One of the most important lessons I learned at Hebrew Theological College (also known as “Skokie Yeshiva”), where I both studied for smicha (ordination) and taught at its affiliated high school, Fasman Yeshiva High School, occurred as part of a discussion on one of my first days at the yeshiva.
I was speaking with Rabbi Dr. Jerold Isenberg, who later became the yeshiva’s chancellor, about the “secular studies” classes I taught at Fasman. He corrected me, saying, “You are teaching general studies. In the yeshiva, nothing is secular — it’s all for Hashem!”
This lesson can also be gleaned from Parshat Terumah, where we learn of the commandment to build the Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle).
At the beginning of the parshah, Hashem commands Moshe, “Speak to the Children of Israel. They will take for Me an offering. From everyone whose heart moves him, you will take my offering.” (Shemot 25:1)
The commentator Rashi explains that “for Me” means “for My sake.” In other words, the gifts that are offered for the Jewish people’s first building campaign are not to be in order to receive honor or praise, or even for individual spiritual growth. They are to be solely for Hashem’s sake, to glorify and come closer to Him.
The Torah continues with the instructions as to which gifts are needed. Hashem then reveals the purpose of this building campaign. “They will make for me a Mikdash [Holy Sanctuary] and I shall dwell among them.”
When we build the Mishkan and, later, the Beit haMikdash (Holy Temple) in Yerushalayim solely for Hashem’s sake, we are then rewarded with Hashem’s presence. Having Hashem dwell among us is the sole purpose of our efforts. It is important to note, though, that the Torah does not say Hashem will “dwell in it,” which would restrict His Presence to one holy site. Rather, as a reward for our efforts, Hashem promises to “dwell among them” — among the entire Jewish people.
Of course, the greatest manifestation of this occurred during the times of the Mishkan and the Beit haMikdash. However, we know that Hashem’s relationship with the Jewish people — and thus this promise — is eternal. When we offer our best to Hashem, He will be with the Jewish people forever — even in times of exile.
These are powerful lessons for all of us. Very often, people do mitzvot with various motives that may not entirely be “for Hashem’s sake.” And though this is certainly better than not doing a mitzvah at all, it is not the highest level.
The highest level is when we do something lishmah — to serve Hashem and to come closer to Him. When we do this, we add holiness to the world, and to our own lives. When Mashiach comes and we merit to have the Third Temple in Yerushalayim, we will see the greatest manifestation of this holiness. In the meantime, however, we can be assured that Hashem will dwell in each and every one of us. All it takes is working hard to make sure that everything we do is for Hashem.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a past member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and the host of www.rabbijablon.com .