blog | about | contact | origins | help
BLOG

For the Glory of God or Man

Share Share
Or: Religious Epiphany at Versailles
 
Two weeks ago, my husband and I went to Paris for a few days. Since we were Parisian neophytes, we had to do all the required Famous Things: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, baguettes. One of our favorite days was visiting Versailles, a palace built by Louis XIV. For about 100 years during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Palace of Versailles was the seat of power in France. Then French Revolution happened and put a bloody end to all that. (And when you get a load of Versailles, you totally understand why the people revolted.)
 
As we walked through room after breathtaking room, we felt an overwhelming, jaw-dropping awe. The intricate artwork, high ceilings, ornate furniture, the gilded everything, the outlandish size (except for, weirdly, the beds. Does anyone know about this? Were 17th century French people unusually short?) The sheer amount of space, money and stuff used to build this place was unreal. We walked into one room, a ballroom. The room was long and high, lined with sparkling chandeliers and opulent mirrors framed in—what else?—gold. We joked that this would make a great seder room, able to accommodate all of our guests with ease.
 
As we moseyed through the ball/seder room, my husband commented: “Warning: Deep thought.” (It’s common courtesy to warn of imminent profundity). “This feeling we have of awe? This is probably the emotion people used to have seeing the Beit HaMikdash.” I looked around, and all the words I had read and all the times I had learned about the Beit HaMikdash—its magnificence, beauty, etc. etc.—suddenly crystallized. I was able to connect on a more emotional, visceral level to what we had and what we lost. It was like a tiny glimpse into the ancient “wow!” moment that must have happened when Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem first laid eyes on the Temple.  
 
And yet, as we say when we compare something holy to something well, less holy, “lehavdil.” The reasons behind the creation of the two buildings could not be further apart. Versailles was a luxury home, built to serve the whims and indulgences of men and women. The Beit HaMikdash, conversely, was built as a place for the Jewish nation to gather and serve God, a “home” for God among His people. As the Torah says, “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham/Build a house for Me and I will dwell in your midst.”
 
Standing there in the beautiful room reminded me of what it means to live a Jewish life. The beauty and challenge of living within the framework of Judaism is to channel our resources—talents, money, energy—not simply toward our needs, but for a higher purpose (or, Higher Purpose, perhaps). We don’t build palaces—we build Temples, shuls and mikvahs. Instead of ornate gowns, the Torah describes in detail the exquisite clothing worn by the kohanim, the priests who did the work in the Beit HaMikdash. We do our fanciest cooking for Shabbat, we expend time and energy for the shul and school, we buy new clothes for chag and make sure our etrog is blemish free. We give to others (monetarily or otherwise), not as an afterthought but as a guiding principle in our lives. When we buy a house, we’re not only looking for a nice playroom, but we ask: Is there space for a sukkah? Is it close to the shul? Is there room to handle all our seder guests? (Gold mirrors and crystal chandeliers optional). Our Jewish needs—halachic, cultural and social—are often more important than our “regular” needs.
 
You can learn a lot about people by how they use what they have. Knowing that our own desires are not the pinnacle of existence shifts our worldview (and how we channel our resources) from us-centric to God-centric. 

Share Share

 
 
 
 
 

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Delivered by FeedBurner

Jewish Values Online

Home | Search For Answers | Ask A Question | About | Contact Us | OriginsUseful Links | Blog | Help | Site Map

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
 
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.