Can G‑d Be Confined to a Single Place?

After giving the Torah to the Jewish people, G‑d commanded them,1 “Make Me a Sanctuary,” and promised them, “And I will dwell within.” From that time onward, there was a place — or more particularly, a series of places2 — that served as a dwelling for G‑d’s Presence within our material world.

This concept, that a place on earth would serve as a dwell­ing for G‑d, is problematic. The difficulty is not the question: How can G‑dliness become manifest within the physical setting of our material world? For physical existence cannot interfere with the expression of G‑dliness. It is no less appropriate for G‑d to become manifest within the setting of our material world than within the spiritual realms.3 He is infinite and om­nipotent, and can manifest His presence wherever He desires. The difficulty is: Why is that manifestation confined to a single location? “The entire earth is filled with His glory.”4 Why then is there only one place that serves as a dwelling for Him in this world?

The Open Manifestation of G‑dliness

One of the explanations frequently offered to resolve the above question is that although G‑dliness permeates every place within the world, this G‑dliness is not openly revealed. In the Beis HaMikdash, not only was G‑d present, His presence was evident.

This, however, is not an adequate resolution. Indeed, it reinforces the question. The revelation of G‑dliness is dependent on the service of the Jewish people, and that service can be carried out in any place throughout the world. Why then is there only one place which serves as G‑d’s dwelling?

To express this concept in halachic terms: The manifestation of G‑d’s Presence in the Beis HaMikdash is associated with the fact that it served as the center for the sacrificial worship of the Jewish people.5 But why is the offering of such sacrifices con­fined to one particular place? Seemingly, the same sacrificial service could be performed in another location. And indeed, we find times in our history, when it was permitted to offer sacri­fices in places other than the center of sacrificial worship for the nation as a whole.6

The question is reinforced by the fact that even in the pre­sent era when the Beis HaMikdash is in ruin, it still serves as the center of worship for the Jewish people. The site of the Beis HaMikdash is “the gate to heaven.”7 And our prayers, which were instituted in place of the sacrifices,8 must be recited while facing this site.9 Why is this necessary? Why must this spiritual service be associated with a physical place?

The Ultimate of Perfection; Complete Infinity

The questions mentioned above can be resolved by focus­ing on the nature of G‑d — He whose presence is manifest in the Beis HaMikdash. The Avodas HaKodesh 10 states that the Or Ein Sof (G‑d’s infinite light) is the ultimate of perfection. Accordingly, just as the Or Ein Sof possesses an infinite dimension, it possesses a finite dimension. For were it not to possess a finite dimension, it would lack perfection.

To explain: Infinity appears more representative of G‑d than finite existence, for finite existence has specific limits and G‑d is, by definition, unlimited and unbounded. Nevertheless, were G‑d to be only infinite, without having a finite dimension, He would also be limited, for the entire realm of finiteness would be apart from Him. In this sense, infinity would serve as a definition, confining and restricting the nature of His being.

In truth, however, G‑d is neither finite, nor infinite; He is what He is, in a realm totally above human conception. When coming into revelation, He employs both the infinite and the finite. The most complete expression of Him comes in the fu­sion of the finite and the infinite, joining together these opposite thrusts in a transcendent manner.

The Place of the Ark, the Fusion of Finiteness and Infinity

This transcendent union of opposites was revealed in the Sanctuary and in the Beis HaMikdash, the classic example being the ark in the Holy of Holies. The ark was two and a half cubits wide. There were ten cubits on either side of it, and yet the entire span of the Holy of Holies was twenty cubits. The two and a half cubits of the ark’s width did not take up any space at all.11 The fusion between finiteness and infinity was openly revealed.

What is most significant is that all the measurements of the sacred articles in the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash were required to be precise. If the size of the article exceeded the pre­scribed measure, or was smaller than it, they were not accept­able. Nevertheless, in this place where precise detail was so significant, a dimension of G‑d’s infinity which transcends the entire concept of space was revealed.

A similar concept applies regarding the Beis HaMikdash as a whole. Although it was part of our material world, miracles which reflect unlimited spirituality were revealed openly in that setting on a daily basis.12

G‑d’s Dwelling: A Specific Place for Infinite Revelation

On this basis, it is possible to resolve the initial question: why was there only one place on earth for G‑d’s Presence to be manifest? The aim of the Beis HaMikdash is to enable the Jewish people to relate to G‑d’s essence, the level which tran­scends both finiteness and infinity. Therefore:

a) There is a restriction to a specific place — thus indicating that the revelation of His presence does not reflect merely the limited conception of infinity mentioned above.

b) Within that single place, there is an infinite revelation, demonstrating that the Beis HaMikdash reflects a level that tran­scends even the most perfect conception of finite existence. Through our sacrifices and our prayers, we seek to develop an active bond of closeness with this transcendent dimension of G‑dliness.13

“I Will Dwell Among Them”

Although the Beis HaMik­dash can only be built in one spe­cific place, “from there, light issued forth to illuminate the entire world.”14 This influence grants the Jewish people the potential to create “sanctuaries in microcosm”15 throughout the world.

This concept is implied by G‑d’s promise which was coupled with the command to build the sanctuary VeShachanti Be'socham translated above as “I will dwell within.” Our Rabbis16 note that this phrase does not state “within it,” i.e., the Sanctuary, but Be'socham, which means “among them.” The construction of the Sanctuary enabled the Jewish people to bring the Divine Pres­ence into every dimension of their lives, as it is written,17 “Know G‑d in all your ways.”

In this manner, it is possible to experience an awareness of G‑dliness in the midst of one’s ordinary, mundane activities. To cite an example: The table on which we eat our food is consid­ered as equivalent to the altar in the Beis HaMikdash. 18

This approach will lead to the ultimate fusion of the spiri­tual and the material which will take place in the Era of the Redemption. For then it will be revealed that the entire world is a dwelling for G‑d.20 May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Vol. III, Parshas Terumah