Vayakhel – Building the mishkan vs. building a fake temple

In 2010 it was reported by Israel National News, also known as Arutz Sheva, that a Brazilian Pentecostal Church was building a life sized replica of the Beit Ha Mikdash, our holy temple, in downtown Sao Paolo. Spending over 200 million dollars on this mammoth undertaking, over 8 million dollars just to import Jerusalem Sand stone, and measuring 18 stories high and seating over 10,000 people, Bishop Edir Macedo has been quoted as saying “It is going to be a knockout, It is going to be beautiful, beautiful, beautiful – the most beautiful of all. The outside will be exactly the same as that which was built in Jerusalem.” Can you imagine, that after 2,000 years praying for the rebuilding of our temple in Jerusalem, it could be so easy for another religion to build an exact replica as the epicenter of their church, in a completely different location, with a completely different mission in mind.

As a Jewish community, in a case like this what should be our response?

I would like to share with you the response of Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute a non-profit educational and religious organization based in Jerusalem who claimed “This planned church is a mockery which stands in diametric opposition to everything that the Holy Temple of Jerusalem represents. We are witnesses today to the phenomenon of nations that seek to de-legitimize Israel’s connection to Jerusalem. This planned mega-church represents the next logical step, the de-legitimization of the significance of Jerusalem altogether.”

Now I would like to share with you my thoughts as to why I think a response like this is wrong and why a project like this, and similarly our response, is and should be nothing but a laugh. I aim to do this by looking at both the constructions and destructions of the Mishkan and Temples.

Our Parasha opens with the commencement of the construction of the Mishkan, a process that has taken several parashiyot, and is established with the gathering of the entire people as we see in Shemot 35:1

וַיַּקְהֵל משֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה הֹיְ לַעֲשׂת אֹתָם

Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: “These are the things that the Lord commanded to make

Rashi tells us that Moshe organizes the Jewish people to commence construction of the Mishkan the day after Yom Kippur when he had returned from the mountain, bringing with him the second set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments. That it was only because the nation had purified itself after the Day of Atonement and the process of teshuvah that enabled God to forgive us and reestablish his covenant with us, as we spoke about last week, which allowed the construction of the mishkan to begin.

The Ramban offers the following as to why Moshe gathers everyone

יכלול “כל עדת בני ישראל” האנשים והנשים, כי כלם התנדבו במלאכת המשכן

The expression “all the children of Israel” comes to mean the men and the women, because everyone gave towards the mishkan

That in order for the mishkan’s construction to begin, everyone needs to realize that he or she will be involved in its construction.

Several weeks ago, on Parashat Tetzaveh, I spoke about the idea that through the order of the parashiyot, with Terumah detailing the physical space, and Tetzaveh introducing the human and ritual side of the mishkan, we see that the Mishkan is nothing without the people that fill it and that desire to see God dwelling amongst them.  So too the opening of our Parasha as explained by Rashi and Ramban details the importance of people rather than the building.

Next week’s haftorah, opens with King Shlomo calling together the elders, the leaders of the tribes, the leaders of the families, and all men and women of the people of Israel. Where he established the Beit HaMikdash as the house of Hashem by looking to the past as we see in Melachim I 7:51

וַתִּשְׁלַם כָּל הַמְּלָאכָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָֹה הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה בֵּית הֹיְ וַיָּבֵא שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת קָדְשֵׁי | דָּוִד אָבִיו אֶת הַכֶּסֶף וְאֶת הַזָּהָב וְאֶת הַכֵּלִים נָתַן בְּאֹצְרוֹת בֵּית הֹיְ


And all the work that king Solomon had wrought in the house of the Lord was finished. And Solomon brought in the things which David his father had dedicated; the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, (and) put them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord.

And most importantly the future, as he offers up blessings towards the success of the people and their engagement with Hashem and his house, as can be seen in chapter 8 verses 15-21.

This is another testament to the importance of people and their relationship with God, over the building and its chattels.

Finally, if we look as to why our temple was destroyed, we again see the human element play the biggest role.

As we learn in Yoma 9a and b “The First Temple was destroyed because of the idol worship, prohibited relations and bloodshed that took place within it, and the Second Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

Rav Kook explains in his Orot Kodesh, that on the flip side, “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam”

We can see through this, the construction of both the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash, and the destruction of both Beit HaMikdashim that it is only through the interactions and relationships that the Jewish people as a nation has with God and each other. Only when we can come together, stand as one people, can the mishkan or Temple be created, and hold any meaning, when we are divided and our faith is lacking we lose our direct connection with God.

The reality is, that it is a joke that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God wanted to build a replica of our Temple to be the center of their faith. It is not something that should have organizations and communities up in arms – because that is not the point of our Mishkan and our Temple, past and future. The point, as our texts and history tell us, is not an empty building that is nothing more than an edifice, it is the people that fill it, and whom invite the shechina to dwell within it.

About the Author
Originally from Auckland New Zealand, much of Alon's time over the past ten years has been for the growth and development of community. Alon has an MA in Sociology from the University of Auckland, and is a graduate of Yeshiva University's Semicha program. He is the Rabbi of the ACT Jewish Community in Canberra, Australia. Alon also holds a degree in Medieval Jewish History.
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