The Empty Apartment

They had finally arrived. It was the moment he had been waiting for. After 25 years of hard work and dedication for his accounting firm, Sol Puretzky could finally take a sabbatical. His boss happily informed him of this and was even willing to pay some of the expenses for the vacation. Sol decided to spend the year together with his family in Eretz Yisroel. He wanted to imbibe the kedusha of the land, visit gedolim and mekomos hakedoshim, spend much time learning, and in general have a spiritual aliyah. But before he would get absorbed in the ruchniyus, he first had to make sure that the physical accommodations would be just perfect.

He wasn’t aware of the old adage, “mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem,” that to instill the spiritual, you must lower the gashmiyus, the standard of materialism. (An American visiting Eretz Yisroel once saw a sign on a pizza shop in Yerushalayim that proudly declared, “Get the taste of Brooklyn right here!” The fellow said wisely, “If I wanted to taste of Brooklyn, I would have stayed home. I came here to get the pure taste of Yerushalayim.”) Sol wanted to enjoy the best of both worlds, as if that were possible, so he hurried and called an agent who rented out apartments in Yerushalayim.

If he was doing this, he would do it right. Sol wanted a pad with all of the fine amenities. It should have at least five rooms with modern appliances and Wi-Fi capability. It should be in an area where the air is clear, a building with religious neighbors…but not too frum. There should be ample parking spaces and it should be near a shul, with a supermarket in the neighborhood. After some searching, the agent got back to him with just the right selection. They negotiated a price. Sol sent in a down payment and received a signed contract. At the bottom, it said that someone would be there to greet them when they arrived.

The family eagerly prepared for the trip, hardly able to sleep the night before because of the excitement. Carrying the suitcases and belongings was a shlep, but the trip was otherwise pleasant and uneventful. They arrived excitedly at the Lod Airport, hired a car service, and in no time arrived at the proper address. They carried their baggage up the stairs, Sol holding the contract in his hand, remembering that someone would be there to greet them.

Now they stood before the door, anxious to see what the apartment looked like. Sol knocked on the door nervously. At first, there was no answer, so he knocked again. The door opened and a housewife stood there. Seeing the suitcases, she asked surprisingly, “How can I help you?”

Sol was stunned. “What do you mean when you say how can I help you? We rented this apartment.”

When he saw the look of wonder on her face, he showed her the contract. She read it from top to bottom and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about. This has been our residence for many years. Who did you get this from?”

Now he was somewhere between befuddlement and shock. He quickly picked up his phone and called the agent. “Shalom! We got to our apartment, but…”

Shalom Aleichem,” said the agent in a calm and friendly tone. “How do you like the apartment – the five rooms, the fresh air, the neighbors, the parking…exactly what you requested?”

Now Sol was furious.

“But there are people living here!” he screamed.

“What?” said the agent. “Please forgive me, but when you called me to rent a suite, you never mentioned that you wanted an empty one!”

In this week’s sedrah, we learn: “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Speak to the Bnei Yisroel and let them take for Me, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion… They shall make a Mikdosh for Me, so that I may dwell among them’” (Shemos 25:1-8).

Chazal say that the posuk does not say “I may dwell in it, in the sanctuary,” but rather “I may dwell among them.” Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s greatest desire is to dwell in the heart of each and every one of us, but in order for this to happen, there is an important precondition: We must prepare our hearts to be conducive for the Shechinah to be there. We must leave room for Hashem to dwell within us, our hearts cleaned out of anything that would drive Hashem away.

This is why the Torah stresses nedivus haleiv, not merely to be willing to donate to the building of the Mishkon, but to give over our hearts to Hashem, “to perform Your will with a complete heart.”

Who wouldn’t want to have Hashem dwell in their heart?

But are we willing to make it livable? This involves clearing it out of selfishness, anger, arrogance, sinas chinom and other bad middos. When Hashem arrives to the dwelling place and sees that it is already inhabited by these undesirable tenants, He immediately departs (Emunah Shleimah).

L’Dovid bishanoso es taamo – Of Dovid when he changed his demeanor before Avimelech drove him out and he left” (Tehillim 34:1). In this kappitel, Dovid Hamelech thanks Hashem for saving him from Achish, king of Gass, also known as Avimelech. Why do we recite this on Shabbos?

Rav Yaakov Emden quotes the Levush, who says that this story took place on Shabbos and the merit of this holy day protected Dovid from harm. Dovid is the seventh of Klal Yisroel’s shepherds and corresponds with Shabbos, the seventh day of the week. What is the significance of this connection between Dovid and Shabbos?

The whole story of Dovid coming to Achish is very curious. Dovid had fled from Shaul Hamelech and left Eretz Yisroel to the land of Achish, the king of Gass. The servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not Dovid, the king of the land? Is it not of him that they sang with instruments saying, ‘Shaul has slain his thousands and Dovid his tens of thousands?’” Dovid took this matter to heart and was greatly afraid of Achish, king of Gass. So he changed his demeanor in their eyes and he feigned madness in their presence. Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see this man is mad. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack madmen that you have brought this madman to carry on madly before me? Should this person enter my house?” (Shmuel I 12-16).

Why did Dovid leave the holiness of Eretz Yisroel and go to, of all places, the land of Yisroel’s enemies, the Pelishtim? Some suggest that in Eretz Yisroel, he was with him in the clutches of Shaul and would constantly be a fugitive. Out of the land, he might find peace. In addition, this would save Shaul and others from the aveirah of capturing and killing him.

But why of all places to hide?

Rashi (Tehillim 34:1) says that Achish was a tzaddik like his ancestor, Avimelech. In addition, Avimelech had a treaty with Avrohom Avinu that they would not harm each other’s children. Dovid figured that Shaul had already violated an oath he made not to pursue Dovid. But here there was a good chance that Achish would honor the oath made by his grandfather.

Logically, perhaps, it was a good decision, but Hashem told him otherwise. Chazal say that Hakadosh Boruch Hu said to Dovid, “You are fleeing to Achish. Why, just a short time ago you killed Golyas and his brothers are guards for Achish?” (Yalkut Shimoni).

In Eretz Yisroel, despite the dangers, there is special Hashgacha. Whereas in other lands the malach of that particular nation is in charge, in Eretz Yisroel “the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Devorim 11:12). Now Dovid realized that his fleeing Eretz Yisroel was not a good idea. This was reinforced when he heard what the servants of Achish said to him. So Dovid had to rectify his mistake. He realized that fleeing to chutz la’aretz was a lack of bitachon on his part.

“Of Dovid when he changed his demeanor before Avimelech.” The Arizal says that Avimelech also refers to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, the father of all kings. Whereas until now he used poor judgment in leaving Eretz Yisroel, which brought him into a precarious situation, he now negated his intelligence to Hashem. He acted as a madman, acknowledging his mistake before Hashem and declaring that like the fool who is incapable of making rational decisions, he, too, is a fool before Hashem and is totally reliant on Him. Hashem gave him the siyata diShmaya to appear as a real madman and save himself from danger.

This has a connection with Shabbos. During the week, when we work and are preoccupied with our mundane interests, we can easily forget that Hashem runs the world. We think that it’s our effort, our energy and our talents that bring us success. But on Shabbos, when we are able to rest and think clearly, and are able to perceive how helpless we really are and how much we are dependent on Hashem, we are brought back to reality. We are merely like fools in the Hands of Hashem.

It is no wonder, then, that Dovid laid the foundation for the Bais Hamikdosh, for the Bais Hamikdosh is the dwelling place of the Shechinah. Hashem dwells in a place void of arrogance, where people totally subjugate their feelings to Hashem. Dovid, the epitome of a pure heart, of humility, of submission to Hashem, was more fit than anyone to lay the groundwork for the Bais Hamikdosh.

As we enter the month of Adar and prepare for the Yom Tov of Purim, this idea is paramount. Chazal gave us a mitzvah that is so incongruous with how a Yid usually conducts himself. We are required to become inebriated with wine to the extent that we cannot discern between arur Haman and boruch Mordechai (Megillah 7b). What is the meaning of this mitzvah? Its optics are deceiving, for in truth, its essence is full of kedusha.

In Shushan, the Yidden made a mistake that almost cost them dearly. They figured that in golus in a strange land, they had to curry favor with King Achashveirosh. When they were invited to his feast, they saw it as an opportunity to show themselves as loyal citizens. Mordechai implored them not to go, but many of them did not listen. With Haman’s meteoric rise to power and his evil decree, they recognized their mistake. Like animals that are helpless when trapped, they were at a point of despair.

Mordechai commanded Esther to go to Achashveirosh without being summoned to plea on behalf of her people. At first, Esther refused, saying that going on her own was not rational. In the end, however, she yielded her thinking process to the daas Torah of Mordechai. Klal Yisroel followed suit by admitting their mistake. They, too, surrendered their daas to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. They realized that their survival does not depend on their own hishtadlus, but rather that they are totally reliant on Hashem’s help. With this tremendous teshuvah, they yielded their hearts to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Once again His presence was felt amongst them and they merited a yeshuah.

It is no coincidence that with this cleansing of their hearts, they were able to rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh shortly after. This is why the last perek in Maseches Megillah deals with the laws of bais haknesses. The miracle of Purim led to the building of the Bais Hamikdosh, and therefore, after discussing the laws of Purim, we learn the halachos regarding a mikdash me’at.

The Arizal says that there is a commonality between Purim and Yom Hakippurim. On the surface, one cannot find two days of the year that are as different from each other as night and day. But looks can be deceiving, as they both are aiming for the same goal. On Yom Kippur, we make room for Hashem in our midst by abstaining from physical pursuits. On Purim, we clear out our own daas by becoming inebriated. With this, we demonstrate that we are submitting ourselves totally to Hashem, and that, in reality, our ideas and hishtadlus are meaningless without siyata diShmaya.

In this way, we are building our own Bais Hamikdosh. We are clearing our hearts for the Shechinah. This prepares us for Nissan, the beginning of a new cycle of regalim which we celebrate together with Hashem.