Yitro: Holy Places

…in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.(Shemot 20:21)
Sinai was sacred
when the Torah was transmitted:
it radiated holiness
like a fire too hot to approach.
Here was the place
where we encountered God:
celestial sparks
showered down upon us.
Sinai is hallowed no longer
but wherever we retrieve a spark,
walking in holy ways,
there God will come to meet us.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk* taught that Mount Sinai possessed no intrinsic holiness, nor acquired it by virtue of the theophany: the mountain was a place where God and human beings reached out to each other. The people were warned to stay away from the mountain before the giving of the Torah and afterwards they and their flocks could go up on the mountain again (Shemot 19:12-13).
The Etz Hayim commentary of the JPS reflects on this verse that feeling God’s presence is not limited to Mount Sinai. Wherever we invoke God’s name, God promises to be with us and bless us. Spirituality, we learn, is not confined to any particular place.

*Rabbi Meir Simcha ha-Kohen of Dvinsk (1843–1926) was a rabbi and prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. He is known for his writings on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, which he called Ohr Samayach, as well as his novellae on the Torah, entitled Meshech Chochma.
R’ Meir Simcha was born in Butrimonys Lithuania, to Samson Kalonymus, a local wealthy merchant. Educated locally he somehow was able to evade the perodic roundups of Jewish boys. At age 17 he married and settled in Białystok, Poland, where he was supported by his wife, who opened a business to support him while he continued his Talmudic studies. After 23 years, and after refusing many offers, he accepted the rabbinate of the mitnagdim (non-hasidic Jews) in the Latvian town of Dvinsk, now known as Daugavpils. There he received visitors from the whole region, and was frequently consulted on issues affecting the wider community in Poland and Lithuania. He served in that position for 39 years until his death.
In Dvinsk, his counterpart was the hasidic Rabbi Yosef Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Gaon. The two had a great respect for each other, despite Rosen’s legendary fiery temper, and on occasions referred questions in Jewish law to each other. They also shared a love for the works of Maimonides.


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