Imagine if you will, that the Second Beit Hamikdash, the Second Temple, also known as the Temple of Herod, was still standing. Or imagine if you will, that Moshiach (the Messiah) had come and the Third Temple was built. Personally, I think Moshiach would take one look around and say, “Fugettaboutit,” and hightail it on the next donkey outta here. But hey, who knows?
First, a bit of history. God promised the Land of Israel to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants. And He instructed Moses to have the Children of Israel erect a temporary sanctuary to be used in the service of God. Once built, sacrifices and other offerings were to be brought there on a regular basis. When the permanent structure was to be constructed, as it says in Deuteronomy 12:5, “eem el ha’makom asher yivchar,” “in the place of God’s choosing,” aside from the daily Temple service, Jews from all over would be required to make a journey to that place to celebrate the Three Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).
Why wasn’t the Temple’s location named in the Bible? Good question. On the one hand, had Jerusalem been noted, the nations in and around Israel, already un-thrilled to say the least about the Jewish people looking to settle in a place they thought was theirs, would make their central defense around the city, and conquering it would have been especially difficult. On the other hand, each of the 12 Tribes of Israel wanted the Temple built in their own territory, and had a location been biblically-designated, resentment and infighting could have been ugly. So it was better for an advised, universally-accepted and popular king to find the place and make the decision.
After the Jews conquered Israel, King David and the prophet Samuel determined “the place of God’s choosing” was Mount Moriah in the city of Jerusalem, and (using approximated dates for the following timeline), in 825 BCE, David’s son Solomon completed the construction of the First Temple there. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 422 BCE. The Second Temple was built by returning exiles in 349 BCE. King Herod’s renovation of the Temple was completed in 11 BCE. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
Years ago, when in elementary school, the teacher asked us to think about what we would be and do if the Temple still existed. Some wanted to be the King leading the people into and through the new era and others wanted to be the Chief Rabbi teaching the laws not practiced for nearly 2000 years. I dreamed I was the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. I was, after all, a Kohen, a Jewish Priest, a direct descendant of the first High Priest, Aaron. So why not me? I would wear the cool Kohen Gadol outfit, lead the Temple services, be famous, be a big shot. “Hey, Ma, check it out! Kohen Gadol! What? Still not good enough?!”
So what if there really was a Temple in Jerusalem? And what if I really was the Kohen Gadol? Years ago, I commissioned the young son of friends of mine to draw a picture of me as Kohen Gadol at the Temple, and I gave him a couple scenarios to include. (See the picture below.) Hmmmm. (Insert wavy, dream sequence lines here, fading into the city of Jerusalem.)
Sukkot (the holiday commemorating the temporary dwellings the Children of Israel built as they traveled through the desert after leaving Egypt) has nearly arrived and the city is swollen with tens of thousands of pilgrims with many more to come in the next few days. I am in my office just off the Temple Mount watching the news. The closest vacant hotel rooms are in Turkey. That won’t work. The highways are a mess. What else is new. Another labor strike? Now? And in solidarity with the transportation workers, my own Temple Kohanim Hedyotim, the ordinary priests who help with the officiating of services, have decided to join the work stoppage. Looking out the window, I can already see some of them starting the demonstrations. They are distributing the signs they used during the last Kohen Hedyot strike. Only 3 months before. One of their main demands at the time was that I double the strike sign budget that I agreed to fund 3 months before that. The priests used nearly all the money on falafel, shakshooka and baba ganoush.
And here we go again with the animal rights activists. Why can’t they go to Saudi Arabia and protest against the more than a million animal sacrifices that happen each year at the Hajj? Oh, right. This holiday, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will be joined by Israel’s own new movement PITA (People for the Intelligent Treatment of Animals). Some of my own priests joined, thinking the group had something to do with appetizers. I am scheduled to give a press conference tomorrow about the Temple’s holiday preparations, but I know I will get inundated with questions about this latest strike mishigas (nonsense). I think I may call in sick.
Let’s look at some news on the net. The headline on the BBC’s website reads, “As holiday approaches, Israel prepares to slaughter many!” “Genocide!” accuses Mahmoud Abbas. That other British news outlet, the Guardian, leads with, “Israelis building thousands of new structures!” The UN passed a resolution demanding I not perform any further holiday ceremonies on the Temple Mount even though there are no mosques there. I was yet again deplored for my illegal, hostile and provocative actions. The US abstained. Sigh.
Gotta go. The PM is on the phone. “Bibi! Vus hertzach?”
Chag Sameach! Have a happy Sukkot!