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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Living with God in Our Midst

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on May 13, 2021)
Topics: Bamidbar, Halakha & Modernity, Moadim/Holidays, Prayer & Religiosity, Sefer Bamidbar, Shavuot, Torah

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V0050134 The Israelites’ encampment in the wilderness, guided by God Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The Israelites’ encampment in the wilderness, guided by God in the form of a pillar of smoke. Watercolour by J.J. Derghi, 1866. 1866 By: J. J. DerghiPublished: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

What does it mean to live with God in our midst? God commanded the Israelites in the wilderness to build the Tabernacle, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them” (Exodus 25:8). Interestingly, the verse does not state that God shall dwell within “it,” the Tabernacle, but rather “amongst them,” the people. This notion is reinforced in Parshat Bamidbar, where we learn that the Tabernacle is at the center of the Israelite encampment, surrounded by the people. God dwells amongst the people.

The theophany at Mt. Sinai was an unparalleled experience. It was the moment when the entire people “witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the shofar and the mountain smoking” (Exodus 20:15). The people came into contact with God. How were the Israelites to move on from such a powerful encounter? One approach would be to continue with their pedestrian lives as before. They could focus on the needs of their encampment, erecting and dismantling their tents, and determining the most efficient way to organize themselves for travel, all according to their own needs. 

The Torah, however, offers a different path. They are to move forward with God amongst them. Ramban teaches that the Tabernacle is a portable Mt. Sinai. The Tabernacle shall be within their midst. God was in their midst. No matter what they were doing, whether engaging in grand spiritual endeavors, or the humdrum tasks of everyday life, they were oriented toward the Tabernacle. It framed their lives, and God was at their center.

So often today we compartmentalize our lives. We go to work, we socialize, we attend synagogue, we learn Torah. Some activities we see as holy, and others as mundane. God is in the synagogue but not in our workplace or at our softball game. The Torah instructs that we must always live with God in our midst. When we are at work, with friends, or simply running errands, we are to orient ourselves towards God and God’s Torah. 

This is a key message for Shavuot. The rabbis teach that because we received the Torah on Shavuot, we must spend part of the day enjoying ourselves and engaging in pleasurable pursuits. Not only do we commemorate the events of Mt. Sinai, we bring Mt. Sinai with us wherever we go. We realize that whatever we are doing, the Torah and God is in the center of our lives, and everything we do is oriented towards the center.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach.