Wise Beyond His Years

When the fourth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, was a little boy, he enjoyed whittling and was able to fashion several works of art from wood. The chassidim who visited his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, knew of his hobby and would ask to see his work.

One of the chassidim, himself somewhat of a craftsman, once showed the Rebbe Maharash a particular whittling knife he had. “I will give you this knife,” he told the boy, “if you can show me where G‑d is.”

Unfazed, the boy took out one of his best knives. “And I will give you this knife,” he told the older man, “if you can show me where He isn’t.”

Why Do We Need a Temple?

This week’s Torah reading focuses on the establishment of a central place of worship for the Jewish people, describing how G‑d “Will choose to have His name dwell” in one particular place. There, the Jewish people will “Bring... your burnt offerings and your feast offerings” and “celebrate before G‑d.” The verse refers to the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where G‑d’s presence was revealed.

G‑d is everywhere. There is not a place in this world where He is not present. Why then must His worship be centralized? Why can’t we serve Him anywhere and everywhere?

The answer to the last question is that we can and must serve G‑d everywhere. That is one of the differences between Judaism and many other religions. Other religions focus their connection to G‑d on holy places, holy people, and holy times. In other words, on a particular day, an individual performs services that are watched by people in a holy place.

Judaism, by contrast, teaches: “Know Him in all of your ways,” meaning that we can “know Him,” we can relate to G‑d, even when we are involved with our ways — whether business or relaxation. No matter where we are, every act we perform can and should be an affirmation of G‑d, a statement that we know Him in all areas of life. This applies not only to select individuals but to every one of us. That is what we mean when we say, “G‑d is one,” in the Shema. We are affirming not only that there is only one G‑d, but that G‑d is one with all existence. Every entity and every moment is one with Him, and our Divine service must express this oneness.

So why the Temple? And why must the sacrifices be offered only there?

Creating a Spiritual Experience

One of the answers is that the Temple is for us, not for Him. G‑d knows that we are continually in need of spiritual inspiration. After all, we live in a material world and have natural desires that draw us away from the spiritual. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once said, “G‑d, what do You expect from man? You put the pleasures of this physical world in front of his eyes and the spiritual concepts in books. Try doing it the other way; put spirituality before him and material consciousness in the books, and see if man will sin.”

For these reasons, G‑d wanted man to have one place where he could sense the spiritual and be uplifted above material concerns. Therefore, He “chose to have His name dwell in the Temple” and commanded us to journey there at least three times a year. This enduring spiritual awareness was designed to enable one to live with a sense of the spiritual, even while engaged in routine daily activities.

Outgrowing the Temple Walls

The above emphasizes why, in our prayers, we continually ask G‑d to rebuild the Temple. We are asking Him to recreate this spiritual environment and again give us a place where we will be conscious of Him.

But we are not merely returning to the past. The prophet says: “The glory of this latter house will surpass that of the first one.” The Temple to be built by Mashiach will be greater than both the First and the Second Temples. And it is not only that the Temple will be greater. In that future era, the direct awareness of G‑d will not be confined to the Temple, but will permeate all existence.

At present, our knowledge of G‑d is abstract and intellectual. We know Him from books. In the era of Mashiach, we will perceive G‑dliness overtly. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” In the present age, we believe in G‑d. Our connection to Him is not part of how we ordinarily perceive the world. In the era of Mashiach, that will change. We will be as conscious of Him as we are of material reality today.

Although this is a promise of the future, it is not irrelevant at present. On the contrary, the fact that we do not perceive this spiritual reality currently does not make it any less true. And as we live with the knowledge of G‑d in the present era, we hasten the dawning of the age when we actually perceive His presence.

Likkutei Sichot, vol 3, p 902