Israel: The Partnership between Man and G-d
BY RABBI STEWART WEISS
The revelation at Mount Sinai was a truly momentous event in the annals of human history, as Divine law was transmitted from heaven to earth. The birds stopped flying and the waves stopped flowing as humanity stopped in its tracks and stood in awe as the Ten Commandments were bestowed upon mortal man.
Yet something seems strange here.
We Jews are an ever-wandering people with terminal wanderlust, traveling the length and breadth of the planet. So why do we not make pilgrimages to Mount Sinai?! Unlike our deep reverence for Mount Moriah, where the Beit HaMikdash stood, we retain no affinity whatsoever for Mount Sinai. How can we explain this?
When asked this question, Rav Joseph Soloveitchik answered with another question. “Why is it,” he pondered, “that the blessings we recite after eating fruit and bread are so radically different?”
Fruit is a miracle, akin to the manna that fell from heaven. It is wonderfully colorful, nutritious, delicious and effortlessly accessible; it literally grows on trees! And yet, the blessing we recite after eating fruit associated with Eretz Yisrael is extremely brief, a mere sentence or two, almost an afterthought.
Bread, on the other hand, requires a huge amount of work by human hands. G-d provides the seeds, but it is we mortals who must invest significant effort – planting, sowing, reaping, sifting, and baking – to produce the finished product. Nevertheless, the blessing we recite after eating bread – birkat haMazon – is extremely long and poetic, filled with praise for G-d and referencing the Exodus, Yerushalayim, Israel, brit milah and a host of other topics.
“I would have thought,” wrote the Rav, “that it would be quite the opposite! That we would wax poetic specifically over the fruit, which comes directly from G-d, and much less so for bread, which necessitates so much effort on our own part.”
From this the Rav derives a major tenet of Jewish thought: the greatest moments in life with the deepest meaning are the moments when man and G-d work in tandem, creating a partnership in order to achieve an elevated purpose. It is precisely because we are so involved in the making of bread that we invoke the greatest blessing.
And so it is with the two mountains. Har Sinai was a unique event, but it was a “solo performance”; it was G-d’s show and G-d’s alone. We were expressly warned to stay away from the mountain and to keep our distance. As great as the giving of the Torah was, when it was over, it was over forever. The mountain returned to a hill of dirt; no holiness whatsoever remained. We moved on and we never looked back.
Mount Moriah was very different. There, Avraham took Yitzchak to the akeida, ready to do whatever Hashem commanded – even to the point of death – so as to comply with the Divine decree. The phrase “And the two of them walked together” refers not only to father and son, but also to man and G-d. Where the two interact and intertwine, kedusha, holiness, exists forever. And so this place would become the natural site for the Beit HaMikdash, where man and G-d would rendezvous on a daily basis, and it would retain its holiness forever.
The default shape of the universe is round. Natural phenomena take on a round shape; planets are round, most fruit is round, and when rain strikes the ground or dust swirls in the breeze it does so in a round form. But the default shape of Judaism is square! The preponderance of Jewish religious objects have a square shape: tefillin, a sukkah, a chuppah, matzah, the aron kodesh, the luchot; even the way we marched in the desert from Egypt to Israel was in a strict square formation.
Why is this significant? Because while round items in nature can come from G-d alone, something square can exist only when man is involved in the process. Square, in short, is a signature that says, “Man was here.” G-d decrees, man designs.
The State of Israel is the only country in the world where every facet of life – from our calendar to our street names to our agriculture – can represent a union of the secular and the spiritual, a meeting of G-d and man. And that is why, while spiritual edifices outside Israel may acquire temporary holiness, Israel is the only country on earth where every single centimeter has eternal holiness.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.