הרב יצחק שטרן
Our supreme hope is that the Shechinah (Divine presence) will dwell upon Israel and the world. Three times every day we pray for this: "and allow our eyes to see Your return to Zion in mercy. Blessed are You HaShem who returns His Shechinah to Zion." On festivals and holidays we add the prayer "vete'arev lefanecha" and say "return Your Shechinah to Zion Your city."
From these and similar prayers, we could understand that the dwelling of the Shechinah and its return to Zion is HaShem's task. It is He who "returns His Shechinah" and from Him we ask "return Your Shechinah."
However, our parsha demonstrates that this is not the entire story.
When Itzchak Avinu searched for a place to escape the famine which afflicted the land, he heard the remarkable command from G-d (Bereshis 26 2-3): "And HaShem appeared to him and said: Do not go down to Egypt. Dwell (shechon) in the land which I will tell you; live in this land and I will be with you and I will bless you."
What is the meaning of the double command: Shechon b'aretz (dwell in the land); gur b'aretz (live in the land)? What is the difference between the two commands? What is the difference between simply living in the land and the special command to dwell in it?
Our Rabbis of blessed memory (Bereshis Rabbah 64, 3) offer two explanations for the command "dwell (shechon) in the land":
"Dwell in the land" – create a settlement (shechunah) in Eretz Israel! Plant, seed, be a lord!
Additionally: "Dwell in the land" - cause the Shechinah to dwell in the land!
Let us focus first on the second explanation. Here lies a great revelation. The fact that the Shechinah dwells in the land doesn’t happen by itself. Not (only) HaShem brings His Presence to the land, but human beings – Am Israel – are commanded to cause the Shechinah to dwell in the land. This, in essence, is the central mission of a Jew – to create the ideal foundation for the appearance of G-d's light in the world.
How is this done? What do we have to do in order to cause the Shechinah to dwell in the land? Chazal answer with the first explanation: "Create a settlement in Eretz Israel!" Wonder of wonders. Planting trees, seeding fields and building homes in Eretz Israel cause the Shechinah to dwell in the land.
Itzchak was known to be a "master of prayer." His practice was to go out "to pray in the field," there he established for us the Mincha prayer. Itzchak Avinu prayed intensively (vaye'etar) over the course of twenty years. He was well aware of the power of prayer, which is like a petition (etter), capable of turning the harsh decrees into midat ha-rachamin - the attribute of mercy (Succah 14a). And G-d had to bring him to the understanding that in order for the Divine Presence to dwell, prayer is not enough, although clearly it is a very important part of our efforts. In addition, practical, tangible work is necessary.
The deep meaning of Chazal's words is that we can neither idly sit in passivity, nor suffice with prayer alone, and wait for the Shechinah to return to Zion. We, Am Israel, have to and are obliged to act with G-d, to create and build the apparatus, and at the conclusion of our work and activities – HaShem will reveal His Shechinah and cause it to dwell upon us.
This axiom is also expressed by the words of Chazal on the verse (Shemot 25:8) "And they will make Me a Temple and I will dwell among them." The Sages say (Avot d'Rabbi Natan ch. 11):
Rabbi Tarfon says: Even HaShem didn't bring His Shechinah upon Israel until they did melachah (creative work) as it says: "And they will make Me a Temple and I will dwell among them."
The meaning is not just any creative work (as might be understood from the above words), but G-dly work, holy work, the work of the Mikdash. When B'nei Israel "give of themselves" – arise, do the work they are duty-bound to do, practical work, actual building – then, and only then, HaShem "does His part" and rests His Shechinah upon us.
Thus we see that in order to realize our ultimate purpose, to cause the Shechinah to dwell in the world, we must exert our energy – in addition to the prayers which emerge from the depths of the heart – also in the work of physical building, in the settling of the land and in the building of the Mikdash.
We will create a settlement, a residence in Israel, and by virtue of this, HaShem will bring His Shechinah to dwell within it!
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