Why did G-d deliver the Israelites?
“He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain.’”
They were to perform acts of service. What was that service? It was to build the tabernacle. Why did they build the tabernacle?
“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.””
In this week’s parsha there are two things that stick out to me the most. The first is that G-d’s definition of “worship” is literally servanthood. We’ll get into that in a minute. First, I really want to focus on the second powerful idea presented here – the idea that Adonai wanted to dwell in the Israelites right from the beginning.
After repeated powerful displays of Adonai’s preeminence over the gods of Egypt and the amazing, awe-inspiring experience of receiving the 10 Words (Commandments) directly from G-d’s mouth on Mount Sinai, we should pause for a moment to ask ourselves a very simple question: Why?
I believe, ultimately, the “why” of G-d’s deliverance of Israel & His giving them the Torah is revealed to us in Exodus 25:8. G-d wanted to indwell His people.
The phrase translated “that I may dwell in their midst” (וְשָׁכַנְתִּי) can also be read as “that I may dwell in them”.
Chasidic Judaism takes this literally – that G-d wanted to indwell His people with His very Spirit at that time. But does this make sense? Do the rest of the Scriptures agree with this interpretation? As it turns out, we find the the answer to be, yes, they do.
We’ll start directly with the Hebrew Scriptures, but I think it’s also instructive to look at how Rabbi Shaul (the Apostle Paul) understood the Hebrew Scriptures. After all, he is the one who was both taught by the great Gamliel and sent to the Gentiles. A lot of Christian interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures rests on his interpretation.
Let’s start with the HaShem’s promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:33:
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”
Now let’s look at a few well-known passages from the writings of Rav Shaul:
In 2 Corinthians 6:16, Shaul says: “What agreement has the temple of G-d with idols? For we are the temple of the living G-d; as G-d said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their G-d and they shall be my people.’”
In this verse, Rabbi Shaul is quoting Leviticus 26:12 (“And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people”). In the Hebrew, the word translated as “among” can also be translated, and often is translated, as “within”. We see that his translation of Leviticus 26:12 agrees with the Chasidic intrepretation.
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Rabbi Shaul says: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from G-d? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify G-d in your body.” (emphasis mine)
So, according to Rabbi Shaul, not only does G-d want to dwell in us, He absolutely does it!
While realizing that HaShem wants to dwell within us, we must also remember that He is holy. If we are to be vessels full of the Spirit of G-d we must live holy lives ourselves. And how do we accomplish this? By becoming His slaves – also known as “worshiping” Him.
This is the second part of what I wanted to write about today. In Scripture, “to worship” is literally “to serve”. Avodah (עֲבוֹדָה) is the Hebrew word for worship, and it means “to serve”. But what does that mean? Must we take up positions of service to G-d like the servants of Downton Abbey?
In a manner of speaking, yes.
When we look at the word avodah, we find that the noun form of avodah is ebed (עֶבֶד). Ebed means “slave”. Actually, in both Hebrew & Greek servant & slave are the same word!
In Exodus 3:12, when G-d says “you shall serve G-d on this mountain” that’s precisely what He means.
By carrying out service to G-d, we are worshiping Him. How do we serve Him? By performing His commandments – by performing the good deeds He outlined for us in the Torah.
When we go to work to provide for our families we are performing a mitzvah (providing for our wives & family). When we raise our sometimes difficult children to love the L-RD and walk according to His ways we’re performing a good deed (Ve’hafta). In obeying His commandments, our mundane everyday life is elevated to a form of worship to the Almighty.
The Torah is G-d’s instruction for how we are to live our lives. When we live according to the Torah we are, by definition, living holy lives to G-d. When we are holy we become vessels for His Divine Presence and He indwells us.
When He indwells us we have communion with Him. And we shine His light to the world around us. More on that next week. ‘Til then, may you be blessed and may the L-RD bless you with His presence!