As the Book of Vayikra draws to a close, the Torah describes the consequences of obedience or disobedience to Hashem’s will. This is the Tochecha, the Admonitions.
The Parshah begins with the Blessings, which will ensue If in My statutes you will walk, and keep My commandments, and do them (Vayikra 26:3). We are given a description of the ideal state of life of the people of Israel in their land, having embraced Hashem’s commandments enthusiastically and lovingly. There will be prosperity and peace, contentment and security, culminating in the Divine Presence dwelling among the people of Israel: And I will place My dwelling (MISHKANI) in your midst, and My Soul will not reject (TIG’AL) you. Then I will walk about (V’HITHALACHTI) in your midst; I shall be for you as G-d, and you shall be for Me as a people (verses 11- 12).
How are we to visualize this state of existence? Is it attainable in this world? Has it ever been achieved? Furthermore, what is the meaning of the different elements of this description? First, And I will place MISHKANI cannot refer to the Mishkan (Sanctuary) built in the desert, since our passage clearly refers to the future. We have therefore translated it as My dwelling. Rashi insists that MISHKANI refers to the Temple (Beit HaMikdash).
Especially troublesome however is the mention of not “rejecting” us, as Rashi explains: and My Soul will not reject (TIG’AL) – My spirit will not be disgusted with you. … But, doesn’t this somehow spoil an otherwise idyllic description?
Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) explains these verses in thisworldly terms: And I will place My dwelling (MISHKANI) in your midst and My Soul will not reject (TIG’AL) you. Under even the best of circumstances, there will always be some Jews of disreputable behavior, but the Shechinah will remain in their midst in the merit of the majority. He treats them as a father would, not rejecting all his children just because one of them has offended him. Thus, the souls of those few wrongdoers will not leave them (Haamek Davar understands My Soul as the soul Hashem has granted us). For example, when King Shlomo married the daughter of Pharaoh, a certain amount of disobedience to the Torah occurred; nevertheless, because the people in general obeyed the Torah, the kingdom was wise, powerful and prosperous. Then I will walk about (V’HITHALACHTI) in your midst. There are two dimensions to Divine Providence: the general presence of Hashem provided via the Sanctuary (My dwelling in your midst); and His particular care which “walks” about, circulating from one to the other, extended to each individual according to his deeds.
I shall be for you as G-d when you will accept My authority willingly and joyfully, and you shall be for Me as a people because even national matters will be conducted for My sake; you will analyze every act of state, asking whether it is in accordance with My Will.
Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877) continues this line of thinking. I shall be for you as G-d, and you shall be for Me as a people describes a state of complete intimacy between Hashem and the righteous, portrayed by the prophet Yechezkel (37:26-28). The Midrash (Torat Kohanim 3:4) compares their relationship to that of a king and the caretaker of his orchard. The two went for a walk in the orchard, but the caretaker wanted to hide himself, out of shame before his sovereign. Said the king: “Why do you hide? Behold I am just like you!” Malbim explains this declaration on two levels: a) The righteous are Hashem’s full partners in the preservation of the world, for although He is Creator, it is only by their deeds that the world is sustained; b) He will guide and watch over them directly.
Rashi adapts this allegory to create a vision of the future: Then I will walk about (V’HITHALACHTI) in your midst – I will walk with you in the Garden of Eden like one of you, yet you will not be shocked (MIZDA’Z’IM) by Me. However, lest you think that you will not revere (TI’R’U) Me, the verse concludes, I shall be for you as G-d. Note how Rashi characterizes the awe of the righteous in the presence of Hashem. Reverence (YIR’AH) is the desirable goal, but shock and dismay (ZI’AZU’A) is undesirable. What is the difference?
Be’er Basadeh (commentary on Rashi by R. Meir Binyamin Menachem Danon, 19th Century) points out that the image of the king and the caretaker strolling in the orchard is reminiscent of Adam’s and Eve’s reaction to Hashem after their sin: And they heard the sound of Hashem G-d walking about (MITHALECH) in the cool of the day. And the man and his wife hid themselves from before Hashem G-d in the midst of the trees of the garden (Bereishit 3:8). They tried to hide, because they were ashamed of their sin. Ideally, fear of Heaven is unaffected by the shame that makes one want to hide; rather, one is filled with reverence, humility and sobriety.
Rambam (“Laws of the Foundations of the Torah” 2:2) describes this level of YIR’AH, which emerges from the desire to be close to Hashem: “One recoils immediately and is afraid, knowing that he is a small, lowly, murky creature, standing with his slight, limited knowledge before the One of Perfect Knowledge.” And, as R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914-2005) of blessed memory, points out in Alei Shur, the Rambam teaches that true YIR’AH of Hashem leads to a deeper understanding of ourselves.
This, then is the ideal future: The people of Israel, gladly fulfilling Hashem’s Torah in the Land of Israel. It is a state of perfect self-knowledge, as Israel walks side-by-side with G-d.