LET'S GET SMALL
Rabbi David Walk
Steve Martin had this most bizarre routine in the 70's, which he called 'Let's get small.' He said that getting small is like being on drugs. However, it's very dangerous to do while driving, because you'll be too little to reach the steering wheel. It's also a problem for the police, because they can't put you into a regular jail cell. You'll just walk out. I don't know how popular this form of 'high' got, but the fertile ('wild and crazy') mind of Steve Martin made it very funny. So, I hope that you'll 'Excuse Me!', if I borrow that idea to help us better understand the very difficult idea which is central to this week's Torah reading, namely building a home for God in this earthly realm. King Solomon was the first to discuss this problem while dedicating the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem, 'God has told us that he lives in the dark where no one can see him; I've built this splendid Temple, O God, to mark your invisible presence forever (I Kings 8:12-13)' and 'But is it possible that God would really live on earth? Why, even the skies and the highest heavens cannot contain you, much less this Temple I have built! And yet, O Lord my God, you have heard and answered my request: Please watch over this Temple night and day—this place you have promised to live in—and as I face toward the Temple and pray, whether by night or by day, please listen to me and answer my requests. Listen to every plea of the people of Israel whenever they face this place to pray; yes, hear in heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive (27-30).' So, let's try to explore the concept of hosting God's 'Visit to a Small Planet.'
There are, of course, rational approaches to understanding the significance of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and later the Temple. One of the most famous was expressed by the famous Spanish commentary, philosopher and financier Isaac Abravenel (1437-1508). He wrote: 'The Divine intention behind the construction of the Mishkan was to combat the idea that God has forsaken this earth, and that the Divine Throne is in heaven and far removed from humankind…Instead we must believe that God dwelt in their midst and Divine Providence was ever with them.' However, this week I'd like to cross the street and see how some of the masters of Jewish Mysticism or Kabbalah deal with this thorny issue.
For the Kabbalists this problem goes back to the Creation. If God truly is everywhere and occupies all space, where is the room for the universe to be created? The existence of the Infinite One negates the possibility of the existence of anything else. Therefore God had to 'make room' for the universe. So, the beginning of creation required God to perform the act of tzimtzum or contraction. God contracted creating a void for the other worlds to occupy. This 'empty space' wasn't totally devoid of the God's presence. A major tenet of Kabbalah is that there is no place which is devoid of God.
Now I would like to turn to Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) view of this issue. He wrote: For the blessed God created the world out of His mercy, for He wished to reveal His mercy; if the world had not been created, then to whom could He display His mercy? Therefore He created all of Creation, from the beginning of Emanation up until the innermost point of the material world, in order to display His mercy (Likutei Maharan I, 64). All of this was done for our sake. God contracted to make the world for us, and continues to contract to contact and guide us.
We can now apply this to the Mishkan. God abandoned Infinity, and moved aside for us to exist. Then God commanded a place for Divine dwelling in this realm. As we have said there is Godliness everywhere, but the concentrations differ. That's why there can be a Holy Land. The Mishkan and Temple were imbued with the highest level of Divine Presence available in our universe. We describe that phenomenon as, 'Let them construct a Sanctuary for me so that I can live among them (Exodus 25:7).' God expands and contracts depending on the level of mercy and love required.
But why? Rebbe Nachman says that it displays love. Okay, but what can we do with idea? In teaching #30:1 Rebbe Nachman explains that we can't attain a concept of the Divine without these contractions. That's how the superior intellect affects the lower. We see this in our own experience. It is impossible for a great intellect to be accessible to a lower intelligence unless the higher garbs itself in that of the lower. That's how great scholars teach their ideas to the people around them. That's how parents instruct their small children. This works until they become adolescents and clearly know more than their parents, teachers and anyone else on earth.
So, God contracts so that we might know the Divine. Rebbe Nachman, though, makes it a two way street. God contracted for accessibility; we seek God where the availability can be found. Rebbe Nachman explains that these zones of availability are the Temple, of course, but also the holidays and Shabbat, when we can sense Divinity permeating the atmosphere. But most accessible of all is the Torah. God is contracted and hidden in the words and letters of the Torah.
Rebbe Nachman demands that we seek God in the loci of contraction, but we must also contract ourselves. We were created in God's image, and that means that we must also contract ourselves for our own good. We must contract to make ourselves available to others, but it also gives us the humility to seek God. The Mishkan, according to Rebbe Nachman, teaches us the greatest lesson all: How to access God's Infinity and our humanity.