Rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash in Our Days

The 9th of Av, the national day of reflection and mourning for the destruction of the Temple looms large in the distance. In only nine days time Jews the world over will abstain from food and drink, sit on the floor, and mourn the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile from the Land of Israel close to 2,000 years ago. From the vantage point of a Jerusalemite of the last eleven years, five of which were spent in the Old City it is quite clear that the exile forcibly imposed upon our people by the might of the Roman legions is over. The words of the Prophet has become a living reality:

So said the Lord of Hosts: Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of old age.And the streets of the city shall be filled, with boys and girls playing in its streets…As it will be wonderful in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it will also be wonderful in My eyes, says the Lord of Hosts… Behold I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west.And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I shall be their God, in truth and in righteousness. (Zechariah 8:4-8)

Though in our days the Jewish people have returned home, the Temple still has not yet been rebuilt. As we draw closer to this solemn day of remembrance it would behoove us delve into the classical rabbinical texts relating to the Temple and see whether there are any concrete steps that we can or should take to rectifying this historical tragedy.

Towards that end, there are two main questions that must be addressed.

How will the Third Beit HaMikdash be rebuilt?
What is required from each of us to bring this thousands-year-long yearning to fruition?

There are two accepted approaches to our first question, answering the “how” with regards to the rebuilding of the Temple:

1. The first is that God will rebuild the Beit HaMikdash in the heavens and when the time is right it will be revealed to the people and lowered down to its final resting place upon the Temple Mount.

2. The second approach is that the Jewish People themselves will take an active stance towards its rebuilding — both physically and literally rebuilding a sanctuary of bricks and mortar to serve as a Temple for modern times.

The most well-known source of the first approach, of the Beit HaMikdash descending from Heaven, is to be found in the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot on a Talmudic teaching in Sukkah. The Talmud relates that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted a prohibition against eating new grain the entire day of the sixteenth of Nissan [1], for perhaps the Beit HaMikdash would be built immediately before sunset and therefore it would take the entire day of the sixteenth to prepare and bring the offering (Tractate Sukkah 41a.). Rashi and Tosafot comment on this discussion, saying that the only manner in which the Beit HaMikdash would be built just before sunset is if it were to miraculously descend from Heaven, as Rashi states, “…that the future Temple that we are waiting for is already made, and it will be revealed and come down from Heaven.”( Rashi Ibid.) In addition to Rashi and Tosafot’s statements, this idea is also found in the Talmud, where it states: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: I must pay for the fire I set. I kindled a fire in Zion…In the future, as well I will build it with fire…” (Bava Kamma 60b.) In addition, the Zohar writes: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, will build the future Temple Himself…as it is written, ‘The Lord is the builder of Jerusalem.” (Zohar, Pinchas 3:221a.) These above sources make clear that the future Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt by God Himself — when the time is right, the structure will descend from Heaven to take its place on the Temple Mount.

On the other hand, there are numerous sources that support the second approach, i.e., that the Jewish People will rebuild the Third Beit HaMikdash and that they are, in fact, commanded to do their utmost in order to achieve this task. In Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim ben Attar comments on the verse mentioned above: “It appears to me that when the verse states, ‘they shall build for Me a sanctuary,’ it is a positive commandment that is incumbent upon the Jewish People at all times.”( Ohr HaChaim to 25:8.) Similarly, the Rambam mentions on several occasions that the Jewish People will be the ones who will rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. First and foremost, he explicitly counts the building of the Beit HaMikdash as a positive commandment [2]. Second, in Laws of the Temple, he writes: “It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God, prepared for sacrifices to be offered within…as it states: ‘And you shall make Me a sanctuary.”( Laws of the Temple 1:1) And finally, in Laws of Kings, he states: “In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its original sovereignty [3]. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.” (Laws of Kings 11:1) In more modern times, in Eim Habanim Semeichah, Rav Teichtal quotes the opinions of the Radak, Rabbeinu Bachaya, the Ezrat Kohanim, the Admor of Radzin, and the Shelah, amongst many others, who are all of the opinion that the Jewish People will rebuild the third Beit HaMikdash. (Eim Habanim Semeichah, pgs. 200, 217–218.)

Having reviewed a brief sample of the opinions mentioned above, it becomes clear that there is a vast contradiction and disagreement between the two opposing sets of sources. Either God will build the Temple or man will. On this most fundamental and vital issue concerning the Jewish People and our nation’s holiest place dedicated for Divine service, it is imperative to resolve the subject. Are the Jewish People to take an active or passive role in the rebuilding of the Third Beit HaMikdash? This is no simple question, and its answer has immense implications for us all.

One can answer, though, that one can and should follow the halachic rulings of many rabbinic leaders and scholarly texts that explain that it is in fact the Jewish People who will build the earthly Beit HaMikdash, following the well-known maxim that a person should exert his own efforts rather than rely on a miracle [4].

Furthermore, these scholars posit that there is, in fact, no contradiction or disagreement whatsoever. They explain that where the sources describe the Temple as descending from Heaven it is in fact, referring to the Divine spirit and holiness that will descend from the heavens to spiritually imbue the physical structure that has already been built by man. This notion is expressed in Aruch LaNer by Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger: “Therefore it is my opinion that certainly the future Temple will be made by the hands of man…that which it says that the Temple will descend means the spiritual edifice that will imbue the earthly one with its sanctity, comparable to the body and the soul of a person.” (Aruch LaNer to Sukkah 41a; Belvavi Mishkan Evnah, pg. 474.) Similarly, Rav Teichtal quotes the Minchat Yehudah who explains: “Chazal state that the Holy One, Blessed be He, will build the Third Temple and lower it from the heavens already built. This refers to the sanctity that will rest on the edifice…”[5] Furthermore, the Shelah writes: “For the Divine service causes the lower Mikdash to be prepared to receive the influence from the upper Mikdash. But, this influence does not descend from above until a preparatory awakening ascends from below.” (Eim Habanim Semicha, pg. 219 ) According to all of these distinguished scholars, there is no contradiction whatsoever between the sources mentioned above; all are in agreement that the Third Temple will be built by man. The differences of opinion are in fact pertaining to two to other aspects of its rebuilding, namely the spiritual as opposed to the physical structure.

This explanation is one that should cause us all to pause and re-examine whether or not we are doing all that can be done to actualize the rebuilding of the Third Beit HaMikdash, a collective and national yearning of close to two thousand years. Undoubtedly, the current geo-political climate and context does not lend the rebuilding of the Temple as an imminent reality. Additionally, the commandment to rebuild the Temple is incumbent upon the entire community and not on an individual, per se. But these factors do not absolve us of this task; there are still a series of concrete steps within the realms of education and practical deed that can and should be taken to bring us ever closer to this goal.

First, and perhaps most important, positive changes can be made within the realm of education. We are the “People of the Book,” and the knowledge and values that we transmit to the next generation have been our secret to longevity and permanence throughout the millennia. We must examine just how effectively we are teaching youngsters about the rebuilding of the Temple; through knowledge, we must imbue within them hope and resolve for the future. The study of the pertinent sources from the Tanach through modern-day rabbinic writings should not be a course of study undertaken by only a select few. Rather, it should be a staple of Jewish education from a young age. This study should include the laws pertaining to the korbanot, the service performed in the Beit HaMikdash, the relevant laws of ritual purity/impurity and agriculture laws that arise within the Land of Israel. In this way, the next generation will receive a true picture of their unique culture and heritage that is centered on the Temple and the Land of Israel. The goal of this educational approach should be to highlight the fact that in modern times we are missing an integral part of our identity as a people (From both a Religious and Secular perspective). Only through an in-depth and familiar understanding of what was will the younger generation and the leaders of tomorrow have the tools and the resolve necessary to bring this monumental task to fruition.

Regarding practical deed, we as individuals have the responsibility to take ownership over this paramount issue and take concrete steps towards making this dream a reality. This can be accomplished in numerous ways.

First, on a personal level, one can advocate and engage with others regarding the centrality of the Temple Mount and the Beit HaMikdash in Jewish tradition,[6] a claim that is being challenged around the world on an almost-daily basis. This also entails being extremely precise in our language when discussing this point and to make it a priority to communicate effectively our stance. The catchphrase “the Western Wall, the Kotel, is the ‘holiest site’ in Judaism” would do well to be excised from our vocabulary. Undoubtedly it is true that the Kotel has a very special place in Jewish tradition, but this constant mantra serves to distract many people (especially children and young adults who will grow into the leaders of tomorrow) from the true holiest place. Second, there is a need to support the organizations and Torah study centers that are dedicating themselves to the task of researching and raising awareness toward the goal of rebuilding the Temple. Thirdly and finally, choose to become a citizen of the State of Israel and take a part in the democratic process of our country. Though it is true that not everyone has the opportunity or the means to make aliyah and live full-time in Israel, every Jewish person is entitled to receive citizenship under the Law of Return. Whether or not you choose to live there, you can apply for citizenship and take part in elections that determine policy. This is important, for the decision to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash will not be made in a vacuum but will be a slow gradual development that will most likely involve a political process. Only when a person has the ability to vote and to thereby influence that process can he make his voice heard and contribute in a concrete way towards the realization of this goal.

In this way and with God’s help, ours will be the generation that will merit to participate in and to see the rebuilding of the Third Beit HaMikdash speedily in our days.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֶאֱלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִקְדָּשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ, וְתֵן חֶלְקֵנוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ: וְשָׁם נַעֲבָדְךָ בְּיִרְאָה כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמוֹנִיוֹת: וְעָרְבָה לַיְיָ מִנְחַת יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלָיִם, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמוֹנִיוֹת
May it be your will, O my God and God of my fathers, that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and give us our portion in your Torah, and there we will worship you with reverence as in ancient days and former years. And may the minchah offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasing to God, as in ancient days and former years.

(Excerpted from “A People A Country A Heritage-Torah Inspiration from the Land of Israel” pg. 191-197)

[1] Rabban Yochanan’s worry was as follows: When the Beit HaMikdash stood, the new grain was only permitted after the Omer offering was brought. However, in its state of destruction, according to the Torah law, new grain would be permitted immediately upon sunrise of the sixteenth. He was concerned that when the Beit HaMikdash is rebuilt people would forget that they have to wait until the Omer is offered and they would begin eating the new grain immediately in the morning; therefore, he forbids its consumption the entire day.
[2] Positive Commandment 20. In his introduction to his work, the Rambam writes that he only counts those mitzvot that are applicable for all generations (Introduction to Sefer Hamitzvot, root 3).
[3] It seems that the Rambam is of the minority opinion regarding the necessity of Mashiach to begin the reconstruction of the Beit HaMikdash. As the Sefer Hachinuch writes, the mitzvah of building the Beit HaMikdash applies when the majority of Jews dwell in the Land of Israel, and that it is a mitzvah incumbent upon the community as a whole (mitzvah 95). Additionally, Rav Teichtal in Eim Habanim Semeichah brings numerous supporting proofs that the coming of Mashiach is not a necessary prerequisite for rebuilding the Temple. For example, he quotes the Piska that writes, “Our Rabbis taught: When the Messianic King reveals himself, he will stand on the roof of the Beit HaMikdash and proclaim to Israel: “O humble ones, the time for your redemption has come…” (Piska Kumi Ori). And the explanation of Rabbi Zalman Margolis, who writes, “‘Stand upon the roof of the Beit HaMikdash’ is meant literally, for the Yerushalmi, quoted by the Tosafot Yom Tov, affirms that the Beit HaMikdash will be built forty years before the coming of the Mashiach” (Eim Habanim Semeichah, pg. 200). In any event, the Rambam still believes that the Beit HaMikdash will be made by man, i.e., Mashiach, and will not descend from the heavens.
[4] Additionally, this is a classic case of safek d’oraiyta lechumarah — a doubt regarding a Torah law that needs to be taken stringently.
[5] Eim Habanim Semeichah, pg. 446. Rav Teichtal additionally quotes, amongst others, the Tikunei Zohar, Rav Saadya Gaon, the Malbim, and the Aspaklariyah Hameirah, who explain along similar lines.
[6] This holds true regardless of individual opinions about the permissibility to ascend to the Temple Mount during our times. Even those of the halachic opinion that it is forbidden should not detract from promoting the Temple Mount as a place of spiritual centrality for the Jewish People. The issue of the Halachik permissibility to ascend to the Temple Mount during our times will be a topic in a forthcoming essay.

About the Author
The Author is a Jerusalem based Rabbi and Jewish Educator, and is the author of the Two Volume book "A People, A Country, A Heritage-Torah Inspiration from the Land of Israel."
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