What I Pray for When I Pray for the Third Temple
Recently, I shared my struggle with prayers that call for a Third Temple and a return to animal sacrifices based upon four primary concerns: The holiness of time vs. space tension, the problem of central authority, the conception of animal sacrifices, and the prophetic message that we must prioritize social justice not sacrifices. I received scores of messages from people around the world. Many seeking to be open thinking, yet committed to traditional observance like myself, have asked me what I think about or pray for when I recite the traditional passages that call for rebuilding the Temple.
How to relate to the loss of the Temple has been an age old traditional struggle for Jews. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai comforted Rabbi Yehoshua: “You don’t have to cry. It says in the prophet [Hoshea 6:6] that G-d says, ‘I want kindness, not sacrifices.’ That tells us that every time that someone does a chesed (act of kindness), G-d furnishes as much atonement as the sacrifices of the Holy Temple. Chesed is just as effective as the sacrifices to achieve atonement,” (Avot d’Rebbi Natan).
I have five primary ideas in mind during these prayers:
- I pray that our Torah learning, prayers, and acts of kindness can act like a sacrifice going up to the heavens as if they were in a sweet aroma. At a moment of Divine worship, each of us stands in our own temple standing before Hashem. The stakes are higher than ever as we cannot rely on a priest for our worship. We stand alone before the Judge of the universe.
- I pray that a day will come that we will all be radically conscious of G-d’s presence in the world and that this presence will be more pervasively manifest as it was in the days of the Temple. When we make a blessing today, we focus intensely on G-d’s presence, but in the days to come, our minds will remain in that constant state of focused blessing. I pray that we will be suffused with Divine intimacy.
- I think of sacrifices as remarkable human endeavors where we transcend our self-interest for our higher calling. I pray that we are able to make similar sacrifices in our own lives, and devote our lives to a selfless avodat Hashem, going beyond our comfort zone for spiritual growth and Divine service. We must bring the fire of the korbanot to this avodah as well. We are to imitate G-d as “a burning bush that was not consumed” as we are to be on fire like a sacrifice and yet not lose ourselves to that inner fire. I pray that the very notion of sacrifice is transformed, from the taking of sentient life to a life of service. Through the radical cultivation of our inner fire (offerings), we will sacrifice of ourselves for the greater good.
- Because I am constantly seeking to understand the greater mysteries of the universe, I ask questions about how I can further my own relationship with the Divine:
Olah – How can I elevate myself closer to G-d?
Chatat – Where am I morally and spiritually going astray?
Asham – What barriers are blocking me from serving G-d with my full potential?
Shelamim – How can I help to foster peace and justice in the world?
The sacrificial liturgy evokes endless questions that open the heart.
- I pray that we find ways to bring the sanctity of the Temple to the Land of Israel, to our synagogues, to our personal prayer spaces, and to the four corners of the earth. This, once again, raises the stakes in that we must bring holiness to all aspects of our life and to all corners of the world rather than to a singular place.
I continue to struggle with the notion of a literal Temple where reintroduced animal sacrifices would be part of its daily operation in the world in which we live. In ancient Jerusalem, there was a deep existential awareness people could have in the powerful moment of offering a sacrifice, but I dream of a world where we can feel that intimacy and closeness with the Creator with all of our hearts, rather than through killing other sentient creatures. I believe that our prayer life must be authentic and that G-d demands our full integrity that we believe and yearn for what we pray for. These sincere prayers should fuel our daily actions to improve the world.
I pray that we all have our own “sacrifices” to yearn for that make us better and that we not merely pray for messianic visions that we don’t desire with all of our souls; to really search inside the deepest recesses of our souls to embrace the difficult quandaries that have affected the very way by which we interact with the world and the Divine. My personal prayers mean too much to me that I cannot pray for something that I do not believe in. Yet, our collective prayers also mean so much to me that I will never change a single letter. I believe there is great opportunity for authentic prayer, dreaming, and meaning-making within our prayer sections, but also the great opportunity for us to bear our souls and call up to the heavens with our doubts and fears. Rather than an answer book, the Torah provides a container for sustained grappling with wonder and mystery. I have shared a few of my personal intentions in the hope that others who don’t embrace a literal temple and sacrifices will potentially find meaning in the traditional liturgy and increased potential for spiritual creativity. And I continue to pray that G-d give me the wisdom to understand G-d’s Torah in a way that is authentic to our tradition and true to ourselves.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of seven books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”