I have not written for several weeks. Silence is sometimes a necessary process of allowing time and thoughts to materialize, integrate into the soul, so that when the voice returns it is coming from a place of truth and transcendence. The time spent in silence also allows for the unfolding of events and the consideration of the news and writings that come forth in the intervening period. This article comes after such a process and I trust that the fruits of silent integration will be illuminating and transformative for those of you who are engaged in the forum of ideas.
This week I read a post by someone who asked God whether we really need to yearn for the rebuilding of the Third Temple. He told us that he prayed three times a day and honored Shabbos. His question revolved around a doubt he had as to the continued viability of a physical representation, asking could not the sanctuaries of time be sufficient, supplanting the reliance on a material structure. The blog to which I refer cites to the Rambam (Maimonides), whose philosophical discussion in Guide to the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim), traces the role of animal sacrifices to a deference to centuries of animal sacrifices pervading the ancient world.
But, the writer ignores the clear mandate of the Torah and the Rambam’s own unambiguous codification of the laws of the Beis Hamikdash in the Mishneh Torah. In the very first section of Beis HaBechirah 1:1 and in his recitation of the 20th positive commandment set forth in Sefer HaMitzvos, the Rambam describes the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMikdash as a command to “make a house for service where sacrifices will be offered”. In his Hasagos to Sefer HaMitzvos, the Ramban (Nachmanides) sees the construction of the Beis HaMikdash as a commandment with a self-contained goal — building a sanctuary for the manifestation of God’s Presence. Thus in his Commentary to the Torah he writes: “[God’s] essential purpose in the Sanctuary was [the construction of] a resting place for the Divine Presence.” In this conception, sacrificial worship represents an additional service that is not intrinsically related to the existence of the Beis HaMikdash. While on the surface the Rambam and Ramban still differ, this cannot be accepted without further explanation. For the manifestation of God’s Presence as a goal of the Beis HaMikdash is alluded to in the very verse which the Rambam cites as the proof-text for the commandment to build the Beis HaMikdash: “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within.” Moreover, the Rambam describes the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMikdash in Hilchos Beis HaBechirah as constructing “a house for God,” indicating that preparing a structure in which God’s Presence is manifest is the primary purpose of the construction of the Beis HaMikdash.
Enough treatise-writing! Enough seeking to refute the sources by the sources! There is something much more fundamental here, and this is why I am writing this day.
In Pirkei Avos, a compilation of mishnayos delivered to Moses at Sinai, we are taught that the world has three pillars upon which it is sustained: Torah, Avodah & Gemillas Chasadim. The writer of the blog that stirred me to write suggests that the third of these pillars, which are the good deeds we do, is the service that God wants most from us. It cannot be argued that there are many sources in our Holy Writings and in the exhortations of our Prophets that suggest that all the Torah study one does, all the inner self-contained work, and even all the prayers, are nothing if we are not good to each other, if we do not love our fellow man, if we do not show kindness and perform good deeds. This cannot be debated.
However, there are THREE pillars! Good deeds, however predominant, is not excluxive of the remaining three. And so, Pirkei Avos also instructs that without Torah there is no derech eretz. But, what of avodah?
When the Jewish nation was teetering on the brink of exile and destruction, as Temple service was first curtailed, then prohibited and then when the Temple itself was destroyed, the Men of the Great Assembly created the siddur, containing the morning, afternoon and evening services, Shabbos, Mussaf and the festival services – all of which would be substitutes for Temple service. And so, the original meaning of avodah, which was Temple service, was perpetuated by the avodah of prayer. To be sure, prayer was central to the Jewish people, to our patriarchs, long before there was a structured prayer book. But, what have we lost without the Temple, and what will be gained by the Third Temple?
Before I seek to answer this question, let me pose another one. Would any Moslem suggest that the demolition of Islam’s mosques, or the black rock of Mecca should be entertained in order to form a more perfect worship or service of Allah? Would any Christian argue that the Vatican or any representation that embodies the belief system of Christianity be shattered? Would any Hindu, or Buddhist, or any other religion so argue? Setting aside the authenticity of such other belief systems, and not seeking here to engage in a tearing down of competing dogma, it is absurd and unthinkable in any of the world’s religions to nullify the importance of the physical objects and sanctuaries in the world in which we live. Sanctuaries in Time are holy, no doubt, but so are sanctuaries of material substance.
I come back to the yearning for the Third Temple that we Jews have built into our hearts and souls. The Third Temple comes hand-in-hand with the Moshiach, and the World-to-Come. The Third Temple is the re-establishment of a “home”, a dwelling place for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. It promises a complete and freeing state of consciousness in which the yetzer hara no longer will have power over us. It hearkens world peace, the acknowledgement of One God, and the centrality of Torah. Its existence on the Temple Mount is the irrefutable confirmation of the eternal covenant with the Jewish people. It IS the future of Jerusalem, the future of Israel. It restores Mankind to its created mission and ends forever suffering, warfare and Evil. Are these not goals we should yearn for, pray for?
As I said in the beginning, the writer that has stirred my pen spoke from a place of doubt. I also see his questions as sincere and truth-seeking. We Jews have asked questions for millennia. They began with Abraham and have never stopped. But, doubt is the medium in which the yetzer hara runs rampant. It is where Evil finds its strength. Our Sages taught, based on ancient exegesis, explaining how after the drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reads, and the ripple effect of that miracle upon the nations that trembled and shook from the evidence of Hashem’s Power and Dominion, that Amalek rose up and struck us from the rear. Rashi explains that the “rear” implied the weak of spirit, the Jews and mixed multitude that left Egypt without complete emunah. It was their doubt, which upon feeling thirsty, caused them to ask: “Is God among us?” And, immediately thereafter, in the very next verse of the Torah, Amalek attacks.
The Baal HaTurim incisively revealed that Amalek and sofek (which means “doubt”) have the same gematria – the same numerical sum. And so, our Sages have warned that it is when we doubt, that we are vulnerable to our enemies! When we are certain of who we are and what our relationship with God is, in the macro and in the micro, in the spiritual and in the material, in the avodah of prayer AND of Temple service, then our enemies cannot touch us!
So, I write these words to reinforce, reinvigorate, re-inspire my fellow contributor to the Times of Israel, and our readers – pray for, yearn for and believe with all your heart and all your soul that the Third Temple should and shall be rebuilt. May it come speedily in our days!