Preparing for Eternity

Hashem commanded Moshe to construct the Mishkan in the Sinai Desert; yet the Enumeration of the Mitzvot of the Mahara”m Hagiz clearly states that the mitzvah is “to build a Holy Temple when they enter the Land of Israel”.

Daniel Pinner

Judaism Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner

Parashat Terumah opens with G-d commanding Moshe (Moses) to gather donations from the Children of Israel to build the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). The first seven verses list fifteen different components, on which Rabbi Menachem Reikanati (Italy, late 13th century) comments: “The Torah mentions fifteen items, corresponding to which are fifteen Psalms of Ascents [Psalms 120 to 134], fifteen words in the Priestly Blessing , and fifteen expressions of praise in Yishtabach [shir, sh’vachah, hallel…b’rachot va-hoda’ot]. These correspond to the Divine Name YUD-HEH [whose gematria is 15]” (Commentary on Exodus 25:3).

The rest of the Parashah details which items which the Children of Israel were commanded to make: the Ark, the staves with which to carry the Ark, the cover for the Ark, the Cherubim, the table for the Show-bread, the Menorah, the planks with which to build the Mishkan, the silver sockets to hold the planks, the Altar, the curtains to delineate the Courtyard of the Mishkan…the list goes on and on.

And yet, in spite of the dozens of items to be made, all the intricate details of their designs, there are only three mitzvot in the Parashah, two positive and one negative:

To build a Holy Temple when they enter the Land of Israel, as it says “And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8);

-never to remove the staves from the Ark, as it says “The staves will remain in the rings of the Ark, they must not be removed from it” (25:15);

-and that the Kohanim (Priests) must arrange the Showbread and frankincense before Hashem every Shabbat, as it says “And you shall place the Showbread on the Table before Me, always” (25:30).

The first of these three seems puzzling: Hashem was commanding Moshe to construct the Mishkan in the Sinai Desert; yet the Enumeration of the Mitzvot of the Mahara”m Hagiz (Rabbi Moshe Hagiz, Israel 1672-c.1751) clearly states that the mitzvah is “to build a Holy Temple when they enter the Land of Israel”.

There are several sources which agree that “Israel were commanded to carry out three mitzvot when they entered the Land of Israel: to appoint a king, to eradicate the memory of Amalek, and to build the Holy Temple” (Sanhedrin 20b; Sifrei, Re’eh 67; Tanhuma, Ki Teitze 11 et. al.), and the Rambam (Laws of Kings 1:1) cites this as practical halakhah.

As such, the commandment to construct the Tabernacle in the Sinai Desert was only a temporary injunction; indeed, the Rambam writes that “It is a positive mitzvah to build a House for G-d, ready for sacrifices to be sacrificed therein. We celebrate there three times a year, as it is written ‘And they will make for Me a Sanctuary’. The Sanctuary which Moshe our Master built in the desert has already been described in the Torah, but that was only temporary, as the Torah says, ‘Because you have not yet come to the resting-place and to the inheritance which Hashem your G-d gives you’ (Deuteronomy 12:9)” (Laws of the Holy Temple 1:1).

And the Rambam continues in the next halachah: “When they entered the Land of Israel, they erected the Sanctuary in Gilgal for fourteen years, while they were conquering the Land and dividing it up [among the Twelve Tribes]. From there they came to Shiloh where they built a House of stone, over which they spread the curtains of the Sanctuary…, and it stood in Shiloh for 369 years; when Eli died, it was destroyed. Then they came to Nov and built a Sanctuary, and when Samuel died it was destroyed. Then they came to Giv’on (Gibeon) and built a Sanctuary, and from Giv’on they came to the eternal House”.

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) sees in the command to build the Sanctuary in the desert an allusion to the two Holy Temples. G-d commands, “They will make for Me a Mikdash [‘holy place’, ‘Sanctuary’], and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The Ba’al ha-Turim notes that the word ve-shachanti (“and I will dwell”) breaks down into the expression ve-shachan (“He will reside”) tav-yud (“410”), alluding to the first Holy Temple which stood for 410 years. And the letters of the word ve-shachanti rearrange to form shney tav-kaf (“420 years”), alluding to the second Holy Temple which stood for 420 years.

The Midrash Lekach Tov expounds: “‘They will make for Me a Mikdash’ – in this world and in the future time. ‘And I will dwell in their midst’ – forever and ever. G-d bestowed tremendous love upon Israel by compressing His Shekhinah into their midst; ‘Happy is the nation for whom this is so, happy is the nation whose G-d is Hashem!’ (Psalms 144:15)”.

Clearly, the mitzvah to build the Holy Temple applies to every generation – and in particular to our most blessed of generations, this generation which has merited to inherit and to settle in the Land of Israel. But as long as we have not yet rebuilt it, the entire nation, the Torah itself, is deficient: of the 613 mitzvot, some two-thirds entirely depend upon, or are connected with, the Holy Temple.

“Every generation in whose days the Holy Temple is not rebuilt is considered as though they had destroyed it” (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1). Harsh words indeed! Why should a generation be considered as though they had destroyed the Holy Temple just because it had not been rebuilt in their days?

The Midrash explains: “What is the reason? Because they had not repented” (Yalkut Shimoni, Psalms 886). Had our generation – we personally – done true teshuva, then the Holy Temple would already have been rebuilt.

For the first time in millennia, we control the Temple Mount. And as the Rambam says, “Once the Holy Temple had been built in Jerusalem, it became forbidden to build any Temple to G-d and to offer sacrifices in any other place. And there can be no Temple which will last throughout the generations other than in Jerusalem, and specifically on Mount Moriah” (Laws of the Holy Temple 1:3).

We must not despair that after almost two-thirds of a century of Jewish independence in Israel, and almost half a century of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, we have not yet even begun to rebuild the Holy Temple. After all, even after Joshua led us into the Land, it took another 440 years before King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:1).

To be sure we are obligated to rebuild, and every day that passes and the Temple Mount remains desolate under the rubble of idolatry is a tragedy and a disaster.

But equally, awareness of the Holy Temple is growing rapidly within the Jewish public in Israel; the concept no longer sounds strange and outlandish – which is already a tremendous development. It is not surprising that after a long and bitter exile, the nation needs time to recover and to achieve the heights of holiness to which the Holy Temple will bring us: two thousand years of exile cannot be cured in a single generation.

The Rambam (cited above) states that “It is a positive mitzvah to build a House for G-d…”. Obviously, however, even under the most ideal of circumstances not every Jew can physically put brick upon brick and pour cement. Therefore, according to many authorities, the mitzvah is to take part in some way in the building of the Holy Temple.

In this week’s Parashah, every Jew took part in building the Mishkan by contributing their wealth. In our generation, every Jew can participate in rebuilding the Holy Temple by, at the very least, helping to infuse the idea and the ideal of rebuilding into the national consciousness. And thereby, every Jew can take part in building the Third Temple, the Temple which will stand for all time.

Thus every Jew can prepare for eternity.