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“Temple of Fire” Parashat Devarim – Tisha B’Av 5783

Rabbi Asher Weiss[1] began his weekly class last week by quoting from the Jerusalem Talmud in Tractate Yoma [5a]: “A generation in which the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) is not built in its lifetime is as if that generation had destroyed it”. Strong words, indeed. Rabbi Weiss concludes that each individual must strive to do all that he can to improve his behaviour and by doing so, to speed the building of the third Beit HaMikdash.

Hassidic masters teach that there exists in heaven a Beit HaMikdash made of fire. This edifice is built via the good deeds that we perform here on earth and is dismantled by our sins. Once the edifice is completed, the earthly Beit HaMikdash can then be built[2]. Rabbi Weiss tells the story about the “Divrei Chaim” from Sanz[3], who was sitting around the table with some of his Hassidim. He told them that he saw in a dream that the Temple of Fire was nearly complete and that all that was missing was the parochet, the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the building. One of his Hassidim asked him why he didn’t just go and do what was necessary to make the parochet and complete the Temple of Fire. The Divrei Chaim answered, “Of course I made the parochet of fire! Nevertheless, a certain wicked person who lives in one of the western countries came along and sinned and, as a result, the parochet of fire was torn to shreds.” We build the third Beit HaMikdash not as individuals but as a nation. One person adds to the edifice and another subtracts from it.

What can we as individuals do to add bricks to the Temple of Fire? Rabbi Weiss notes that the Beit HaMikdash had three primary utensils: the candelabrum (menorah), the table (shulchan) of the showbread (lechem hapanim) and the altar. All of the other utensils were subservient to these three. While each of these utensils had a well-defined mission in the Beit HaMikdash, each of them are metaphoric for a mission that we can still perform today. The menorah represents the light of the Torah as the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat [23a] teaches, “A person who lights Shabbat candles each week will be blessed with children who are Torah scholars”. The altar represents prayer as the Talmud in Tractate Berachot [26b] teaches, “Prayers were established as replacements for sacrifices [offered on the altar]”. Prayer, as we know it today, was established only after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash by the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset HaGedolah), who needed to find a replacement for the service of the Beit HaMikdash. In the words of the prophet Hosea [14:3] “Instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips.” The shulchan, teaches Rabbi Weiss, represents kindness. He reaches this conclusion logically: According to the Mishnah in Tractate Avot [1:2], the world stands on three legs – on Torah, on prayer, and on acts of kindness. If the menorah represents Torah and the altar represents prayer, then the shulchan must represent kindness. The showbread was a constant reminder that our sustenance comes from G-d as an act of pure kindness. Rabbi Weiss concludes that if we commit ourselves to radiating Torah into our world, to ramping up our concentration in prayer and to performing random acts of kindness, then we will add to the menorah, the altar, and the shulchan of fire, bringing the third Beit HaMikdash that much closer.

Rabbi Weiss concluded his class by pointing out that there is one utensil that we have left out – the Ark of the Covenant that housed the two tablets (luchot) upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. The ark lay at the very heart of the Beit HaMikdash. Rabbi Weiss teaches that if the menorah is a metaphor for radiating the light of Torah, then the Ark of Covenant is metaphoric for Torah itself – a deep, visceral love and connection to the Torah exemplified by its study, its honour and its implementation. If we increase our Torah study, if we honour those who represent it, and if we live our lives by its commandments, then we will build an Ark of Fire and bring the world closer to redemption, speedily in our days.

I am hesitant to add to Rabbi Weiss’s words but I believe that there is something that he left out, something that perhaps adds another layer to the words of the Divrei Chaim. Before the Beit HaMikdash was built, its purpose was served by the Tabernacle (Mishkan), a sort of mobile Beit HaMikdash that travelled with the Jewish People during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. The Mishkan consisted of a wooden box without a roof. On top of the Mishkan were placed four covers: one was made of cloth and the others were made of animal pelts. The cover that lay immediately above the Mishkan was made of blue, purple, and crimson yarn. The cover was fashioned out of ten individual strips of fabric. Five of these strips were sewn together to form one half of the cover while the five remaining strips were sewn together to form the other half. These two halves were not sewn together. Rather, loops were sewn into the opposing seams of the two halves and the loops were connected by means of fifty golden hooks (kerasim). The cover was about ten cubits longer than the length of the Mishkan, such that it draped over the back wall of Mishkan until it was nearly touching the floor[4]. This means that the hooks had to be structurally sturdy as they had to support the weight of cover that dangled over the edge of the roof. In engineering jargon, the hooks were “load bearing”. Moreover, if one of the hooks were to fracture, additional force would be brought to bear on the remaining hooks.

I suggest that the structure of the fabric cover[5] is symbolic. Humans are often conveniently divided into two classes – right and left, conservative and liberal, quiet and noisy, religious and secular, pro-judicial reform and against. And so on. I am not claiming that these divisions are valid, just that they are convenient. The cover of the Mishkan was made of two pieces. Each of these pieces was made from a patchwork of smaller pieces. As long as the two patchwork quilts were not bound together with golden hooks, the cover could not be laid on top of the Mishkan. The golden hooks symbolize the Jewish People. We are diverse in a myriad of ways but at the same time we are unified under G-d[6]. Powerful forces pull at what binds us and attempt to separate us. Each dispute – between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, between the Hassidim and the Misnagedim, between those who sought to placate the Romans and the zealots who burnt the storehouses of wheat in Jerusalem –  weakens one of the golden hooks of fire. If too many of those hooks are weakened, then they will fracture and the cover will, Heaven forbid, tear and fall.

An essay I wrote more than twenty years ago quoted the words of Rabbi Bruce Dollin. They are even more relevant today: “Among Jews, there are different practices, different movements from the right to the left.  Too often, however, instead of celebrating our diversity and learning from each other, that is to say, turning one’s light towards the other so everyone becomes ‘enlightened’, instead of that, all too often, we seclude ourselves and close ourselves off from anyone who might disagree with us. There is anger and distrust and hatred.  We keep the light to ourselves and hence, the world becomes full of darkness.”  Last week I was purposely vague. This week I will be perfectly frank: The People of Israel now lie at a crossroads. Our willingness to unite will determine whether we will merit completing the Temple of Fire or being consumed by the flames.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5783

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yehuda ben Tzivia, Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Hila bat Miriam, and Rina bat Hassida.

[1] Rabbi Weiss lives in Jerusalem. He is one of the most widely accepted halachic arbiters (poskim) in the world. Rabbi Weiss gives two weekly classes, one on halacha and one on Aggadah.

[2] Rabbi Weiss asserts that the heavenly Beit HaMikdash, once complete, will fall to earth. This is the opinion of Rashi in his commentary on the Talmud in Tractate Sukkah [41a].

[3] Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, known as the “Divrei Chaim”, lived in Sanz, Poland, in the nineteenth century. He was the founder of the Sanz dynasty of Hassidism. Rabbi Weiss is a Sanzer Hassid.

[4] I leave the mathematics as an exercise to the interested reader.

[5] The cover of goat skin that lay above the lowest cover had a similar structure. It consisted of 11 skins. Five of the were sewn together and the other six were sewn together. The two pieces were also connected with hooks. The two outer layers – of red ram skin and of tachash skin – came in one piece.

[6] The menorah bears a similar message. It is formed out of one piece of gold and yet it branches into seven branches whose wicks are all tilted toward the centre light.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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