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A weekly column examing Hebrew words in the Torah portion

by Michael Gros
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer



"We would like to purchase a house," my wife said to the real estate agent sitting eagerly across from us.

"Great! You came to the right place. What are your requirements?"

"It's a starter home," my wife answered, "so we want something nice and
simple, with a few bedrooms, garage, back yard, etc."

"And of course enough room for the Shechinah," I piped up.

"The what?" the woman asked in surprise.

"The Shechinah."

"What's that?"

"The Shechinah. You know, the presence of G
od. It dwells in every Jewish home, so I want to make sure we have enough room for it."

wasn't surprised by the woman's dumbfounded look, for I had already seen it on the faces of the previous two real estate agents.

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, G
od tells Moses to tell the Jews, "They shall make for Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). This verse has an obvious grammatical problem - why does God mention a singular sanctuary, with a plural "them"? One common explanation is that God is telling us that we should make ourselves and our homes into mini-sanctuaries. Just as God placed His presence into the sanctuary while the Jews were in the desert, if we make our homes into places of holiness and love of God, He will dwell in them, and they will become mini-sanctuaries.

Gematria, a system in which each Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent,
provides a clue as to how we can achieve this. The word house, Bayit, has the value of 412. The word sanctuary, Mikdash (literally 'place of holiness') has the value of 444. The difference? 32, which is the value of Lev, heart. God is teaching us that by placing our hearts, our complete energies and abilities into our homes, we will succeed in making them into dwelling places for the Shechinah.

The Chidah, a 19th century Sephardic commentator,
wrote a list of 22 feelings that a person should have when doing a mitzvah, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. For the letter Lamed, the Chidah tells us that each person must put his Lev, his heart into every mitzvah. To fulfill the mitzvah of creating a Jewish home, we must put all we have into it.

As the Kotzker Rebbe, a 19th century chassidic leader said, "God is where you let him in." Creating a place for the Shechinah is not the responsibility of the real estate agent or the builder. It is the responsibility of each one of us, to put our hearts into our homes and make them into proper dwelling places for God.


This column is dedicated in memory of Dan Miller.

Michael Gros, an alumnus of Emory University, writes from Israel, where he learns at Yeshiva Marbeh Torah.

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