Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, the Kedoshim of Har Nof and Pittsburgh, and the refuah shlaimah of Yakir Ephraim ben Rachel Devorah, Mordechai ben Miriam Tovah, and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
There are two well-known pasukim (verses) in Sefer Shemot that express the concept of Hashem’s dwelling amongst the Jewish people. The first instance appears in last week’s parasha, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary (Mikdash) and I will dwell (v’shachanti) in their midst,” and the second in our Torah portion, “I will dwell (v’shachanti) in the midst of the children of Israel and I will be their G-d (v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim).” (25:8 and 29:45, translation, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) The first pasuk presents the idea of Hashem’s dwelling amongst us as a result of our constructing the Mishkan (Desert Sanctuary), and the second adds the notion that based upon His dwelling amongst us, He will be our G-d. Taken in tandem, the following formula emerges: Construction of the Mishkan eventuates in v’shachanti in our midst, which leads to v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim.
Although they initially appear to convey similar content, v’shachanti, and v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim are dissimilar concepts, as indicated by their differentiated phrasing in our pasuk. This exegetical approach was followed by both the Sforno (Rabbi Ovadiah ben Ya’akov,1475-1550) and the Ha’emek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1816-1893) in their respective Torah commentaries on Sefer Shemot 29:45. According to the Sforno, v’shachanti refers to Hashem’s ready desire to accept our tefilot (prayers), and our avodah (korbanot ─ sacrificial offerings in the Beit Hamikdash). In contrast, v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim, does not refer to the content of what Hashem will accept, but rather that He will do so bikvodo u’atzmo ─ without any go-between. This is similar to the manner in which He took us out from Egypt: “Not through the intermediary efforts of an angel (malach), not through the exertions of a ministering angel (saraf) and not as a result of a messenger ─ but, rather, solely by the Holy One blessed be He, in His honor and glory.” (Haggadah, translation my own)
The Ha’emek Davar differs from the Sforno by suggesting that “v’shachanti - in our midst” denotes an everlasting connection that obtains between the Almighty and the Jewish people ─ even in the absence of the Mishkan:
Even in the absence of the Mishkan, wherein Hashem’s glory, may He be blessed, was explicitly manifest, [Hashem] will continue to ever be in the midst of the Jewish people. This means that His Schechinah (Divine Presence) will never depart from the community of Israel…even though it will not appear manifestly evident to all. (Translation my own)
In addition, he takes a different tact from the Sforno in his explanation of the second phrase, “v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim,” as signifying that Hashem is continually attuned to and “watchful of our needs and will fulfill them.”
Whether we follow the Sforno or the Ha’emek Davar, both agree that v’shachanti and v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim refer to Hashem’s commitment to an eternal personal relationship with the Jewish people. In my view, this is the counterpoint to our passionate song at the Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds): “This is my G-d, and I will ever praise him (zeh kali v’anvahu), the G-d of my father, and I will exalt Him.” (Sefer Shemot 15:2) We were G-d intoxicated at the Yam Suf, and could not hold ourselves from bursting out in a song of ever-lasting love to Him; now, so to speak, it was Hashem’s turn to proclaim His never-ending love for the Jewish people.
At this juncture we are in a much better position to understand a celebrated phrase that we joyfully proclaim each morning in our tefilot: “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu u’mah nayim goraleinu u’mah yafah yerushateinu!” (“We are overjoyed in the goodliness of our portion! And how pleasing is our fate! And how desirous is our inheritance!”) In my estimation, the terms portion, fate and inheritance refer to our holy Torah and the dynamic relationship we share with Hashem, for truly, zeh kali v’anvahu and v’shachanti v’hayiti lahem l’Elokim! With Hashem’s help, may we ever be able to appreciate the depth and beauty of this unique relationship. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Past drashot may be found at my blog-website: http://reparashathashavuah.org
They may also be found on http://www.yutorah.org/ using the search criteria of Etengoff and the parasha’s name.
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*** My audio shiurim for Women on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
*** I have posted 164 of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s English language audio shiurim (MP3 format) spanning the years 1958-1984. Please click on the highlighted link.
Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal