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Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai 5776

Ein Ayah: Appreciating Sanctity

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:200)

Gemara: Rabbi Yishmael ben Elazar says: Due to two sins, ignorant people die: for calling the aron kodesh (ark holding Torah scrolls) arana (roughly, a closet) and for calling a beit knesset (synagogue) a beit am (house of the people).

 

Ein Ayah: Sometimes the intellects of simple people recognize something’s innate greatness but cannot refine that recognition. Such weak understanding is damaging and can even lead to their death.

We need to toil so that the general public, including those with intellectual abilities which have not concentrated on Torah, will understand that external items connected to good relate to divinely inspired wisdom. Even the untrained mind, if it is sensitive enough, can grasp truth like a flash of lightening. A person needs to put in proper perspective the connection between lofty ideas and specific physical things, which he can do according to his spiritual level. This is the foundation of the Torah and the path of a life of truth. This is also the strength of prophets, who connect the physical with the divine so that divine intellect influences their emotions and elevates everything.

For any person to have a life of sanctity, he needs to be connected to divine conceptions of truth, which possess great power to elevate him. A person has to choose a path in his life, and life presents many conflicting experiences. In whatever place and level he is, he can find divine grandeur, as the pasuk says: “If I rise up to the heaven, there You are, or if I go down to the depths, indeed it is You” (Tehillim 139:8).

In order to recognize this, natural intellect does not suffice, as one requires serious, consistent study. Torah is compared to water, which descends from a high place to a low one, representing humility, which is the crown of wisdom. With such recognition, one views an aron kodesh as a storehouse of sanctity.

If an ignorant person relies on his natural intellect, he will continuously deteriorate. He will not allow special things to impact on his life, and he will not agree to surrender his opinion to those of scholars. If he views himself as intelligent enough to know better than the scholars who have learned truth, life, and goodness, he can lower himself to a pit of destruction.

It may start internally, with an attitude on how to view Torah and the honor it deserves. But from there, untrained ideas continue to matters of the running of society, which, if they take hold, can prevent society from progressing in sanctity. They will view society from its secular side and will not enable the internal value of society to take root. This happens because the untrained mind does not see a way to connect between lofty ideas, which are the basis of sanctity, and life of activity, which involves simple, small matters.

When one cannot see sanctity in communal life, he views a beit knesset as a beit am. This is wrong because sanctity of divine origin descends upon a united community of Jews, with all the matters of life that join them, and turns a synagogue into a House of Hashem and a mini-Temple. This imprints on the entire holy community a stamp of sanctity, life, and truth in a manner that it cannot impact on individuals. People can then see how events are connected to a greater picture that is full of light, and that the community can be truly successful when the Torah impacts on it. “In the congregations, bless Hashem, the Lord, from the source of Israel” (Tehillim 68:27). The more the light of Torah shines on people, the more their untrained intellects become elevated. Then, they will grasp the tree of life and its branches and view the aron kodesh as sacred, and realize that Israel is separate not by chance but by design of the special divine soul, which accompanies us when we join together. Hashem is present in a synagogue, not in a beit am.

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