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 At first glance it may appear that the commitment between God and Avraham described in the opening words of this week's Torah reading is in the nature of a singular and one-off event. There are various interpretations amongst scholars of Israel and the commentators to the Torah as to the level of prophecy that our father Avraham attained. The appearance of angels in the form of human wanderers and their message to Avraham and Sarah is itself the subject of very different interpretations by the generations of scholars of Israel.

However we understand the matter and whatever interpretation we will adopt, it is clear that for Avraham, the presence of God in Avraham’s daily existence and even mundane behavior was a constant reality. It is not that God appears to him suddenly and unexpectedly on this hot desert day but rather Avraham sensed the Divine Presence in his life on a constant and permanent basis.
In the house of our founding ancestors the presence of God was always an overriding factor that influenced their behavior and their worldview. Thus the opening words of this week's Torah reading described for us a permanent feature of the house of Avraham and Sarah. In their hearts and minds, in their behavior and attitudes, they were always dealing with the presence and appearance of God. The Torah is describing for us not a one-time singular event but rather the single most vital attribute that made Avraham the father of all nations and with Sarah, the parents of the Jewish people.
When dealing with the construction of the mishkan/tabernacle, the Torah is careful to point out to us that the Lord, so to speak, intends to dwell not in a building but rather within the hearts and souls of the people of Israel. The goal of Judaism has always been to foster and cement a permanent relationship, one that is deeply felt and viscerally experienced, between the Creator and the created.
One of the most characteristic features of Jewish life and society during the long centuries of exile and persecution was the fact that even the simplest Jew, relatively unlearned and certainly not a talmudic scholar, nevertheless experienced this deep connection with God. Tevye, the poor and harried dairyman, needs no intermediaries or appointments to speak to God. For him, as for millions of other Jews throughout history, God was a member of the family, so to speak.
He was to be found in their homes and shops, their barns and fields. He was a permanent presence in their lives. In our more sophisticated milieu, God has become a much more distant and less intimate figure to us. We have relegated Him to the synagogue and the study hall and even then only for certain hours of the day or for certain circumstances in our lives.
The rabbis taught us that there is a demand made upon us to emulate Avraham and Sarah in our own lives. That demand is not restricted only to behavior and actions but rather to the recognition that the relationship we have with God is constant and omnipresent -wherever we are and whatever tasks in life occupy us.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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