God wants us to be holy, but He also wants us to be human beings and enjoy the world that He created for our pleasure and enjoyment.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26), which begins the book of Leviticus in the Torah reading cycle.
The reading opens with God calling out to Moses and issuing the rules relating to offerings and animal sacrifices. Animal sacrifices were offered in the Tabernacle in the desert and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, animal sacrifices are no longer offered in Judaism and are replaced by prayers.
Noting how God would frequently call out to Moses at any time of the day, the , (rabbinic literature) says, “Rabbi Yochanan said, God only reveals Himself to idolatrous prophets at night, which is the time of day when people separate from one another, as it is written ‘God came to Avimelech in a dream at night.'” [Gen. 20:3]. So, too, “God came to Balaam at night.” [Num. 22:20]. However, God reveals Himself to non-idolatrous prophets during the day, as it is written, “And he [Abraham] sat at the opening of the tent in the heat of the day.” [Gen. 18:1]
What’s the message here? Why is the Midrash giving us God’s time clock regarding his communication with different types of prophets? Is there anything we can learn here?
It is explained that the Midrash is teaching us one of the differences between Judaism and other religions. Most religions teach that the material and physical world must remain separate from the spiritual world orr that there is nothing spiritual to be found in the material world. Indeed, such faiths generally teach that if a person wants to reach high levels of spirituality, he or she must separate from the physical and material world. This shows itself in various ways, such as living in seclusion or maintaining celibacy. Many believe that the further you stay away from the material world, the holier you can become.
Judaism teaches just the opposite. The Torah teaches us that a person can become spiritual by enjoying and sanctifying the physical and material. God wants us to be holy, but He also wants us to be human beings and enjoy the world that He created for our pleasure and enjoyment. For example, food can be abused or used to sanctify a Shabbat or holiday meal. Clothes speak volumes about the attitude and direction of a person. Alcohol can be used for ritual matters or abused in purely social ones. Intimacy can be immoral, or it can be sacred within the confines of marriage. This is the case with everything in life. By doing everything in life with a Godly attitude, with a desire to Him, we become close to Him.
This is why the Midrash tells us that God appeared to idolatrous prophets at night. Night is a time when people are less involved with the material world. It’s “after hours.” Only when separated from the world can clergymen of various faiths become close to God. According to Judaism, however, we can become close to God even at midday, when occupied with all our material pursuits.
For other insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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