I Shall Come to You and Bless You

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Yitro, after the dramatic pronouncement of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, the Torah, once again, strongly warns the people against idol worship.

In order to discourage alien worship, the Torah commands the building of an altar made of earth and stone, where the people are to properly worship. In Exodus 20:21, the Torah states,  מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת שְׁלָמֶיךָ, אֶת צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת בְּקָרֶךָ, בְּכָל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ, An Altar of earth shall you make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt-offerings and your peace-offerings, your sheep and your oxen; wherever I cause My Name to be mentioned I shall come to you and bless you.

The Da’at Sofrim explains that one should not incorrectly conclude that, just because the Divine Presence does not dwell among idols that are the handiwork of man, there are no sacred places. To the contrary, there are sacred places in the land of Israel where the Divine Presence does indeed dwell. However, legitimate holy places may not be designated by humans, as is the practice of the gentiles who designate mountains, valleys and trees for worship. Only those places where G-d Himself chooses to place His Name and allow His Divine Presence to dwell, only those are to be considered holy and blessed places.

The Yalkut May’am Lo’ez notes that the Hebrew word הַמָּקוֹם, in the verse,  בְּכָל הַמָּקוֹם, in every place, has an extraneous letter ״ה״ (“Hay”). This letter refers to the five sacred places in the land of Israel, where the Divine Presence will dwell: the portable Tabernacle in the wilderness, the first permanent sanctuary in Shiloh, the first Temple, the second Temple and eventually the third Temple. Only in these five places may the ineffable name of G-d be pronounced.

Commenting on the words of the verse, בְּכָל הַמָּקוֹם, “Wherever I cause My Name to be mentioned, I shall come to you and bless you,” the Talmud in Sukkah 53a states in the name of the sage, Hillel, that the Al-mighty announces to the Jewish people, “If you come to My home, I will come to your home. And if you do not come to My home, I will not come to your home.” This is understood to mean that if the Jews come to G-d’s home–attend synagogues and houses of study, then He will come to their homes and bless them.

The Talmud in Sotah 38a states that the extra ״ה״ (“Hay”), in the word הַמָּקוֹם, implies that G-d will come to the Jewish people in His Temple, whether it will be a temporary or permanent location.

Commenting on the verse, בְּכָל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת שְׁמִי, “Wherever I cause My Name to be mentioned I shall come to you and bless you,” the Talmud Yerushalmi, in Brachot 4:4, notes that the verse does not use the second person form, תַּזְכִּיר  (“Tazkir”), that you will cause My Name to be mentioned, but אַזְכִּיר  (“Azkir”), implying that I [G-d] will cause My Name to be mentioned. From here the rabbis deduce that a person should always pray in a place that is especially designated for prayer. Therefore, “Wherever I cause My Name to be mentioned” means that, in sacred places and even in houses of worship, there must always be special places that are designated for prayer.

The Yalkut May’am Lo’ez points out that the word אַזְכִּיר (“Az’kir”) is first person, singular, implying that the Al-mighty Himself will pronounce the Name. Therefore, in ancient times, on Yom Kippur, when the priest pronounced the ineffable name of G-d, the amplified sound of G-d’s own voice was heard, making it possible for all of the People of Israel to hear, even those who were standing far from the Holy of Holies. G-d will also aid the High Priest to pronounce the Name properly.

The Talmud in Brachot 6a learns another lesson from the verse, “Wherever I cause My Name to be mentioned, I shall come to you and bless you.” Though Jewish tradition encourages group learning rather than individual learning, even a single person who sits and studies Torah will find the Divine Presence in his midst. We also learn that those who study Torah are permitted to pronounce the verses using the actual sacred names of G-d.

Perhaps the major lesson to be learned from this verse is that the Al-mighty stands ready to help those who make the effort to draw closer to Him. This concept is reminiscent of the statement of the Kotzker Rebbe. When the Rebbe was asked, Where do you find G-d? He answered, “Wherever you let Him in!”

It is incumbent upon everyone who wishes to find G-d to make the effort to draw closer to the Divine and to open the door. This will allow the Divine Presence to enter, envelope His people with His great love, and bless them with the special blessing of the Divine Presence.

May you be blessed.