‘Why pray daily for the restoration of Jerusalem’s Temple?’ a fellow learner asked me some time ago. Reasons why not to do so abound these days, from hypocrisy to heresy. Yet there are reasons why Temple restoration is a deeply worthy aspiration.
First, it points toward the Messianic era, a time when the world of what is so conforms to a world of what ought to be so. Messianism is problematic when it meets impatience. But when it remains an idealized condition toward which deeply imperfect humanity patiently strives, it anchors a vital protest against settling for the status quo.
Something else the Temple offers are helpful reminders of the gifts of the priestly-voice in Torah. If the Torah’s wisdom-voice seeks the good life and its prophetic-voice demands a better life, it is the priestly voice that imparts a life organized by values.
The prophetic-voice feels more familiar. Our sages teach that one who prays Ashrei (Psalm 145) three times daily secures a place in the World to Come. This weekend, Ashrei’s gratitude is juxtaposed with three prophetic utterances of the word Eicha. Moses’ Eicha (Deut. 1:12) points to the people’s burden and bickering. Isaiah’s Eicha (1:21) in this Shabbat’s Haftorah points the lack of justice. Jeremiah’s Eicha (Lam. 1:1) on Saturday night walks us through the depths of destruction. All three of these prophetic voices invite an honest confrontation with despair. Only after deep sorrow can consolation help us begin to rise from the mourner’s bench.
The prophetic vision is captivated by candor. But priestly gifts include order, reliability, clarifying boundaries, generous habits, and dwelling at the threshold of the sacred. Jerusalem’s Temple houses deeply worthy valuables, precious to a world hungry for curbs on cruelty, limits on lawlessness – religious extremism gone wild is in need of a domesticating House for the Lord.
Three times in history Jerusalem has been restored, by Kings David and Solomon in tenth century BCE, by Ezra and Nehemiah in the sixth century BCE, and by Herzl and Ben Gurion in the twentieth century CE. Perhaps the most helpful reason to pray for the restoration of Jerusalem’s Temple is that it evokes the single emotion most synonymous with Jerusalem, rahamim, compassion. May that compassion dwell in the miniature sanctuaries we restore.