This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is the last one in the Book of Genesis (Sefer Breishis) The Ramban
says: “The Torah completed the book of Breishis, which is the book of creation, which dealt with the creation of the world and the formation of all its creatures, as well as all the events of our Forefathers, which are also a sort of “creation” with regard to their offspring because all the events of our forefathers are illustrations to allude to and to foretell all that would come upon their offspring in the future. After it completed the story of ‘creation’ the Torah begins another book which concerns the actions that emanated from those previous accounts. The Book of Shmos is dedicated to the subject of the first exile which was decreed explicitly [to Avraham in Breishis 15:13-14] and to the redemption from that exile. This is why the Torah goes back and begins with the names of those who descended to Egypt and their number even though this was already recorded in Breishis 46:8-27. It is repeated here because there descent into Egypt marked the beginning of the exile for it at that point that it started. Now, the exile did not end until the day the people returned to their place and returned to the stature of their forefathers.
When they left Egypt, even though they had left the ‘house of bondage’ they were still considered exiles for they were still ‘in a land not theirs,’ wandering in the desert.
But when they arrived at Mount Sinai and built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and G-D once again caused hisShechinah (Holy Presence)
to dwell among them, at that point they returned to the eminence of their forefathers of whom it may be said “the counsel of G-D was over their tents,” and [as the Medrish Rabba 47:6 states] they themselves were the Divine chariot. (I.e. they were the “base” on earth which Hashem manifested His presence to the world.) It was then that the people of Israel were considered to be redeemed [from there exile].
And this is why this book ends with its completion of the subject of the Mishkan and with the glory of Hashem filling it always.” (Click here
for Hebrew text. It is found at the end of Breishis in the older Mikraos Gedolos and in the beginning of Shemos in the newer editions.)
The Ramban is clearly saying that the Jews in the desert felt truly redeemed from exile only once they had built the Mishkan [Tabernacle] and the Shechinah [Holy Presence] rested inside it even though he said earlier: “they were still considered exiles for they were still “in a land not theirs, wandering in the desert.”” At first glance this seems to be a contradiction; how they can feel redeemed while still wandering in the desert and not being settled in the promised homeland of their Patriarchs? Granted, they reached the madreiga [high spiritual level] of their forefathers at Har Sinai [Mount Sinai], but the reality was that they were still not settled in the Land of Canaan. So how could they consider themselves redeemed? Imagine the feeling of being unsettled, knowing you are not in the comfort of your own home, constantly wandering, displaced – it does not make a difference what level
you are on; you are still in exile! What does the Ramban mean when he says that the Jews were considered to be redeemed once the Holy Presence of Hashem rested on the Mishkan [Tabernacle]?
It would seem from here that a person can feel truly redeemed, even if not physically back in his home, in this case the land Israel, the promise land – simply just knowing that the Shechinah is constantly with him. The Children of Israel knew that they were meant to return to the Land of Canaan which was promised to their ancestors Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and they knew that their travels in the desert were only temporary; but, still, they felt truly redeemed once they had the Shechinah [holy presence] living amongst them. Settling in the Land of Canaan would no doubt be a plus.
As an extension of this, it is interesting to note that the Gemara in Brachos 6a mentions that the Shechinah rests in shuls [synagogues], specifically when there is a minyan of at least ten men praying together. The Shechinah is also present when three judges congregate to establish a Jewish court, and even amongst one or two people deeply involved in learning Torah. Certainly we cannot feel redeemed from our current state of exile because the Shechinah is not consistently with us but during our prayers in synagogue and our learning we have the potential to feel more at ease knowing the Shechinah is there. The Shul (House of Worship,) and Beis Medrish (House of Study) are a safe haven home away from home.
There is another Gemara in Shabbos 12b which says that the Shechinah is in the room with the sick, and lends him or her support. Rashi on that verse says that G-D’s Presence supports the sick person in their weakened state. Based on this Ramban one can speculate that being cognizant of, or truly knowing and believing that Hashem’s Shechinah is with you, can support you when you are in a weakened state, and can have a very soothing effect on the sick.
Having a high level of belief that the Shechinah is with you is not ignoring reality; rather, it dictates reality, because Hashem is the ultimate reality.