Can life be perfect? Would it still be "life" if it were?

Written by Rabbi Yanky Touber Posted in Holidays

When did you last experience the presence of G-d?

G-d, of course, is everywhere, for He is the essence of every reality. Technically, then, we are always in the presence of G-d. The very first section of the Shulchan Aruch (code of Torah law) instructs us to sustain an awareness of the divine immanence at all times.

But knowledge and awareness is one thing, and experience is quite another.

G-d is everywhere, but He has cloaked his presence in a great variety of garments and guises; instead of G-d, we experience nature, history, society, the economy and an assortment of similar "forces."

Rare is the individual who perceives the divine presence with the tactility of a personal encounter. The most spiritual of men labor for a lifetime to experience a single moment of true intimacy with G-d. But there will come a time, we are told, when "your Master will no longer be cloaked and your eyes shall perceive your Master." [1]

A time when "The glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see that the mouth of G-d has spoken," [2] "for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea." [3]

Thus the prophets describe the age of Moshiach, the eternal Shabbat that is the culmination of the "work week" that is our present world.

Every G-dly act we do today uncovers another fold in the curtain of creation, until the day that the curtain will part entirely and we shall behold the face of G-d.

Two Precedents

What will life be like in such a world? We have several precedents for uninhibited encounter with the Divine.

The revelation at Sinai was one such experience. "G-d descended upon Mount Sinai," [4] and we "saw the G-d of Israel" [5]; as Moses describes it, "Face to face, G-d spoke to you upon the mountain." [6]

The result, says the Talmud, was that "with each divine utterance, their souls flew from their bodies." [7] After hearing but two of the Ten Commandments directly from G-d, the Jewish people begged Moses to serve as their intermediary in transmitting the divine word, for "if we continue to hear the voice of G-d, we shall die." [8]

The revelation at Sinai was a point in time that portended the messianic reality. By the same token, there was also a point in space that, for many centuries, was an island of divine immanence in a spiritually reticent world. This was the "Holy of Holies," the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary.

Following the revelation at Sinai, G-d commanded that the people of Israel should "make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell amongst them." [9]

After Sinai, the curtain had been redrawn and G-d resumed His interaction with us from behind the veils and shrouds of "the natural reality"; but a pocket of manifest divinity was to remain. A portable Sanctuary (the Mishkan or "Tabernacle") was constructed in the desert to accompany the children of Israel in their forty-year journey from Sinai to Canaan.

After crossing the Jordan with Joshua, it was set up in various places in the Holy Land, until it found permanent form in the Sanctuary (the Beit HaMikdash, also referred to as the "Holy Temple") constructed by King Solomon on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. With the exception of a 70-year hiatus during the Babylonian Exile, the Beit HaMikdash served as the seat of G-d's manifest presence in the physical world until the onset of our present galut nineteen hundred years ago. [10]

All of the Beit HaMikdash was "holy" - that is, a place of heightened divine presence. But no part of it was as holy as the Kodesh HaKodashim, the "Holy of Holies." Here G-d was present in the most unequivocal and absolute manner; here one came face to face with the very being of G-d, as opposed to the various divine "attributes" that manifested themselves in the various domains and components of the Beit HaMikdash.

Only one man could enter the Holy of Holies: the Kohen Gadol ("High Priest"). And even the Kohen Gadol was warned "not to enter at any time into the holy, inside of the curtain... lest he die." [11]

Only once a year - on Yom Kippur - and only after intense preparation and by following the intricate procedures outlined by the Torah, [12] was the holiest human being on earth able to enter the Holy of Holies. If he failed to perform these rituals exactly as prescribed, or if he was unworthy of his station, [13] he would not survive so intense an encounter with the divine essence, and his lifeless body would have to be dragged out of the chamber by means of a long cord attached to his leg for that very eventuality. [14]

The Secreted Child

If we are to look to the precedents of Sinai and the "Holy of Holies" as our models for unadulterated experience of the Divine, this would imply that the era of Moshiach will spell the end of life as we know it. It would mean that we will exist in the transcendent state of those who experienced the revelation at Sinai; that our lives will be a perpetual "Yom Kippur" of the ultimate sort - the Yom Kippur of the Kohen Gadol in the sacred moments he spent "inside the curtain" that separated the Holy of Holies from the merely "holy" portion of the Beit HaMikdash.

However, there is also another precedent for living in the presence of G-d - one that offers a completely different model for life in the era of Moshiach. This is the case of Yehoash, the ninth king of the Davidic dynasty, related in the eleventh chapter of the second book of Kings.

Upon the death of Yehoash's father, Achazayahu, the wicked Ataliah massacred the entire royal family and seized the throne. Yehoash, a year-old infant at the time, was saved by his aunt, Yehosheva, and her husband, the Kohen Gadol Yehoyada, who hid him and his nursemaid in the Holy of Holies for six years. [15] When the child was seven years old, Yehoyada took him from his hiding place, crowned him king, and restored the sovereignty of Judah to its rightful heir.

For six years, a child and his nurse lived in the Holy of Holies: there she fed him, there they slept, there she changed his diapers. There they lived, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, in the unveiled presence of G-d.

They were there to save the life of the sole surviving heir to the throne of David; indeed, the entire Torah [16] is set aside to save a life.

This is how this incident can be understood on the most basic level - as a radical act sanctioned by extraordinary circumstances.

On a deeper level, however, the story of the woman and child who lived for six years in the Holy of Holies reflects a deeper truth: that each and every one of us is, in essence, a Kohen Gadol [17]; that, in essence, a Kohen Gadol can enter into the Holy of Holies at all times, not only on Yom Kippur [18]; that the experience of the divine presence is not a once-a-year "ritual," but embraces the totality of life; that it is the pre-messianic circumstances - circumstances that limit the ultimate experience of G-d to a particular person on a particular day and particular actions - that are abnormal, while living in the presence of G-d is the most natural thing in the world.

Moshiach will herald an age in which the "natural," the "everyday" and the "mundane" are no longer antitheses to G-dliness and spirituality, but their ultimate complement. A world in which G-d is revealed as the essence of life, and life's every surge and ebb is an encounter with the essence of G-d.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Acharei-Kedoshim, 5751 (April 27, 1991) [19]


1 . Isaiah 30:20.
2 . Ibid. 40:5.
3 . Ibid. 11:9.
4 . Exodus 19:20.
5 . Ibid. 24:10.
6 . Deuteronomy 5:4.
7 . Talmud, Shabbat 88b.
8 . Deuteronomy 5:23.
9 . Exodus 25:8.

10 . Altogether, the Sanctuary housed the divine presence for 1,309 years: 39 years in the desert, 14 years at Gilgal, 369 years at Shiloh, 57 years at Nov and Giv'on, and 830 years in Jerusalem (the First Temple stood for 410 years and the Second Temple for 420).

The Temple site remains the epicenter of the divine presence in the world, but in a more concealed manner, due to our current galut (lit., "exile" - a reference to our state of national and spiritual displacement), may we merit that it be re-built
speedily with the coming of Moshiach.

11 . Leviticus 16:2.

12 . Ibid., ch. 16; described in detail in the Talmudic tractate Yoma and the "Avodah" section of the mussaf prayer for Yom Kippur.

13 . As was often the case in the latter years of the Second Temple, when the Holy Land came under the hegemony of Rome and the office of Kohen Gadol could be purchased from the procurator of Judea.

14 . Cf. the case of Nadav and Avihu, related in Leviticus ch. 10. Indeed, the above-quoted warning to the Kohen Gadol is introduced by the Torah as coming "in the wake of the death of the two sons of Aaron, who died when they approached G-d" (ibid., 16:1).

15 . Yehoash was hidden in the aliyah, or second story, of the Holy of Holies, a chamber whose holiness was equal to (according to one opinion, greater than) that of the Holy of Holies itself (Rashi, II Kings 11:2; Talmud, Pesachim 86a). Yehoash's hiding place is referred to in the verse with the euphemism "the bedroom," i.e., the place of the most intimate aspect of the relationship between G-d and his bride Israel (Rashi, ibid.; Midrash Rabbah, Shir
HaShirim 1:13; cf. Talmud, Yoma 54a).

16 . Except for the prohibitions against murder, idolatry, and certain sexual sins.

17 . Cf. Baal HaTurim on Exodus 19:6; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shemittah and Yovel, 12:12.

18 . Cf. Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 21:7.
19 . Sefer HaSichot 5751, p. 512.

(Reprinted from the Week in Review Vol VIII No 34)

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