February 17, 2021

Pesachim 88

Today’s daf (Pesachim 88a) references how each of the three patriarchs referred to Mount Moriah – which was to become the location of the Temple – in three different ways. Specifically, Avraham referred to this location simply as a mountain (see Bereishit 22:14); Yitzchak referred to it as a field (see Bereishit 24:63), while Yaakov referred to it as a house (see Bereishit 28:19). But what is the significance of each of these three terms?
Over the years, many different commentaries have suggested various interpretations to these three perspectives. Here, I would like to share the interpretation offered by Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum (1760-1832) in his ‘Emet L’Yaakov’, while then adding my own twist in terms of how I think religion and those who are religious are perceived by others today.
Rabbi Lorberbaum writes that Avraham referred to it as a ‘mountain’ because, ‘at that time, the awareness of God’s presence was very distant and was comparable to a mountain whereby, if you are standing on a mountain and looking downwards, [everything looks very distant]’.
He then explains that Yitzchak referred to it as a ‘field’, thereby reflecting the greater awareness of God’s presence in his time, and as expressed by a field to which ‘its owner makes semi-frequent visits’.
And he then explains that Yaakov referred to it as a ‘house’, which reflects a permanent awareness of God’s presence – as expressed by a house which is a permanent home.
Applying this interpretation to today, I have encountered many people who think that individuals who have chosen to increase their awareness of God’s presence in their life through increasing their religious practice are all about creating separation and distance. They perceive such people as those who have ascended a spiritual mountain and who, from their high spiritual perch, often look down at others who have not gone on a similar journey. For them, God awareness and religious practice is something distant, and it represents those who are – or who think they are – on a higher spiritual plane.
Then, there are those who think that individuals who have chosen to increase their awareness of God’s presence in their life are comparable to those who have purchased a field in order to grow their own produce. Like an owner of a field, such people are sometimes distant and sometimes present, and while those who are not involved in agriculture may not fully understand the lifestyle of those who are, like a field, those who have increased their religious practice are generally more grounded.
And then there are those who have chosen to increase their awareness of God’s presence in their life who are perceived as people who live in a house. Unlike a mountain which is high up, or a field which is located outside of the city, houses are generally located near other houses, and their uniqueness is less about they look from the outside, than what occurs on the inside. And what impresses and inspires others who are looking to those who have adopted a house-like religious lifestyle? It is the permanence, the commitment and the loyalty of the religious person to the laws and values of the Torah.
Sadly, I often meet people who were taught to think that their religious growth required them to dislocate themselves from others and look down at others (like a mountain), or separate themselves from others and only be partially present in their lives (like a field).
But what we can learn from today’s daf is that religious growth can, and ideally should, occur while using the model of a house, which requires neither aloofness or distance from others. Instead, it simply requires the pursuit of God awareness, and the commitment and loyalty to live according to the laws and values of God.
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