Rest For a Weary Traveler
Do you ever feel lonesome? Utterly alone? With no one to turn to and no one able to understand you? Join the club. Imagine a lonely soul wandering endlessly, with no where to rest his head. Finally the day comes and he finds a place he can call home. Read on and discover the surprising company that loneliness shares. And what you can do to find comfort in a desolate world.
Many, many theories have been posited about G-d. Does He care or does He not care about mankind and earthly matters? How does He allow evil as an all-good G-d? Does He exist in our pain and suffering? Is He a He or a She, neither or both? Does G-d exist and if so why don’t we see Him? Does G-d exist like we exist or in another form?
What type of personality does G-d have? Is He angry, kind or detached?
Then there are the questions about how G-d runs or doesn’t run the universe. Is G-d present and involved in every detail, or has He set the machine in motion, checking in from time to time? Does Divine Providence govern every detail of our lives?
And of course, discussions abound around the purpose of existence. Why did G-d create the universe? What is our role in the picture? Does G-d “gain” anything from our existence?
One can say that all the above is true. G-d manifests in many different ways and expressions, even contrary ones. Indeed, the mystics explain that every possible human “mood” and “state of mind” originates from a Divine source. So though G-d in His essence transcends all definitions and anthropomorphic characteristics, at the same time He is able to generate every possible type of experience.
Considering all these notions about G-d and His all-powerful “personality,” I had this week a profound epiphany about an unexpected dimension of G-d – a “vulnerable” one at that, and one that I believe can offer us great comfort.
While reading this week’s Torah portion, in which G-d commands Moses “build Me a sanctuary and I will rest among them,” a sad thought struck me: How lonely G-d must have been without us? Until the sanctuary was built, G-d in effect was “homeless,” without a place to rest. What could it feel like wandering forever in the infinite past, with no place to call home? In fact, until this verse was communicated we would never have thought that G-d would need a place to “rest.” After all, rest is only for weak mortals. How and why would an omnipotent G-d need to “rest?” But after G-d tells Moses “build Me a sanctuary and I will rest among them,” it becomes glaringly clear that up to that point G-d had no place to rest…
At first glance, we may be inclined to explain that the Divine presence in the Temple was not built for G-d, but for us humans, a place where mere mortals can experience the Divine. All of our lives, and all day long we are involved in our mundane struggle for survival; the holy Sanctuary provides us with a sacred environment where G-d rests among us, offering us just that – sanctuary and protection from our pedestrian lives, where we can rest our weary souls and find some heavenly consolation.
But when read closely, “build Me a sanctuary and I will rest among them,” it is very obvious that the Sanctuary is not just a place for us to meet G-d, but also a place for G-d to “rest” His presence.
This point is only amplified when G-d tells Solomon (the builder of the first temple in Jerusalem): “Heavens and heavens of heavens cannot contain me; only this house can.” How ever you explain it, G-d clearly did not feel at home in the infinite cosmos – despite all their grand and magnificent glory. Until the temple was built on planet Earth G-d did not have a place to “rest.”
“G-d traveled a journey of 500 years to acquire Himself a name,” states a cryptic Midrash (Kohelet Rabba 7:2). Loneliness, it appears, is not merely a mortal concern. The Almighty Himself is in search for “company.”
I find the concept both disturbing and comforting. At times, we all experience moments of existential loneliness. Regardless of all our loved ones, of all our accomplishments and accolades, deep (or not so deep) inside ourselves there is a part that always remain very much alone. We may distract ourselves, party away, get carried off by all types of stimulation and entertainment; but at the end of the day, that silent isolated center beckons from within.
Indeed, the deeper you travel into your innermost recesses, the less anyone can enter that space, the harder it is to express your self, the more alone you are. At your most intimate core, you are all alone.
A lonely verse in the sad book of Kohelet captures the sentiment: “There is one who is alone with no second, and he has neither son nor brother” (Ecclesiastes 4:8).
What then is so comforting about this loneliness? It’s comforting to know that we are not alone in our loneliness. G-d too is very lonely on top, in His core and essence.
This loneliness derives from strength, not weakness, from the fact that G-d is absolutely unique, “He is one, and there is no other like Him.” The same with our core: Our most lonely place – our essence – is a reflection of our profound individuality and inimitability. You are alone in that intimate place not because you are a pariah or because you are loathed; you are alone at your center because you are utterly unique, in a way that no one else can really “get you.”
Your essence may not be a very dramatic place. It does not have the hoopla and fireworks that comes along with all the busy machinations of our lives; it does not have the “party” element that accompanies our social interactions. When we are involved with more outer, superficial levels, we can celebrate and experience these moments with others. But your essence, though it isn’t very colorful, is your unique center, and as such, you experience it alone.
And yet, as special as the Divine Essence may be, G-d traveled on a journey to find “company,” to find a home in which He can rest. Divine revelation manifests in the “heavens and heavens of heavens;” the beauty of nature captures the majesty of the Divine Designer. But, G-d is His lonely Essence, rests and feels at home only in the Sanctuary in Earth.
Same with us: Just like G-d, we are not satisfied with living “within,” isolated and apart from others. We need to build a space that we can call home; a sanctuary where we find respite; an environment where we can finally rest our lonely souls. It’s one thing to find solace in family and friends; it’s quite another to find a comfortable home for the lonely core of our souls.
[The mystics explain that “One who is alone” is the level of the Divine Infinite Light that does not manifest in relationships (“He has neither son nor brother”). The concept of relationships is only in the way the Divine manifests in the finite – in the structure of the ten spheres, the ten building blocks of existence (Ohr HaTorah on Kohelet, p. 1115). However, the ultimate purpose is to unite the infinite and the finite, the “one who is alone” with our relationships].
So the next time you feel all alone, remember two things: You are not alone; your loneliness is shared by every soul and by G-d Himself. Every essence is fundamentally alone.
Second: Build a sanctuary out of your material life, sanctify the money and belongings you were blessed with – and that will provide your lonely essence – and the Essence of the G-d – a warm home in which to rest in comfort.