A House Large Enough For God?

In this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Terumah, God instructs the Jews to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), a place of worship upon which God will bestow His presence. The Midrash says (Bamidbar Rabbah, 12:3) that when Moshe (Moses) heard this commandment from God, Moshe was bewildered and said, “Who can build a house for God? God is larger than the entire world!” God answered him, “It is true that it is impossible for even the entire universe to contain My glory. But I’m not asking you to build a home according to My abilities. All I’m asking is that you do what you can, and build a small Tabernacle, according to the details I will prescribe to you.”

Don’t Do It All, But Do What You Can

The Chofetz Chaim takes this exchange as a lesson for life. Sometimes a person can feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities the Torah places upon him. There is no end to how much a person has to accomplish in his service of God. But God says to a person that he need not worry. God is not demanding that which is beyond a person’s abilities. All God wants of us is that we do what we can do, and leave the rest to Him.

This principle is taught in Pirkei Avot (2:16), as it says, “The job is not upon you to complete, but nor are you free to absolve yourself from it.” Rabbeinu Yonah in his commentary says that the Mishnah is telling us this exact point. One might say that the Torah is so vast and it’s too much to study, so there is no point in even trying. And even if he is willing to study some Torah, it would be a minimal amount. To this, the Mishnah is saying, you don’t have to complete it all, but you’ve got to give it all that you can, and God will help you succeed.

There Must Be Something!

Rabbi Uri Zohar, who started out as a non-observant, famous Israeli entertainer, wrote about his process in becoming a Torah-observant Jew. He had come to an understanding on an intellectual level that the Torah is true and that he should be committed to keeping it. But on an emotional level, he felt completely disconnected from the idea of living a religious life. He felt that it was impossible and out of the question to practically embrace a commitment to a Torah life. He simply could not make such a drastic change to his life.

But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that there must be something he could commit to undertake. Perhaps he couldn’t accept a full commitment to following all the laws of the Torah, but was there truly nothing at all that he could take upon himself? He decided that he could not excuse himself from not doing anything at all, unless he actually made an attempt to keep at least one mitzvah (Torah law) which would be relatively easy to do. After much pondering, he finally resolved to keep one mitzvah. One easy mitzvah, which he would be permanently and sincerely committed to.

He decided to observe lighting one candle every Friday evening, and to make the proper blessing on it. One thing led to another, and he starting realizing that there were more mitzvot which he had the strength to keep. He kept on adding more and more mitzvot to his commitment, until he indeed turned his life around and became fully observant.

Break It Down to a Small Commitment and God Will Help You

Rabbi Zohar concludes his story by saying that this is a strategy for anyone who wants to be a true servant of God. It might be overwhelming to think about all that one ideally should do. But that’s not an excuse. Break it down to a small commitment which you can comfortably say that you can sustain, and start with that. Do what you can, and God will help you along.

As Rabbi Zohar points out, God is our loving Father. He understands that there may be Torah commitments and levels which are beyond our reach, and He will not hold it against us for not attaining them. But on the other hand, it is extremely disrespectful for a child to disregard his father’s wishes completely and not even try.

Everyone has an area of observance in which they are challenged and need improvement. We often feel overwhelmed and say, “This is just too hard for me to do; there is no point in even trying.” But this is a mistake. It may be overwhelming to conquer the challenge at hand completely, but there must be some level of improvement which is within your reach. God is not demanding the impossible. But God does expect to see that we are putting in our sincere effort and doing what we really can do. We just need to do what we can, and we can leave the rest to Him.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber torah4every1@gmail.com

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