Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
From a Tent to a House - Yaakov's Journey
The name "Bais Yaakov - the house of Yaakov" has become synonymous with the Jewish People. Yaakov's efforts to build the foundation of the Jewish People are related in the parshios of Vayeitzei and Vayishlach. There is another house that Yaakov built in these parshios. Parshas Vayeitzei begins with his promise to build a house for Hashem upon his return to Eretz Yisrael and Parshas Vayishlach concludes with the fulfillment of this commitment. Chazal comment that unlike Avraham and Yitzchak who liken the future location of the Beis Hamikdash to a mountain and a field, Yaakov calls it a home. It is this term that becomes the permanent name, as we refer to the Beis Hamikdash which is built on the Har Habayis. What is the significance of a house that plays such a vital role in Yaakov's existence and particularly in his relationship with Hashem?
The emphasis on a house was not always part of Yaakov's life. Yaakov is described as a dweller of tents, which Chazal interpret to refer to the tents of the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. In his youth, Yaakov relates to Hashem through the vehicle of a tent, yet in later years he serves Hashem in a house. This model of transformation from tent to the house is not only found in the personal life of Yaakov. The Jewish People in their youth worship Hashem in a tent-like structure, i.e. the Mishkan, which is referred to as a tent. It is only centuries later when the tent of the Mishkan is replaced with the house known as the Beis Hamikdash. How does a house differ from a tent and why is it crucial that both Yaakov and his descendants incorporate aspects of the world of tents and of houses into their Avodas Hashem?
A tent conjures up the image of being temporary. It is a dwelling place for those who are traveling and have not yet set down their roots. In contrast, a house is a symbol of prominence. The Mishkan was a tent as it was dismantled and reassembled as the Jewish People traveled through the desert. Although the Mishkan was endowed with sanctity, as soon as it was moved from its location it lost its holiness. Even the sanctity of the location of the Mishkan in the city of Shiloh, which housed the Mishkan for 369 years, was only temporary. After the Mishkan was destroyed, Shiloh lost its unique status. Only Yerushalayim, which housed the Beis Hamikdash, would take on the status of a permanent sanctuary. The Beis Hamikdash was not a tent but a house in the fullest sense.
In Tehillim, Dovid HaMelech describes his yearning to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days if his life and to visit the sanctuary of Hashem. These two requests seem contradictory. How can one simultaneously live somewhere permanently and yet merely be a visitor? Obviously the optimal reality in avodas Hashem is to be in Hashem's presence all the time. Yet, there is a danger in such an existence since we tend to take for granted things that we constantly have; we lose enthusiasm if we no longer view something as being fresh and new. Dovid is beseeching Hashem to enable him to serve Him on a constant basis with the excitement of a first time experience. He wants to be a dweller all of his days yet never lose the passion of a visitor.
Yaakov begins his avodas Hashem in the world of the tent. The freshness and excitement that accompanies one on his travels are found in the tents and Shem and Ever. As Yaakov gets older, he must build a permanent home for his family to serve Hashem. Nevertheless, he must draw inspiration from the days of his youth. As Dovid Hamelech taught us, he must live in a house with the enthusiasm of a tent. The tent and the house of Yaakov becomes the model from his descendants. They first construct a tent and then endow the house of Hashem with the enthusiasm of the Mishkan in the now permanent structure.
This message speaks to many of us at different stages of life. Those who are still in the tents of Torah in their youth should continue to thrive and grow with the enthusiasm of youth. Many of us have reached the stage in which we are building structures of permanence for ourselves and our families. At this critical period, we can sometimes lose sight of our original goals in life which we may have formulated during our years in the tents. The challenges of daily life can make it difficult to approach avodas Hashem with the excitement of youth. Yet, we must rise to the challenge. If we do not create a permanent structure of avodas Hashem with the enthusiasm of our youth, our structure will be hollow and devoid of meaning. Let us turn to our great models from the past who taught us how to thrive in both the tents and houses of Torah. Let us turn to Hashem with a sincere plea to be able to dwell in His house all of the days of our lives and still remain like visitors in His home.