The Talmud relates that Rebbe Elazar pointed to the verse in the Book of Isaiah, “Let’s ascend the mountain of G-d to the house of the G-d of Yaacov,” and asked, “Why does Isaiah call the Temple in Jerusalem the house of the G-d of Yaacov and not the G-d of our other forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchok?”
Each of our forefathers described the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in their unique way. The Torah relates that Avraham called it a Har – a mountain, Yitzchok referred to it as a Sadeh – a field, and Yaacov as quoted in this week’s portion, called it, Bais E-l – the House of G-d.
Says Rebbe Elazar, Isaiah is teaching us that the preferred description of G-d’s Mountain is a house as Yaacov called it.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. explains that there is a reason that each of our forefathers portrayed the Temple Mount in their unique way.
Avraham, our first forefather, was tested by G-d ten times to determine his total commitment to belief in G-d. When Avraham passed the final test at the binding of his son Yitzchok which took place on the Temple Mount, he called the sacred place a mountain, because he recognized that his life was one of continual spiritual ascent and expressed this by calling the holy place a mountain which he had scaled. However, although great and pious people may have the ability to achieve this great feat, not everyone can do so, and were the Temple location to be called a mountain, one might think that the simple people who cannot climb to such levels of spirituality are excluded. Therefore, “mountain” was not the choicest name.
The Torah tells us that our forefather Yitzchok prayed in the field. Our Sages teach us that this “field” was, in fact, the Temple Mount.
Reb Moshe explains that so many beautiful things can grow in a field. Prayer in a field has the connotation of an open field, which is inclusive and where anyone can pray; it is not reserved for those who have elevated themselves spiritually.
So why didn’t Isaiah settle on the name “field” to best describe the Temple Mount? After all Isaiah himself states, “For My house is the House of prayer for all nations to call”?
Says Reb Moshe, although a field describes how Yitzchok utilized prayer in the best possible and perfect way, there is a drawback to calling the Temple location a field in reference to prayer, because a field is open without parameters and it may cause people to approach prayer in a casual way or format that does not align itself to G-d’s values and mandate.
Isaiah found Yaacov’s portrayal of the Mount as a Bayis – a house – the most suitable. Before entering into a house one has to knock and ask permission to enter. Everyone understands that it is improper to just barge in. A house also has its set policies and guests recognize that they need to conform to them.
Similarly, the appropriate times for prayer, its format, structure, setting, precision, wording, tone, exemptions, and the approach and attitude that our Sages employed when setting up the laws of prayers and a house of prayer has its defined parameters based on our Torah.
An example: Tonight, December 5th, which is sixty-one days after the autumnal equinox, we in the Diaspora, begin inserting a plea to G-d in the ninth blessing of the Amidah, “Send dew and rain for blessing.”
We generally begin reciting this on December 4th at night. However, when the next year will be a solar leap year when an extra day is added to February, we begin this recital one day later.
Our Halacha – law directs us that if one forgets to insert this statement in the Amidah and reminds himself after he concludes the Amidah, he has not fulfilled his prayer obligation and is required to repeat the Amidah prayer.
The Halacha also directs one who remembers that he omitted this statement while he is still in the middle of the Amidah as to how he should proceed without having to repeat the entire Amidah.
An interesting idea: When we fulfill Mitzvos, for example, listening to the Shofar, waving the lulav, or wearing Tefillin, we do not become united with the object of the Mitzvah, rather we have fulfilled a Mitzvah as the Torah commands. However, there are certain Mitzvos where we ourselves become an integral part of the Mitzvah and we are depicted by and associated with the Mitzvah to which we have been committed.
For example: When one employs the power of prayer during the course of his day, his essence becomes a prayer, just as King David stated, ‘Vani Tefila’ – I am a Tefilla – a prayer.
With one’s commitment to the observance of Shabbos, he attains holiness and closeness to the Almighty, and he is recognized and identified as a Shomer Shabbos.
When one commits himself to the study of Torah he is called a Ben Torah.
When one returns to his spiritual roots, he becomes a Baal Teshuvah.
When one is committed to disbursing Tzadaka he becomes known as a Baal – master of Tzedaka.
Finally, when one displays good character traits, conducts himself with modest behavior, speaks and responds in a pleasant way, he is classified as a Baal Midos – one who is in control over himself!
Attaining these virtues is indicative that we are the precious descendants of the saintly Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov!