Friday, March 16, 2012

Words to the Graduating Musmakhim, YCT Dinner, March 11, 2012

Aaron, Gabe, Mordechai, Ari, Simon, Dani, Mikey, and Josh, my dear students,

Vi'asu li Mikdash, And you shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and vi'shamru Benei Yisrael et haShabbat, And the Children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat. Shabbat and Mikdash - these two sources of kedusha are the focus of the latter half of the book of Shemot.   It is by keeping Shabbat and building the Mishkan that we bring holiness into our lives.

But the holiness of Shabbat and the holiness of Mikdash are of a different sort. Shabbat - as Rav Soloveitchik explains - is the bringing of God into our lives, come o Bride, come o Bride. We welcome Shabbat into our homes, we bring Shabbat into our week. To enter the Mikdash, in contrast, is to enter into God's place, to leaving our home, to make aliyah li'regel, to go up to the Temple Mount and enter into sanctified space.

Of these two, the kedusha of Shabbat is primary. It was commanded first, and it takes precedence over the building of the Mishkan.   The foundational kedusha is the kedusha that we bring into our lives, it is the kedusha that we bring to how we wake up in the morning, how we speak to our spouse or our children, how we are at work, how we pray, how we learn, how we live. It is the structure and details of halakha, it is the Torah values that imbue our lives. It is the kedusha that is the very fabric of our existence.

And yet. And yet this kedusha is not enough. For this kedusha does not answer the deeper questions - what is the purpose of all of this? Why observe? Towards what end? For this, we must strive to transcend the day to day, li'Shikno tidrishu, we must seek out God's presence, God's purpose; we must seek out God. For this we need the kedusha of the Mikdash, a kedusha of purpose and direction, a kedusha of vision.

As a people we have excelled in the kedusha of Shabbat, in bringing God into our homes. This is the foundation of what you have learned during your years in the yeshiva - Halakha, Gemara, pastoral counseling, and lifecycle events. You have immersed yourselves in this study, you have worked hard these last four years, and you have emerged eminently prepared as soon-to-be rabbis. You will shine in your roles, bringing holiness and connectedness, practice and meaning into people's daily lives, into their days, their months, their years.
At this we excel. But what we as a people have largely forgotten is the other kedusha, the kedusha of the Mikdash, the kedusha of purpose.

For so long we have been asking ourselves questions of "what" and "how" that we have forgotten to ask the question of "why?" And if we fail to ask "why" then even our "what" will suffer. Our observance will become empty and rote. It will become self-referential and lose its moorings in the real world.   It will become an observance that can advise receiving organs, but not donating them; it will become an observance that will put eight-day-old infants' lives at risk to uphold a non-essential practice; it will become an observance that valorizes the marginalization of women, of gays, of non-Jews, rather than to denounce and deplore it. It will become an observance that risks losing all claim to the concept of kedusha.

We must re-embrace the centrality of Mikdash, the striving towards a higher purpose. We must ask ourselves the hard questions: towards what are striving, towards what are we reaching? Does the Torah have anything to say to about our larger engagement with the world, and if so, what?   Where should we be headed as a people? Where should we be headed as members of the human race?

My dear talmidim - this is what brought you to YCT. Anchored in observance, in Torah, in the holiness of every day, you were nevertheless driven by a passion and a vision. A passion to serve Klal Yisrael, and a vision, unique to each one of you, a vision of how we must strive, a vision of where we need to go.

You will be our religious leaders, you will be our teachers of Torah and halakha, you will be our rabbis. Bring to us, your future students, your future communities, the dual message of Shabbat and Mikdash. Vi'Shamru Benei Yisrael et haShabbat, teach us the foundational kedusha, the eternal covenant. Teach us the holiness and warmth that comes from a kedusha that is part of each day, part of each week. But teach us also the passion and the fire that transcends the day to day. Vi'assu li Mikdash, teach us how to live a life of purpose, a life of striving, liShikhno tidrishu, to seek out God, u'vatah shama, so that we may not only bring God into our lives, but also bring our lives that much closer to God.

Mazel Tov!

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