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PARASHAT VAYIGASH 5758
THE SHECHINAH IN EXILE
It is a common theme in Midrashic literature that the Shechinah of Hashem "suffers" along with the Jewish People, and escorts them during their periods of exile. "I am in pain with them (Tehillim 91:15)," Hashem declares. "When the Jewish Nation experiences times of difficulty, Hashem, as it were, is partner in their difficulty" (Tzror ha'Mor, Bereishit ibid.).
How are we to understand the concept of Hashem escorting the Jews into exile? Hashem fills all of creation, in what way can it be said that He is to be found in Babylon when the Jews are there? And in what way can Hashem "feel pain" along with the Jews? Although the full answers to these questions are rooted in deep and esoteric teachings (as Ramban and Rabeinu Bachye themselves testify), perhaps we can gain at least some measure of insight into these cryptic statements. Let us first attempt to analyze what the Sages mean by the word, "Shechinah."
II The root of the Hebrew word "Shechinah" is the word "SHaCHaN," or "dwell." It appears to be based on the words of the verse, (Shemos 25:8), "Let the Jewish People make for me a Mikdash, and I will *dwell* ("v'SHaCHaNti) amongst them." This verse itself leaves much to explain. If Hashem fills all of creation, how can He be said to "dwell" in one particular place?
The Sefer ha'Chinuch (Mitzvah #95) explains the reasoning behind the Mitzvah to build Hashem a Temple. It is not in order to provide a place of dwelling for Hashem that we built the Holy Temple, he explains, but it is for our own benefit. The point of our prayers and sacrifices in the Temple (at least on a simple plane of meaning) is in order that we may bring ourselves closer to the service of Hashem. The magnificent Temple, the purity in which it is kept, the dedicated service of the priestly Kohanim, all combine to instill in those who witness them the awe of the Almighty in a most tangible manner. This, he explains, is what is meant by saying that Hashem "rests his Shechinah" in the Temple. That is, the Temple is a place which *arouses us* to recognize our Creator. When we encounter places where Hashem's presence is made more obvious to us, we may say that "Hashem's Shechinah" rests there.
Rashi (Devarim 33:19) tells us that often, gentiles who came from far away to witness the Temple service would be so awe-stricken that they would became proselytes. Tosfos (Bava Basra 21a s.v. Ki) cites a Midrash which describes how all who visited Yerushalayim would be impressed by the devotion of the Kohanim and the rest of the city's residents towards the Holy service. The visitors would immediately be overcome by the fear of heaven and by a strong urge to study the Torah of Hashem. *This* is what made Yerushalayim the seat of the Shechinah. (As noted above, this is simply one approach to the concept of "Shechinah." There certainly are more esoteric angles to this concept which are far beyond the scope of our present discussion. See also Parasha-Page, Ekev 5757.)
In a similar manner, of all the nations, the Shechinah of Hashem rests only among the Jewish People (Berachos 7a). We have accepted upon ourselves the mission of bringing the nations of the world to recognize their Creator and to do His will. It is through us -- by example -- that they will learn to fear Hashem. However, we can better accomplish that task when a *large congregation* of Jews serves Hashem *together*. As Rashi tells us (in Vayikra 26:8), "A small group that is following the dictates of the Torah cannot be compared to a large group that is following its dictates." The impression made by a large gathering of Jews, serving their Creator as one, is a strong and lasting one (Berachos 17b). It is for this reason that, "The Shechinah of Hashem does not rest on less than 22,000 Jews," and "The Shechinah is elevated when the Jewish People are as a single group" (Midrash Lekach Tov to Vayikra 23:40).
III When the Jewish People are exiled from their land due to their sins, and they become subservient to the other nations, the Shechinah is exiled along with them. Their ability to teach the other nations to recognize their Creator is crippled. Firstly, the Jews are spread out among other nations and no longer a single group of Hashem's servants. Furthermore, as a nation economically and politically inferior to others they are much less likely to influence others.
It is in this light that the Shechinah of Hashem itself may be said to be "in difficult times" just like the Jewish exile. Hashem's Divine Presence is less evident in the world at these times. However, "when the Jewish People eventually return from exile, the Shechinah of Hashem will return with them from the Diaspora as well." (Megilah 29a) Hashem will return the nation to its former glory, and the Temple service will be resumed.
IV Albeit to a lesser extent, the Shechinah rests in the heart of each and every Jew (Alshich to Vayikra 23:40 -- "v'Shachanti *b'Socham*"; Yirmiyah 7:4, "They are the Temple of Hashem; Rashi Vayikra 20:3). It is in the ability of every one of us to bring the world closer to the recognition of Hashem. Rav Tzadok ha'Kohen, in "Dover Tzedek" (pars. 1,3), uses this principle to explain the meaning of a highly esoteric statement which many recite prior to the performance of Mitzvos.
Among nearly all Jewish sects, it is customary to preface at least some Mitzvot with the statement that "I am performing this act for the sake of making ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu (= Hashem) one with His Shechinah." What does this statement mean? How can we intimate that "Hashem" and "His Shechinah" presently are not "united," and that we "unite" them through the performance of Mitzvos? What are these two aspects of Hashem, and how are they affected by our performance of Mitzvos? (Again, we must be forewarned that our discussion is but scratching the surface of this matter in a manner that is understandable to the layman. In truth, this is but the very tip of a great and mighty iceberg.)
The Name "ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu" denotes Hashem as He cannot possibly be fully grasped by mankind. "Kadosh" means "apart," or "separated." Hashem is actually not part of Creation, but outside of it. He cannot be described in terms familiar to those that are but part of His Creation. "Shechinah," on the other hand, describes Hashem as He is perceived by His creations and as he is made apparent to the world.
The goal of all of Creation is to recognize its Creator to the fullest extent possible -- to close the gap between "ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu" and "His Shechinah." This is accomplished through the performance of Mitzvot, which Hashem gave us towards this goal. Every time that we perform a Mitzvah we make a "Kidush Hashem" -- we sanctify the Holy Name, making it more apparent in this world. We are bound to inspire others, through our performance of Hashem's righteous and true Mitzvot, to follow us in the service of the Creator. It is in this way that the performance of Mitzvot "makes ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu one with His Shechinah," and brings us closer to Tikun Olam -- the final completion of our mission!
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