Chanukah and Our Inner Temple

Dear Friends,

We find within our tradition the following holistic concept: Both our soul and our body yearn for Our Creator.

An example of this concept is found in the following verse from the Book of Psalms:
“O God, You are my God; at early dawn will I seek You. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You, in a dry and weary land without water.” (Psalm 63:2)
“My Soul Yearns for You” – Regarding the creation of the soul, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary on the Siddur (Prayer Book):

“God, the One, pure and holy Being, is the soul’s Creator, and He has breathed that soul into us as part of His own Divine essence.” (Commentary on the morning prayer, “The soul that You gave me is pure”)

It is understandable that the soul which is connected to the Divine essence should yearn for God; however, the above verse also states, “My flesh longs for you.” Why does the “flesh” – the physical body – long for God? The beginning of an answer can be found in the following verse where Hashem proclaims to Moshe, our teacher:
“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell within them.” (Exodus 25:8)
The Sanctuary which our people built in the wilderness was also known as the “Mishkan” – Tabernacle. In this letter, we shall discuss two commentaries on the above verse which have the following observation: Hashem does not say, “I will dwell within it” – the Sanctuary, but “I will dwell within them” – the people. According to these commentaries, the verse is expressing this uplifting idea:

Through the sacred service of the Sanctuary, the Shechinah – the Divine Presence – is to dwell within each member of the nation of Israel.

Our physical bodies therefore have the potential to become a sanctuary for the Shechinah! Our study of this teaching will begin with the commentary of Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin, a leading sage who was a close disciple of the Vilna Gaon:

 “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, So that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). – Rabbi Chayim points out that this verse does not refer to the Shechinah dwelling in the Sanctuary, but within the people – “within each and every one of them” (Nefesh HaChayim 1:4). With this statement, explains Rabbi Chayim, Hashem is saying:

“Do not think that My ultimate intention is the construction of the Sanctuary edifice; rather the entire purpose in desiring the Mishkan and its vessels is merely so that you should infer from it how to mold yourselves; namely that through your deeds you should be as desirable as the Mishkan and its vessels – all of you holy, fitting, and prepared to be receptacles for My Shechinah in a literal sense.” (Ibid)
A similar insight is discussed in the biblical commentary, Maor V'Shemesh, written by a leading sage and Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Epstein. In his explanation of the above verse, he cites the ancient teaching of our sages that the Shechinah is to dwell on this earth (Genesis Rabbah 19:7). This includes the human body, states Rabbi Epstein; thus, the words “I will dwell within them” reveal that each of us can be a “chariot for the Shechinah.” And he adds, “Each and every member of Israel should view himself as if holiness is dwelling within his inner physical organs.” This awareness, explains Rabbi Kalman, should inspire us to keep our bodies pure and holy through dedicating all of our limbs and organs to the service of Hashem; moreover, it should also inspire us to refrain from any activity which weakens this state of purity and holiness.
If the human body was created to be a sanctuary for the Shechinah, then we can understand why we pray, “My flesh longs for You.” The body is longing for the Shechinah; it yearns to fulfill the purpose of its creation.
The Sanctuary in Jerusalem was known as the “Beis HaMikdash” – the Holy Temple. The Syrian-Greeks, in their desire to destroy Judaism, defiled the Temple, and on Chanukah, we celebrate the cleansing and rededication of the Temple. As the above teachings indicate, the purpose of the Holy Temple is to enable each of us to become a holy temple – a place where the Shechinah can dwell. Our personal temple, however, can also become defiled; thus, in a deeper sense, Chanukah celebrates our ability to cleanse and rededicate the holy temple of our bodies. 

As we discussed in the previous letter, the Syrian-Greeks and their assimilated Jewish allies tried to force our people to adopt a Hellenistic culture which worshiped physical beauty and which glorified the selfish gratification of physical desires. The Syrian-Greeks even organized sexual orgies in Jerusalem's Holy Temple. The Maccabees refused to accept the hedonistic values of this pagan culture, and they led a rebellion against the oppressors.

One does not have to be a sociologist to realize that there are aspects of modern western culture which glorify the selfish gratification of physical desires. For example, we are surrounded by unholy advertising and programs which encourage us to view other human beings as objects created for our sexual gratification. The challenge facing our generation is whether we can become modern “Maccabees” who will engage in a spiritual rebellion against the current hedonistic onslaught that attempts to defile the holy sanctuary within every human being.
Unfortunately, the most decadent aspects of modern western culture can also be found in the State of Israel, and about ten years ago, there was a protest against one aspect of this culture which caused quite a stir in the media. One of the protestors was Shulamit Aloni, a leading activist within the leftist Meretz party and an activist in feminist groups. She was then a member of the “Knesset” – the legislature of the State of Israel. She evoked the rage of some of her leftist male colleagues when she joined forces with Zevulun Orlev, a member of the National-Religious party who also headed the Knesset Education Committee, in order to oppose the introduction of pornographic channels on Israeli television. These male colleagues mocked her, and they accused her of adopting a “Chareidi” outlook, for it is known that the Chareidim strongly oppose pornographic advertising and programs. Aloni's opponents were especially incensed when she and Orlev petitioned the State’s Supreme Court to prevent the introduction of these pornographic channels. They viewed the alliance between Aloni and Orlev on this issue as a dangerous sign of religious influence.

The Hellenistic “high priests” of the State’s secular culture, including judges and journalists, arose to defend their society from the rebellion of Aloni and Orlev. For example, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected their petition, and the Editors of the Jerusalem Post wrote an editorial denouncing the petition (Aug. 20, 2000). In one paragraph, they stated:
“By referring to the petition as ‘an issue of human rights and the dignity of human beings,’ Aloni makes clear she considers pornographic productions in themselves a crime against women that must not be perpetuated and encouraged. While no one disputes the fact that pornography objectifies women to satisfy the masturbatory fantasies of an overwhelming male audience, the performers are all adults who participate willingly.”

According to the editors of the Jerusalem Post, it is okay to promote pornography which views other human beings as objects which exist for sexual gratification, as long this objectification is done willingly! This unholy editorial was a reminder of the increasing degradation of human beings who are created in the Divine image. It was also a reminder that the Chanukah struggle against the hedonistic aspects of Hellenism is a struggle which is continuing in our day.

I once came across a teaching which can serve as a response to the editorial of the Jerusalem Post, and it is a teaching of the late Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky, who lived in Jerusalem. He reminds us that within the Holy Temple was the inner chamber known as “the Holy of Holies.” The human being is also a holy temple, states the Rebbe, and the “holy of holies” within this temple is the human mind (Nesivos Shalom). The cleansing and rededication of the human temple to the service of Hashem must therefore begin in the human mind – the holy of holies within each of us.
One cannot have a holy temple if the holy of holies is defiled. In this spirit, we chant the following words of prayer during Chanukah:
“Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your holiness, and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name.” (Al Ha-Nissim)
As we discussed in this series, there are some hopeful signs of spiritual renewal in the Land of Israel, and I therefore feel that more of our people will regain the spirit of the Maccabees. They will remember that we are to be a holy people, and that this land is to be a holy land. Most important of all, they will begin to cleanse and purify their own “holy of holies” – the human mind.

On that great and joyous day, our entire society will become a Sanctuary for the Shechinah, and we will experience the fulfillment of the following Divine promise that we chant on the Shabbos of Chanukah:

“Sing and rejoice O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell within you, spoke Hashem.” (Zechariah 2:14)

“I will dwell within you” – I will place My Shechinah within you. (Targum – the ancient Aramaic translation and commentary)

Our society will then begin to serve as a universal model which can bring the nations closer to Hashem; thus, the Prophet Zechariah adds the next part of the Divine promise: “Many nations will join themselves to Hashem on that day” (2:15).

May we experience the light, holiness, and joy of Chanukah.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

Related Teachings:

1. Our bodies can become holy when all of our physical drives are dedicated to serving the compassionate and life-giving Divine purpose. Rabbi Yose, a sage of the Mishnah, said: “Let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven” (Pirkei Avos 2:17). Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenora, in his commentary on this teaching, explains that even when we are engaged in eating and drinking, we should have the intention that we are doing this to become healthy, so that we will have the strength to fulfill the will of our Creator.
2. The Talmud teaches in the name of Rabbi Elazar: “A human being should always evaluate himself as if the Holy One is inside of him.” (Taanis 11a-b, explanation of Tosphos)


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