Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Divine Dwelling

In Judaism, there is a strong focus on the city of Jerusalem and the first and second Holy Temples that were built in that city. And while Jerusalem was the place God chose for His spirit to manifest itself, the Temple itself was not built until hundreds of years after the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

During those hundreds of years of wandering in the wilderness and then conquering and settling the land before the First Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwelled in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Mishkan was built to very exact specifications that are set down in the Torah. It was designed to be portable, so that it could easily be taken apart, carried to a new location and put together once again.

If God, as the children’s song puts it, “ is here, there and everywhere,” then why does God need a specific dwelling place? The answer is that God does not need the Mishkan or the Temple as a place to dwell, but rather that God wishes to grace the Jewish people with the special gift
of His Presence. But since God truly is everywhere, His Presence in the Mishkan /Temple might better be defined as a special concentration of the Divine.

This is a true gift, because human nature is such that a person will focus better and be more aware of his/her actions in the presence of authority--and there is obviously no higher authority than God! When the Shechina dwelt in the midst of the Jewish People, it was easier for them to strive toward holiness.

Alas, today we are without both the Mishkan and the Temple. We can, however, try to grasp an understanding of the spiritual greatness that existed then and look forward to an time when we will once again be able to experience the concentrated holiness of the Shechina.

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