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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on November 12, 2021

Many of us are used to going to synagogue. Some of us to temple. But unfortunately, both of these words don’t quite capture the essence of what we are doing when we go there. Synagogue means a place to gather together. This captures one element of it in that it is a place where the community unites. However, it misses what the community is uniting to do. A temple may be closer to the reality as it discusses the ideas of a consecrated space, the word ‘temp’ coming from cutting away. This is somewhat consistent with the notion of holiness. Both of these terms are not vision of what our forefathers had in mind when they were thinking about the ultimate place of worship.

The Talmud states that each forefather had a different vision for what vision they had for where the holy temple would stand one day. There was Avraham who brought Isaac to be sacrificed at Har Moriah- a mountain top. In contrast, it says that Isaac went out to a field to speak to the lord. The commentaries say that the field was also the future spot of the holy temple. Finally, Jacob calls the place a house which is the name that sticks ultimately. The question is what is the evolution of the names: from mountain, to field, to house and what different relationship do these names express?

A mountain is natural and dramatic part of the environment. When next to a mountain a person feels small and insignificant. Avraham saw that behind the world there was an infinite creator who wanted to give and created a world where that was possible. The job of a human being was to accept that love. The next level was Isaac who saw a field. A field is a partnership in that in order to make things grow, a tremendous amount of labor needs to go into it. But even then, without rain and favorable conditions things may still not grow. The second level of revelation is not just as a receiver but also a contributer. Finally, there is a house. A house is a man made structure that requires man’s ingenuity to make it happen. In that situation, to see the divine in that is most difficult in that it appears to attest to man’s greatness, not G-d's. What Jacob saw is that man’s greatness is not really a product of human ingenuity but is also a divine gift. That is the most difficult, and yet the deepest vision of the divine. To see the divine inside one’s self and to see one’s creativity as external to one’s self is the deepest vision one can have.