To Do What’s Proper
“HaShem is here in this place, and I did not know it!” exclaimed Yaakov Avinu upon
awakening from his prophetic dream at the Makom HaMikdash. “How
awesome is this place! This is the House of Elokim, the Gate of Heaven!"”
How can it be that he did not know beforehand of the holiness
of the place? We know from the Midrash that Yaakov traveled almost to Charan,
said “Oy vay, I passed by the Makom HaMikdash, without davening
where my fathers davened…” and HaShem brought it to him (or He brought him
there). So Yaakov did know where he was sleeping. Why does he say “I
did not know”?
Perhaps we can answer with the Gemora in Pesachim which says
that each of the Avos perceived the Beis HaMikdash in a
different way. “Not like Avraham, who called it har (a mountain; not
like Yitzchak who called it sadeh (a field); rather like Yaakov, who
called it bayis (a house).”
The Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Beis HaBechira
says that the Mikdash has different functions. One is that it’s the place
that we go up to three times a year on the festival. You go there to be inspired
by it, to see the Shechina. Secondly, it’s a place to bring korbonos.
Thirdly, it’s the Beis HaShem, the place of the Divine Presence.
From there the Shechina goes forth into the heart of every Jew.
Each of these three functions corresponds to the different
perspectives of the Avos. A mountain is a place that you look up to,
that’s awe-inspiring. That’s the aliyah l’regel. The field corresponds
to the sacrifices; because a field is a medium for growth. There you can utilize
the various forces of nature, for our benefit. But there’s a greater purpose:
that it’s the house of HaShem, where we can unite in our home. The place
of the Divine Presence.
Yaakov knew that he had arrived at the har and the sadeh
of Hashem; but he had no idea that it was the bayis of Hashem until he
had that dream. As the verse itself says, “Behold, this is the Beis Elokim!”
And the difference is so significant that it is said that had
Yaakov known of this dimension of the holiness of the Mikdash, he would
not have slept there. This, in spite of the fact that had he not slept there he
would have lost the opportunity for his prophecy. The Ba’alei Mussar say
that we learn from this that it’s worthwhile to lose even a chance for prophecy
in order to do what is proper. Yaakov understood that it’s not proper to sleep
in such a holy place. And even though this great prophecy could come from it,
you still have to do what’s right, according to the halacha, regardless
of the possible benefit.
“If we would just let people drive to shul on
Shabbos, we’d have so many more people in shul, and people would be more frum.”
No. You just do what the halachah says, and let HaShem worry about
what will come from it.
When the question was raised of introducing secular studies
in Volozhin, it wasn’t just that. It was a question of introducing studies that
would be controlled by a government that wanted to destroy Yiddishkeit. (Unlike
in America, where the gedolim permitted it, because the government had no such
Some argued that having secular studies would be the lesser
of two evils, considering that the alternative would be to close Volozhin
altogether. R. Chaim Brisker got up and said, “We have a responsibility to
continue the Torah tradition as it was handed down to us from previous
generations. If we can’t do that, we are absolved of responsibility. If the Ribono
shel Olam wants to keep the yeshivos going, that’s His business. We
have a responsibility to do it the right way, the way we were taught. Otherwise,
it’s not our responsibility.”
The truth is, there were more yeshivos after Volozhin closed.
There was Telz, Mir, Slobodka and others. When Volozhin was still open, they
didn’t exist. Keeping it open could have destroyed everything.
The same thing happened with the Beis HaMikdash.
The Kohanim went up with the keys, and they said to HaShem: “If
we can’t maintain and serve in the Mikdash the way we’re supposed to,
then You take the keys back. It’s Your responsibility. We did our job. We have
no more responsibility. You want to destroy the Beis HaMikdash, that’s
Your business. You take the keys back. You decide what’s best for Klal Yisrael.
We can only do it the way we were told to do it.”
That’s our job, to do what’s proper, according to the halacha.
What will be if we can’t—that’s HaShem’s business.