Once, when I met with the Skverer Rebbe, he asked me a lot of questions about the community, truly curious about what it is like here. At the end of ten minutes, he said he had one more question. He turned to me and he said, Rav Goldberg, are there mevakshim in Boca Raton? Does your community have seekers, people who are looking for Hashem? I was so proud to give him a resounding yes, but I found it fascinating that this was his pressing question and it struck me, it should be our question of ourselves as well.
This week’s Parsha informs us about a special place of complete holiness:
כִּ֠י אִֽם־אֶל־הַמָּק֞וֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַ֨ר ה״ אֱלֹֽקיכֶם֙ מִכָּל־שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֔ם לָשׂ֥וּם אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שָׁ֑ם לְשִׁכְנ֥וֹ תִדְרְשׁ֖וּ וּבָ֥אתָ שָֽׁמָּה׃
“But look only to the site that the Hashem your God will choose amidst all your tribes to set His name there, you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there.”
The only problem is we are not told explicitly where it is. What is this mysterious place that Hashem wants us to find? Why doesn’t Hashem provide the coordinates for it? Why not give an address for Moshe to plug into his GPS?
The Chizkuni explains that it took time for the Beis HaMikdash to finally be built in Yerushalayim and its precursor, the Mishkan, moved around quite a bit, so a specific place to find Hashem’s presence was not clearly provided. In fact, Rashi comments that the שמה, come to “there” is not talking about the Beis HaMikdash but the Mishkan, which would be housed in Shiloh for 369 years.
The Ramban, however, has an entirely different way of understanding what שמה, “there,” the pasuk refers to. Firstly, suggests, the Ramban, the adverb “there” is indeed referring to the Beis HaMikdash. If that is the case, why not give the specific location it is meant to be? The Ramban says this is by design. Hashem wants us to seek it, to calibrate our compass towards holiness and to find it. Rather than give a location, Hashem wants us to intuit the location of the holiest place on earth and then confirm it with a Navi, a prophet.
Sure enough, that is what happens. Chazal tell us that Dovid HaMelech first studied the Torah text and the geography of the land and with that information posited that the future location of the Beis HaMikdash would be on Har HaMoriah. Later, Gad HaNavi confirmed that Dovid was correct.
The Ramban offers a second understanding that the word שמה, “there” is not referring to a geographical location but to לשכנו, to feeling Hashem’s presence and influence. The Torah is saying תדרשו, if you want to feel Hashem in your life, seek Him, look for Him, reveal Him, connect with Him.
Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that the Ramban’s two understandings are really one. Whether it is the geographic location of the Beis HaMikdash or the spiritual experiences and moments we long for, the coordinates are not provided to us, we aren’t given a map to arrive at the destination, we have to calibrate our own spiritual compass and find it. We have to ask questions, have our spiritual antennas extended, and be receptive to picking up the signal. תדרשו, we have to look for Hashem.
The Kotzker Rebbe disagreed with Uncle Moishe. Once, when asked, where can Hashem be found, the Kotzker Rebbe did not answer Hashem is here, there and everywhere. He answered, Hashem is only where you let Him in. It is up to us to have that relationship to make that connection, to see behind the curtain that Hashem is there all along.
In Havdalah, we distinguish between several things: בין אור לחושך בין ישראל לעמים בין יום השביעי לששת ימי המעשה, between light and dark, Jews and gentiles, the seventh day and the first six. The Rav points out that light and darkness are clear for all to perceive. Even animals respond to the difference in these stimuli.
But the Havdalah between kodesh and chol, what is holy and what is profane, is much different. It cannot be perceived or measured by the naked eye. A person needs to have a special intuition, to see with his or her heart, as this separation can only be sensed, not seen.
The Midrash (Tanchuma Vayera) says when Avraham went with his entourage to the Akeida, he saw Har HaMoriah from a distance and turned to Yitzchak and asked, what do you see? Yitzchak answered, I see a beautiful and praseworthy mountain and a cloud envelops it. He asked Eliezer and Yishmael, what do you see? They said, we see a barren desert. He said to them, שבו לכם פה עם החמור, stay here with the donkey, for the donkey does not see and you do not see, and ואני והנער נלכה עד כה, Yitzchak and I will go until there.
The “there,” was Har HaMoriah, the future place of the Beis HaMikdash. Avraham intuited holiness, Yitzchak was drawn to holiness, the others saw mundane, they saw a barren desert.
To be a Jew, is לְשִׁכְנ֥וֹ תִדְרְשׁ֖וּ וּבָ֥אתָ שָֽׁמָּה, to be able to make Havdalah, to distinguish between holy and profane, spiritual and mundane and be drawn to holiness, seek spirituality. A donkey sees everything as superficial, only at its surface level. A donkey wants to satisfy its appetite and to be happy. If we fail to understand certain images, ideas, media, language, behaviors are profane, they are the opposite of holiness, we are no better than a donkey. Our mission is to see beneath the surface, to distinguish between what is holy and profane, what brings out the best in us and what satisfies a craving that is only skin deep. We don’t strive for happiness, we strive for and are to be drawn to holiness. To be the progeny of Avraham is to intuit holiness, to calibrate our compass of kedusha and ובאתה שמה, go to it.
To go to “there” is to see Hashem in everything. Search for Hashem’s presence in the here and now. Search and you will find Him. In every bite of an apple, every sunrise, every meaningful experience and every contact with kindness, you can feel Hashem. In the words of the Kotzker, let Him in, make room, invite Him into a relationship.
This weekend is Rosh Chodesh Elul, which we all know is an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me. When we are in a period of courtship, of falling in love, we are tidreshu, we are drawn to the other. We keep checking our phone to see if they have called or texted, we count down until the next time we will be together, and we struggle to hang up the phone, no matter what time of night.
Dr. John Gottman, the marriage expert who spoke here a few years ago, explains what we were doing when we stayed up all night talking or finding it hard to get off the phone. He says we were drawing love maps, learning about one another, being inquisitive, in the process of discovery and that creates electricity, excitement, and brings romance and love.
But then we get married, life, children, responsibilities get in the way and we stop drawing love maps. We have no time or emotional energy to discover, to learn, to ask about the other’s inner world, hopes and dreams. This is why many marriages struggle. Gottman says continuing to draw love maps is critical to a healthy marriage. In fact, you can get a deck of cards (actual cards or digital ones from any of several apps) with great questions couples can use to ask one another and continue to learn about one another deep into marriage.
לְשִׁכְנ֥וֹ תִדְרְשׁ֖וּ וּבָ֥אתָ שָֽׁמָּה׃, Hashem doesn’t provide the coordinates or the address, He wants us to draw the map in our relationship, to use our spiritual intuition to find Him, and to let Him in. How? The same way as in marriage. By learning, inquiring, being curious about Hashem’s “inner world.”
In this month we renew our relationship with Hashem, we bring ourselves back to a time when we struggled to hang up with Him and just wanted to talk all night, finding out more, experiencing more. Relationships, human and with Hashem, need nurturing. They are fed with a diet of time, communication and attention. Our relationship with Hashem needs all three.
Are we mevakshim, are we dorshim, are we searching Hashem by learning about Him, talking to Him, listening to Him. In these next 40 days, set aside time to learn daily, challenge yourself to listen and think, talk to Hashem in davening in a way you haven’t in a long time. Draw your new love maps, reignite the energy and don’t let your relationship be stale.