In an act of unprecedented ostentatiousness, Gerald Guterman chartered the famous ocean liner, the QE2, along with its one thousand crew members to celebrate his son’s bar-mitzvah in 1986.
Our son’s bar-mitzvah was solemnized in a small synagogue built on the Los Angeles ocean front in the 1940s. Guterman was trying to add meaning to his family celebration by means of an extraordinary location. We were blessed to add meaning to a picturesque old house of worship by having it house our act of religious significance.
Henry Wallingford proposed to his girlfriend one night in an empty football stadium which he rented for the occasion. The loudspeakers blared romantic tunes while the giant scoreboard flashed out, “Gillian will you marry me?” As soon as the astonished girl said, “yes,” waiters trotted out with two chairs and a table bearing a white tablecloth and a large bouquet of flowers. The couple was then treated to a catered gourmet meal on the fifty yard line. Henry was trying to add meaning to his proposal by means of an extraordinary location.
My sailboat on which the future Mrs. Lapin graciously said “yes” to my anxiously blurted out proposal will always be dear to my heart. The power of our commitment to God and to one another bestowed special significance on that old boat.
Our dining room table was built to have food served upon it. Nonetheless, years of Lapin family meals around it have imbued that table with such emotional resonance that sometimes, to my eyes, it seems to emit a warm glow. Meaningful human activities impart spiritual significance to objects and places.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches this by depicting a scene that begs a question:
And Jacob journeyed to Sukot… therefore he called the name of the place Sukot.
Here’s the question: How could Jacob have journeyed to Sukot when it only acquired its name after he got there? I would have written that verse, “And Jacob journeyed to a place and named the place Sukot…”
Well it turns out that the first time the word “Sukot” appears in that verse it is spelled ordinarily. The last time it appears it acquires an extra Hebrew letter vav connoting an additional dose of spiritual significance.
In other words, the place may well have been called Sukot. However, because of the powerful human act of construction, the place was changed. The name acquired the extra vav reflecting that something significant had taken place there.
In case you feel any inclination to dismiss this as a coincidence, Scripture repeats this pattern.
And they came to the valley of Eshkol …they called that place the valley of Eshkol…
Do you see the same question? If it was called valley of Eshkol because of something they did after they got there, it should have just been an anonymous place when they arrived.
It turns out that the pattern is identical. The first word Eshkol is spelled without the Hebrew letter vav but the vav is added when they call the place by that name. This connotes the spiritual significance of what the Israelite spies did there.
Our actions do impact the world around us. When you show up regularly at synagogue or church for services, you are not only satisfying your own spiritual needs. You are making that place more spiritually significant for all the other worshippers.
When you perform an action in a certain place, you change the cosmic reality of that place. Gettysburg, Normandy and the sites of many other battles were different places because of the actions which humans performed there.
While we easily understand that we can physically pollute or clean up an area, we must know that we can also spiritually contaminate or sanctify locations. As humans formed in God’s image, we participate in the world’s creation as we interact with it.