In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!
Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.
Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!
“I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
והביאותים אל הר קדשי ושמחתים בבית תפלתי עולתיהם וזבחיהם לרצון על מזבחי כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים.
“Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.” (Genesis 28:17)
ויירא ויאמר מה נורא המקום הזה אין זה כי אם בית אלהים וזה שער השמים.
A bayit, a house, is a place that is familiar to us, where we feel comfortable and connected. We feel safe at home.
The word bayit, however, is used in Hebrew to describe more than just our personal dwelling spaces. It also refers to the most important buildings in all of Biblical history and ritual: the Temple that once stood in Jerusalem and our present-day synagogues.
The Temple was called the Beit HaMikdash, literally “the House of the Holy.” Though it was elevated above all other physical structures and was located in the holiest place in the world, it was still meant to be and feel like an intimate home for all people. As Isaiah said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
This idea is reflected in God’s commandment to build the Tabernacle, the predecessor to the Temple. “Make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The verse says “dwell among them” instead of “dwell in it,” emphasizing that the purpose of the Tabernacle was to create a place where humanity would feel at home with God.
The same is true of the Beit Knesset, the Hebrew word for synagogue, which literally means “a house of gathering.” The synagogue is meant to simultaneously create an atmosphere of great awe and great closeness to God. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “one should talk to God as if talking to a close friend.” By experiencing the synagogue as a “house,” we feel comforted and close to God, allowing us to open our hearts wide in prayer and in praise.