Each day of Elul, we recite the 27th Psalm as a way of preparing our hearts for the High Holy Days. Here in the 4th verse the poet seeks only one purpose: to live in God’s house. We know from another Psalm one reason why: Ashrei yoshvei ve’tekha: Happy are those who dwell in Your house. (84:5) As, we seek to live in God’s house because, we do so to achieve happiness.
So how does that all work, and what happens if we don’t come to God’s house? Will happiness elude us? Well, for sure, there are many aspects to one’s life that can lend to or detract from overall happiness. But, if we consider some Jewish basics with respect to both these questions, the answers we find may lead us to a positive and happy outcome.
For example, the idea is that when in God’s house, we engage in meaningful, lifelong Torah study, and that effort, in turn, can lead us to reflect on the power of justice and compassion to transform ourselves and our world. When we prepare our actions with this insight, doing so bodes well for our happiness. When we pray sincerely in God’s house, we ready ourselves spiritually to love our neighbors or to act with chesed, with kindness. And, when we act on these virtues, doing so raises our potential to be happy. And, of course, when we engage in such acts of tikkun olam, we often do feel good about our follow-through, even contented, if we make a lasting difference. We may even help others, especially those we have hurt, feel better about us. And that’s an especially important goal this time of year as we give special focus to teshuvah,returning to our better selves and seeking forgiveness.
Now, is God’s house--is the temple--the primary place to ready ourselves for this pursuit of happiness? Tradition would say, one would think: “Of course!” Indeed, the house of God is a good place to pursue happiness, but the house of God is not solely a synagogue, as many of us might assume. Consider the modern wisdom of Rabbis Olitzky and Sabath:
How wonderful it would be just to remain in God’s presence all day, every day, as the psalmist says: “to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life.” As a matter of fact, we already do. We just don’t realize it. When the Torah was given at Sinai, there was complete silence instead of an anticipated blast of noise. Six hundred thousand people stood at the foot of the mountain in the wilderness of the desert, and no one talked, nothing moved. We didn’t hear the flapping of birds winging their way across the sky. There was total silence unmarred by noise of any kind. Only in this way could everyone hear the divine message. God hasn't stopped speaking to us since that day at Sinai, but there is so much noise in the world that we are prevented from hearing God’s voice.
Being in God’s house is a matter of perspective. For our ancestors, it was the Temple in Jerusalem. For some of us, it’s our synagogue. For some of us, it’s the canopy of nature. Or perhaps, God’s house is even more basic than all these sacred spaces combined, something that belongs to all of us, no matter what era we live in or how we view God. In our commentary, God’s house is the very silence that allows us to listen and respond: to the revelation of Torah at Sinai, to the still, small voice that calls us to our better selves. to the pain we have caused to another, to the call of conscience to say: “I am sorry.”
As we approach the High Holy Days and beyond, may we seek God’s house in the silence that cuts through all the distracting noise of our lives. May we frequent God’s Temple in whatever form it takes for us, and may doing so bring us blessings, like wholeness and happiness.
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!