Shaun Regenbaum: A House of Many Names

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To fully understand this D’var Torah, we need to read the first Pasuk of Vayikra:

וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃

Hashem called to Moses and spoke to him from the Ohel Moed, saying:

In the verse above we are told that Hashem calls out to Moshe from the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, a place mentioned again and again throughout the Torah. This place also goes by another name: the Mishkan, or as it is known in English: the Tabernacle. So, we have one place that goes by two names. But why?

It is normal for things to have multiple names, all of us respond to different names, I go by Shaun, Shaunie, Shlomo, Mr. Regenbaum, and on rare cases even Dr. Regenbaum*. Nicknames carry a sense of informality, while titles carry their respective responsibilities. So our next question should be what context does the name Ohel Moed, carry that other names of the Mishkan do not?

There is an interesting Gemarah in Chagigah (6a) that presents a disagreement between R’ Yishmael and R’ Akiva about what we actually mean when we bring up the specific name of the Ohel Moed. One of them claims that the general laws were said at Har Sinai while the specific details were formulated at the Ohel Moed, while the other claims that both the specific laws and general laws were said at Har Sinai, and the specific laws were just retaught at the Ohel Moed.

While this may seem like a boring argument between where some laws were created, it is an extremely important disagreement. It prompts us to ask whether the Ohel Moed was a critical component of the judicial system of Judaism. Were the laws made in the Mishkan or were they just taught there? At the very least, both opinions would agree that the Ohel Moed was a center for education of Halacha, which is why we find Moshe being addressed here, as he had to teach new laws to the people.

We all know the Mishkan and the Beit Hamkidash were (and are) central components of Avodah or the service of Hashem, but this new conception of the Ohel Moed seems to say it also is important in terms of Halacha, or the law. Later in history, we even placed the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court) inside of the area of the Beit Hamikdash (הלכות ממרים א:א.ד), and this was not a coincidence. This single line tells us that this one place carries multiple names because it has multiple roles.

Today, as our homes are rapidly becoming the center of our personal, work, and social lives, this message can be quite redeeming. Even the Mishkan,the spiritual center of the Jews in the desert, did not play only one role. It was the center of all life in the desert. And the way it did so was by creating different sections with different purposes. People would socialize there, they would pray there, they would learn there, they would volunteer there, and they would even work there. So, we should take note and realize that even though we are constrained physically to one place, one place does not mean that we are constrained to one aspect of our lives. We can fully live our lives in one place if we know what to call it at the right time. In the morning, the kitchen is our commute, and in the afternoon is a restaurant. During work hours, the house is our office, during school it is a classroom, while at night it is our home. One place can take many roles, we just need the right name for the occasion.

I hope everyone stays safe this week and can turn their homes into shuls and places of learning. Just because we must spend Shabbat alone, does not mean Shabbat must be lonely. This Shabbat can and should be meaningful and inspiring filled with song, praise, and Torah. We can always connect to Hashem, even in times of trouble, and today is no exception. So just like we call Shabbat by a different name because it is different, may we find the many different names of our in hopes of rediscovering the many different needs of the people inside. Good Shabbos!

* This past week I was called Dr. Regenbaum in an email for a paper I was writing, and my family and friends thought it was very funny.

Bonus Poem:

I once went by one name.

A name quite spacious,

To function many a place,

Only to find itself too full.


I went about changing my name,

To make myself anew,


That name too became quite old,

And I found myself stuck,

With a name that could never could,

Defining where I stood.

A new name would not do,

Nor an old name suffice,

I needed something more,

Something precise.

When all else failed,

I looked deep within,

And found more to contain,

More than one name,

Could ever wish to hold.


I decided to go no more,

By one name, but two.

And even then,

I struggled to see who.


I don’t keep count,

I go by many names,

A someone of many faces,

A complex person,


More emotions,

Than any name could express.

Call me what you wish,

But I am myself,

And a name never could,

Could hold nor contain,

Not from me,

Nor from you,

Not from anyone else.

So be more than a name,

Live in more than a place,

And live more than a life,

So one day,

We may come together,

Being more,

Than we ever could be ourselves.

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