I Want To Build A Sanctuary In My Heart By Marsha Smagley
I wished to share a writing for Tisha B’Av in the merit of the aliyas neshama for my mother who passed away this past Pesach, Shayna bas Arthur. “To Touch A Stone, To Find A Heart” was previously published in The Jewish Observer and “I Want To Build A Sanctuary In My Heart” is in its original version, and was later published in Hamodia.
May we all witness the rebuilding of the Third Temple, The Bais HaMikdosh, speedily in our days. Have an easy and meaningful fast.
All the best,
In my heart a sanctuary I’ll build
To His glory’s splendour,
And in it an altar I shall place
To the rays of His grandeur.
And for an Eternal Flame I shall take
The fire meant for Isaac of old,
And the sacrifice offering that I shall make
Is my one and only soul.
(“Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh”,”I Want To Build A Mishkan In My Heart” composer Shmuel Brazil, lyrics Glaser, based on an earlier poem by R’ Elazar Azkari, author of Sefer Chareidim).
These words resonated as I was leaving the Kosel, soon to return home to America. I did not know when I would be returning to Eretz Yisroel, when I would again be so near to these precious remnants of Hashem’s home on earth. I could not bear leaving.
Tears slowly ran down my cheeks, as I laid my hand and my heart, on these ancient stones one last time; pleading with my Creator to answer my fervent prayers to finally bring the geula shleima with rachamim, and to please come home, and to bring His children home.
I did not want to leave the Shechina, I did not want Him to leave me. My feelings shuckled to and fro, like the sway of a candle’s flame, trying to break free of its body of wax, wanting to touch the heavens. I yearned to carry Him with me always; I yearned to build a Sanctuary in my heart. I wanted to be worthy of doing this.
I first learned of the beautiful song Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, shortly after this past Fourth of July. I went with my family to see the fireworks. A school field in Skokie, Illinois, not far from our home in Highland Park, Illinois, became transformed into a place where family’s gathered, waiting for the lights and sounds to soon transform the night sky.
I noticed that there were some observant families there; and a sign posted on the fence: “Maariv at 8:45pm”. I felt comforted in seeing this; it was a reminder that Hashem was near. My husband and son would soon join the men in prayer; I felt grateful. As a ba’alas teshuva of the last nine years, not having been raised in Torah mitzvahs, I felt so appreciative just knowing what a maariv service was.
I thought about what the Fourth of July meant to me. I was grateful that America was a medina shel chesed, upholding the religious freedoms to lead a Torah life. Yet, I still felt a void….
As my eyes joined the many, riveted to the sky now filled with spectacular lights and sounds, I saw more… I saw the image of the Kosel.
The fireworks display in the sky, became a backdrop to the image of the Kosel, with its stones of brilliant hues of yellow, orange, and red, illuminating the heavens Above; connecting me to the flames within my heart and the yearning within my soul, to return to the eternal “spiritual fireworks” of Yerushalayim. I was grateful for this memory, especially so many miles away…
The Shechina Has Never Left The Kosel
A few months after that Fourth of July, with the image of the fireworks of the Kosel still etched within my mind, my husband, and ten year old daughter and seventeen year old son, and I, had the privilege to return to Eretz Yisroel to spend Succos and Simchas Torah, our second trip here.
Growing up as a secular Jew, I spent most of my life not knowing that we have been in gulus, let alone for over 2000 years, or of Tisha Ba’av, and that we even had a Temple to mourn for. How could I have known that we are to pray each day for the Mosiach to arrive? In some ways not knowing was easier for me, but not for my soul. This journey to Torah has been a journey from darkness to light. As a friend so aptly put it, when I came to Torah it was like a firework had being ignited.
At the Kosel, the closest place to what was the Kadosh Kadoshim, the Holy of Holies of the Bais Hamikdash (the permanent Sanctuary), the pains of gulus cried out to me like a hungered child, starving to be nourished by the light of the Shechina. At this very gateway to Shamayim, where our prayers travel on the wings of Angels to, the mechitza which separates the physical and the spiritual worlds seems penetrable. Hashem’s absolute emes radiates here; causing one to face their true essence, and to transcend.
Even in its shattered state, with its rubbles of stones lying at its gate, the Shechina has never left His home; the Kosel always remains. Rabbi Acha said: The Divine Presence will never depart from the Kosel, as it is written, “Behold-He stands behind our wall” (Song of Songs 2:9). The Shechina has never left the Bais Hamikdosh, as it is written, “For now I have chosen and sanctified this house so that My name shall be there forever and My eyes and My heart will be there all the days” (11 Chronicles 7:16)… Even when (the Temple) is destroyed, it remains in its sanctity… Even when it is destroyed, G-d does not leave it. (Midrash Rabba, Shemos: 2:2).
At the Kosel, the Shechina felt as close to me as my daughter’s hand in mine, as we joined the many on Hashana Rabba, trying to reach the ancient stones, to place our heart and our hopes for return.
I needed to find the strength to leave. The next morning we were going north to Kibbutz Lavi for Simchas Torah, and then returning to America. I slowly walked backwards from the Kosel, with its eternal image growing larger with each step, tightly holding onto my daughter’s hand, trying not to lose her in the sea of neshamas crying out to Ha Kodesh Baruch Hu. As I heard the clanking sounds of sheckelim falling into tzedakah boxes held by the outstretched arms of the needy, pouring out their blessings; I pleaded with Hashem to help me build a Sanctuary within in my heart.
Building A Sanctuary Within Our Heart
In an attempt to treat the “spiritual” jet lag I have experienced since returning home, I have been drawn for the first time, to the pages of the Torah portion Trumah, detailing the building of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary, in which the Shechina once dwelled. Although each word of Torah is holy and worthy of study, I had not before understood the relevance of these many details, as we no longer had the Bais Hamikdosh. I am beginning to glean that within the many details of the building of the Mishkan, lays the very blueprint for the building of an inner Sanctuary.
A teruma, is defined as “a portion that is set aside” (Rashi on Shemos 25:2). To build an inner Sanctuary, what I wish, is to be able to set my heart aside as a teruma, to Hashem to dwell.
The Mishkan was the prototype for our life’s work of making our world and our lives a home for G-d, intended to bring to mind the nearness of G-d on earth, and the intimate relationship of G-d and man, and above all, the protecting and benevolent Presence of G-d (R’ S.R. Hirsch’s commentary on Tehillim 30). The very word mishkan shares the same root as Shechina, meaning “to dwell, residing as closely as a friendly neighbor, connecting with G-d” (Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the commentaries of R’ S.R. Hirsch).
“Ve Asu li mikdash veshachanti besocham/ They shall make a Sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8). “Besocham/among them” on a deeper level means “within them” (Rashi). During the times of the Bais Hamikdosh, the collective relationship of each Jew with Hashem was so profound that His revealed Presence could be felt each moment; it was evident that the Shechina dwelled not only among them, but within them.
According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, the commandment to construct a Sanctuary, applies to the totality of the Jewish people throughout all generations (Talmud, Sanhedrin, 16b). It is not only in the outside world, it is also a personal commandment to build an inner Sanctuary.
Hashem speaks to us from within our hearts (so to speak). “In Your behalf, my heart has said, “Seek My Presence.” Your Presence, Hashem, I do seek. (Tehillim 27:8). I hearken to the heavenly message implanted in my heart and I seek out Hashem (Rashi).
The Divine Presence that dwells in the Mishkan is an emanation of the Shechina which resides within each Jewish heart. Every Jew is a living Sanctuary and every Jewish heart is a Holy of Holies. The Zohar compares every Jew to the Bais Hamikdash. The heart is compared to the Kadosh Kadoshim; as the center of the Bais Hamikdosh was the Kadosh Kadoshim, and the center of the human body is the heart. As the heart pumps blood to give life to the body, the Kadosh Kadoshim pumped out spiritual life, and all that is good, to the world.
It is written that words that go out of the heart, enter the heart (of others). I have wondered if this is because we are speaking from the Kadosh Kadoshim within our heart.
It is the actualization of the potential of every Jewish heart to serve as a vessel for the Shechina to dwell, which the Talmud refers to when it defines the construction of the Sanctuary as an obligation incumbent on all Jews in every generation to fulfill. It is our sacred task to build a Holy of Holies in our heart, by controlling negative desires and nourishing it with pure thoughts.
The Candle Of A Mitzvah As A Searchlight
We learn from the Sfas Emes that the reality of the Shechina dwelling “within them” has never really changed; only its perception has. Just as the fire on the Alter was never extinguished during the times of the Bais Hamikdosh, the pintelle yid, the spark of the Divine, forever remains burning brightly within every Jewish heart, and is always accessible.
The nature of a Mishkan is to get to this hidden point, this pintelle yid, and bring out that which was always dwelling within. Our inner Sanctuary can be revealed through an internal search done through the candle of a Torah mitzvah. The “searchlight” operates primarily through mitzvos which are compared to a candle. (Sfas Emes L’Chanukah, suf reish lamed-aleph). “Ki neir mitzvo ve’Torah ohr,”/ For a commandment is a candle and the Torah is light.” (Mishlei 6:23).
The numerical value of neir is 250, which corresponds to the 248 positive commandments and the 248 limbs of the body. The additional two needed to equal the 250 of neir, is ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem, love of Hashem and awe of Hashem. When a Jew performs mitzvahs with the koach of their entire life force, igniting the flame of the candle with ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem, it awakens the pintelle yid within, and is the making of the inner Sanctuary. (Sfas Emes L’Chanukah, suf reish lamed-aleph).
A recent experience illuminated the search with a candle for the Sanctuary within….
On the coldest November night we had this year in Chicago, a windstorm left many homes without electricity, including ours. We had no power for twelve hours, lasting through the entire night, with no use of telephone lines. Being one who experiences discomfort with power outages, (we once had a power outage for 4 days), I attempted to seek the comfort of the Shechina, and wrote this by candlelight:
I am sitting in utter darkness. With this loss of all electrical power in our home; I am more clearly seeing the Awesome power of Ha Kodesh Baruch Hu. It is cold inside; our power has been out for several hours. It is time to sleep, but it is too cold and too dark. It will be hours until day break and there is no promise as to when our light will return.
This world is compared to darkness. I never understood this until now. In this modern world, where the nights are all lit up, it is hard to distinguish night from day, and day from night, but not now. As I sit in darkness, I am beginning to see that the switch which I need to turn on is the pintelle yid within. As I walk from room to room by flashlight or by candlelight, I realize that my discomfort with the darkness needs to be illuminated by the search for the light of the Shechina within my heart. I recite the Shema and prayers by the candle’s light, to connect me with Hashem’s eternal light.
I begin to take solace in the growing awareness, that I can access the everlasting light of the Shechina, glowing brightly within my soul and within my heart. I want our power to be restored, it is growing colder, I have children, it is Thursday night and I soon need to cook for Shabbos. Yet I am comforted in knowing that through the glowing candle of the mitzvah, doing it with all my koach, and my all my love and Awe of Hashem, illuminated in the eternal light of Torah, I can find my inner Sanctuary. “Though I sit in darkness, Hashem is light to me” (Michah 7:8).
“The soul of man is the candle of G-d” (Mishlei 20:27)”.As Hashem illuminates our soul, our pintelle yid, with His candle of light, we too are His candle, illuminating the world with the light of Torah, filling it with His kiddusha.
Rebuilding The Bais Hamikdosh With Walls Of Fire
“For You Hashem, with fire You consumed her and with fire You will rebuild her, as it is said: “I will be for her, the words of Hashem, a wall of fire around and I will be glorious in her midst.”(Zechariah 2:9, from the Tisha B’Av mincha Shemonei Esrei),
When the outer walls of the second Bais Hamikdosh were destroyed, the walls of the inner Sanctuary’s of Bnei Yisroel had already come down, from the sins of passion (compared to fire), and baseless hatred.
The Torah was given with fire; it is penetrate us and purify us. Fire represents passion, and the desire to move upwards. Yerushalayim is compared to fire, the fire of the alter from the Bais Hamikdash, the fire of our souls ascending to Heaven, yearning to come closer to our Creator. Lahav, the Hebrew word for flame, contains the word leiv, heart. Heitlahavos, enthusiasm, contains both flame and heart.
The rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh will take the same intensity of fire which had brought its walls down; but instead channeled upwards in a positive direction, to nourish and keep the fire of G-dliness forever burning brightly on earth. The fire of Torah mitzvos must be rekindled with the flames of desire to serve Hashem with our entire being, ignited with our yiras Hashem and ahavas Hashem.
When the Divine fireworks of our pintelle yid are ignited, and our inner Sanctuary’s are rebuilt; the outer building will surely come.
This article is dedicated to the rebuilding of the third Bais Hamikdosh. May it please come speedily and with rachamim.
Marsha Smagley resides in Highland Park, Illinois, with her husband and two children. She has devoted the last nine years to studying Torah, becoming observant, guiding her family in Torah life, and recently, writing articles appearing in The Jewish Observer, Kashrus Magazine, Hamodia, Horizons, Binah Magazine, and Yated Ne’eman, which convey her heartfelt journey to Torah.
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