are the 613 mitzvos…. There are also the mitzvos that the Rabbonon have instituted, that one has to obey… but he must realize that they are derabbonon, that they were not commanded by Hashem Himself at Har Sinai.”

Rambam continues, “For example, when reading the Megillah, we recognize that it is the Rabbis who told us to do so
– so that we remember the miracles that Hashem performed for us [on Purim], and how He was close then to our pleas and prayers [and saved us through them] … and we can say, Yes! It is true, that which it says in the Torah! “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim k’rovim eilav kaHashem Elokeinu b’chol kareinu eilav!”

That is the message of Purim. Yes! Hashem is close to us and listens to our tefillos!

Halevai, the Beis Hamikdosh should be rebuilt soon.

Bein Odom Lachaveiro Mitzvohs

Parshas Mishpatim is a compendium of laws and rules, mostly consisting of mitzvos that are bein odom lachaveiro. We know that the mitzvos of the Torah are generally categorized under various groupings:

  • עשה ,לא תעשה
  • זמן גרמא, לא הזמן גרמא
  • מצוות התלויות בארץ, מצוות שאינן תלויות בארץ

But besides assei and lo sa’aseh, the classification of bein odom lachaveiro and bein odom laMakom is the most all-encompassing and basic. And indeed, a counting and studying of the mitzvos (a most worthwhile pursuit, by the way- – my father, alav hashalom, insisted I learn them and memorize them for my bar mitzvah; this was a logical thing to do, he said, and thus I inflicted this logic upon my children as well) would probably surprise us with its emphasis on bein odom lachaveiro. Certainly Parshas Mishpatim does, or at least should.

Do we ever stop to wonder, though, about the very category? What does it mean to say bein odom lachaveiro? Aren’t all mitzvos ultimately bein odom laMakom? Surely we should not follow these mitzvos because they are ethical and logical! (If you are surprised by that last sentence, please don’t be. An axiomatic truth of Yiddishkeit and Torah is that we do things because it is the ratzon HaShem, and only because it is the ratzon HaShem (this is discussed at length and elaborated on in Sha’ar Yichud Hama’aseh of the Chovos Halevavohs.)

And so why are they categorized as being bein odom lachaveiro? On Sukkos,do we perform a mitzvah bein odom lelulav,or bein odom lasukkah? Every day,do men perform bein odom latefillin, latzitzis? Do women perform bein odom lechallah? Apparently, calling something bein odom lachaveiro is no mere pointing out with whom the mitzvah is performed. It seems to be in counterpoint to bein odom laMakom….can that be so? And what does that teach us?

The Rambam in Shemonah Perakim (the RamBam’s hakdamah to Pirkei Avos) asks about an apparent philosophical contradiction. Sometimes Chazal express the idea that aveiros should not be naturally repugnant to us. They should be desirable, yes, but we should feel that we are servants of HaShem,and we bow to His will in refusing to succumb to our desires. Yet sometimes we are told that a person’s heart and soul should be in consonance with the values of the Torah.

The Rambam goes on to explain that when there are so-called “logical” mitzvos (and here the Rambam enumerates bein odom lachaveiro mitzvos), HaShem wants us to mold our mind to reflect Torah values. We should feel sorry for the poor person, we should detest lying, cheating, stealing, we should feel it impossible to murder. For the more ritualistic mitzvos, it is a higher form of avodas HaShem to bend and submit our will to HaShem’s will.

This means that bein odom lachaveiro mitzvos should become our inherent values! We should, the mitzvah teaches us, be sympathetic to a poor person; we should care about our fellow-man’s issues; we should empathize with someone going through rough times; we should be eager to lend a helping hand; we should be repelled by the thought of cheating someone; it should be distateful to harm someone’s property, loathsome to fool someone, and revolting to talk loshon hora. That is the Torah’s goal, indeed, the raison d’être of these mitzvos – to transform our naturally selfish natures into selfless ones.

And that is the true meaning of something being bein odom lachaveiro –  HaShem wants us to actually care about our fellow man! To feel for him, to be a concerned and caring individual. A fellow-Jew is not your lulav! A person in trouble, who needs help, is not your mezuzah! The mitzvos are actually, really, bein odom lachaveiro – literally, to worry, to care, to accomodate, and to look after, your fellow-Jew. To take his losses to heart, to want to spare him embarrassment, and to enjoy and “fargin” his successes.

Indeed, they are, in the most basic and fundamental sense, bein odom lachaveiro. As surely as bein odom laMakom is bein odom laMakom.

Think about that, the next time you are tempted to take advantage of someone. The next time you consider lending someone money. The next time someone needs a favor.

Gut Shabbos.