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Parshas Terumah - Preferred Seating               2 Adar 5783

02/24/2023 07:48:33 AM


The internet has affected everyone’s life in one way or another during the last twenty years. This week, the U.S. Supreme court  is hearing/heard arguments regarding how platforms recommend content. Besides social media, the Internet has altered the way we shop, learn, and engage in all aspects of daily life. To sum up one area, the internet has become “our agent” for many purchases.  Take airline tickets, for example. While I still have a travel agent handle my international flights, most of us now book the majority of our tickets directly online. What used to be a simple process, has now become a maze of online navigation. The most recent assortment of choices centers on choosing a seat, especially if that seat is to be the spot on which to spend six or more hours sitting.

We have gone from buying a first-class seat to the eventuality of (you’ll excuse me) buying the bathroom seat. In between those two extremes, we have moved from business class to the main cabin with five or six choices of Preferred seats. Not too many years ago, most of us tended to choose just plain economy seats.  No more. Now there is Economy Plus, paying more for extra legroom, or buying a window seat or an aisle seat, or choosing to pay a little more for the bulkhead. . On some airlines, Preferred seating includes economy seats that have standard legroom but are closer to the front of the aircraft, located in the first few rows immediately behind Economy Plus seats. In addition, there are other benefits to Preferred seating even before getting on the plane! When purchasing preferred seating, you not only enjoy a better seat in the Economy class, you’ll also receive earlier onboard service and, when you land, get off the plane sooner, so you get to wait for your luggage just a little bit longer (Sorry, ‘Preferred’ economy is not business or first class, so the luggage doesn’t get unloaded earlier – at least not yet).

There are other areas of life where the benefits of ‘preferred’ seating can have a positive impact. In a classroom setting, preferential seating means that a student's seat is placed in a location which is most beneficial for his/her learning in the classroom. For example, if a student tends to be easily distracted,  his/her seat might be placed away from doors or windows which tend to cause potential distractions. Some might believe that placing a student in a less- distracting location is just  accommodating certain students. Keep in mind that accommodations are not interventions. Accommodations change the environment in some way. For example, they may allow a student to have preferential seating in the classroom, close to the board or near the teacher to help the student to focus on the lesson and to avoid distractions. An intervention, on the contrary, teaches a skill.

A third and final concept of “Preferential treatment” is when it comes to priority seating -  a system whereby the diner arrives at a restaurant at the time specified in advance, or the diner is seated as soon as a table becomes available. Any one of these three seating situations has benefits. Sometimes such benefits cost money; at other times, it just requires a phone call to reserve. The second scenario appreciates the value of education and learning.

Other seats we tend to think of are driver’s seats, passenger seats, and finally, strategically positioned seats such as in shul. I take notice of where people sit and their choice of location when they come into shul. I believe the choosing of a seat tells a great deal about a person, whether it is sitting in an aisle seat or choosing to sit in the front or the back row. There are  many hidden mental messages regarding these seat selections. Through observation, I know most people will choose a shul seat that gives them the most flexibility to arrive late or leave early. It’s interesting to observe that when it comes to a sporting, or entertainment event, many people are willing to pay a lot more money for the box or orchestra seats for themselves. So, let’s consider a far more important seating choice: If I needed to buy a seat for God where would it be? Well, it’s a good thing that God does not need to rely on me to buy Him a seat. He figures out a way to get His own. and it is our job to figure out where it is.

There is an age-old question; ”Where is God”? There are two answers given: the first, most often to a child, is “God is all over”. The second answer, one that can be appreciated by a thinking adult, is the Chassidic master’s answer: “God is wherever you let Him in”. So which one is it? Where does Hashem sit? The first answer is God is not a corporal being who has physical characteristics. God does not need to sit. However,  the metaphor of sitting can be found in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion there is a most-often quoted passuk which the Torah states in Shemos 25:8 "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם" .  Rav Nosson Shapiro*, in his sefer Megaleh Amukos, kabbalistically explains that these five words that make up this verse are a reflection from Bereishis  where the Torah states that שמים וארץ  heaven and earth were created בה' בראם  with the letter ‘Hey’ which is equal to the number five. The building of the Mishkan was comparable to creating heaven and earth. Betzalel knew the letters that God used to create the world as it is written in Shmos 25:9 "ככל אשר אני מראה אותך..." – “Like everything that I show you, the form of the Tabernacle, and the form of all its vessels; and so shall you do”. Speaking in terms of the five senses which a human being has physically, he also has five senses spiritually. The five physical senses were able to relate and therefore create the five spiritual pieces of the Mishkan: the Aron, Shulchan, Menorah, Golden Altar and the Copper Altar. So, too, the design of the Mishkan structure had ten curtains contrasting the Eser MaAmaros, the Ten statements of creation and the Ten Commandments at Har Sinai. Each one of the curtains was attached with five on one side and five on the other, demonstrating that the building of the Mishkan was a miniature world, a place where Hashem could constrain Himself within.   This portable Sanctuary of God would end up in the permanent building of the Beis HaMikdash where His presence was “all over”. Only later, the Temple would be destroyed, and at that point, one might think God was homeless, that there was no place for Him to sit and dwell.   This is why the answer to the apparent two questions is really one. At the point where there is no longer a sanctuary, we the beings with the five senses, create a world and a sanctuary for Hashem to reside within, and we become the “seat” where Hashem sits. At this point we decide how close we want to be to the action and to be closely connected to the best possible seat in the house. It all lies within us.

*Nosson Nata Spira/Shapiro *1585 – 20 July 1633) was a Polish rabbi and kabbalist, who served as Chief Rabbi of Kraków. A student of Meir Lublin, Spira played an important role in spreading Isaac Luria's teachings throughout Poland. Spira was the author of a number of works, most notably the Megaleh Amukot. Spira descended from a rabbinical family, which traced its lineage as far back to Rashi. He was named after his grandfather, who was rabbi in Hrodna and author of Mevo Shearim (1575) and Imrei shefer (1597). Spira had seven children, three sons and four daughters. While serving as Chief Rabbi of Kraków, Spira refused a salary. He is buried in the Old Jewish cemetery in Kazimierz, Krakow.

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784