Makom—the Place

sederI recently posted some comments on the four sons of the Haggadah, who ask four different kinds of questions, here: Passover Questions. The Haggadah introduces its discusstion of the four sons with, “Blessed is the Omnipresent, blessed is He. Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His people, Israel, blessed is He.”

This translation is from JPS Commentary on the Haggadah (Joseph Tabory, ed. Philadelphia, 2008), which explains, “Makom, which means ‘place,’ is usually translated as ‘Omnipresent’ [as in this blessing]. . . . Scholarly thought is that this term was originally used to refer to God as residing in His place, the Holy Temple.” In other words, the blessing employs Makom to refer to the Lord in the way we might use “White House” to refer to the President.

Makom, the place, is really about the person residing in the place. God, of course, doesn’t really reside in any one place—hence the ironic translation of Makom as “Omnipresent,” which means “present in every place.” Solomon says something like this when he dedicates the Temple, “But can God actually live on the earth? Why, heaven itself, even the heaven of heavens, cannot contain you; so how much less this house I have built?” Nevertheless, Solomon asks God to provide a makom, a place of focus for his worshipers.

“Even so, Adonai my God, pay attention to your servant’s prayer and plea, listen to the cry and prayer that your servant is praying before you today, that your eyes will be open toward this house night and day — toward the place concerning which you said, ‘My name will be there’ — to listen to the prayer your servant will pray toward this place. Yes, listen to the plea of your servant, and also that of your people Isra’el when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven where you live; and when you hear, forgive!” (1 Kings 8:27–30, CJB, emphasis added)

The Temple was designed to reflect the true Place—“heaven where you live”—where God is seated on his throne. The Haggadah concludes with prayers for Jerusalem’s restoration, which includes restoration of the Temple. This restoration isn’t primarily about establishing a theocracy—which is not such an appealing idea to anyone paying attention to Middle East news reports. Rather, it’s a realignment of the earthly creation with the heavenly place that already oversees the affairs of humankind. It’s “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

But why is the term makom used in the Haggadah right here, when introducing the four different kinds of sons? Perhaps to reflect one of the themes of the Passover story. God acted at the original Passover in an unparalleled, miraculous intervention that grabbed the attention of the children of that generation and every generation to come. Passover is the miraculous, unparalleled revelation of God, renewed and brought near to every generation. It’s a time of meeting between the amazing, the miraculous, the revelatory qualities of the Place, and our place on earth, in a family, around a table, eating a meal. That’s why the Passover story is set up to depend on the questions of children—even uncooperative children—for its full meaning to be revealed.

Happy Passover!

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