Rabbi Shlomo Riskin appeared so elated it seemed as if he would jump from his stationary standing position and sing praise to the Almighty right then and there. And all for the seemingly simple act of being fitted by a... tailor.
The Third Temple may seem distant, but it still appears a lot closer than it was a hundred years ago.
Yet, the "tailor" wasn't just any tailor, but Rabbi Yisrael Ariel of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Ariel and his colleagues carefully took the measurements of Rabbi Riskin and several other rabbis, all kohanim, to eventually outfit them with the priestly garments according to the exact specifications in the Torah.
Yehuda Glick, the Temple Institute's Director, beamed, "Today, in this room, kohanim are being measured for the first time in 2,000 years for the type of garments they will be wearing in a rebuilt Temple."
The Third Temple of the Third Jewish Commonwealth.
This was the latest endeavor that the rabbis and yeshiva students of the Temple Institute have been working towards for years. Not if, but when (as they delight in proclaiming) the Third Temple is finally dedicated and construction has begun, they'll be ready to supervise the holy project down to every possible specification spelled out in the Torah. And they're quite serious about it. If tomorrow the Temple should suddenly appear by Divine intervention, they'll be ready to head in and begin their work. They've been ready for years. They've devoted their lives to creating the Third Temple.
In the meantime they'll make all the necessary preparations, even to the point of taking clothing measurements of distinguished rabbis chosen from among the kohanim, so that when the day finally arrives they'll have the proper priestly attire to move into the Temple and initiate the rituals described in the Bible.
It's easy to dismiss such rabbis as merely tilting at windmills, preparing for a distant time when there might be a Third Temple. To the student of history, or perhaps even to the chosen rabbis themselves, the physical reality of the Third Temple may seem distant, but it still appears a lot closer than it was a hundred years ago.
A century ago there was no State of Israel. It was only a dream. The Jewish presence in the land was minimal, the country was desolate, the inhabitants hostile. And yet a small group of idealists decided to begin working towards the goal of a Jewish return and Jewish statehood at a time when few thought it was possible.
"If you will it, it is no dream."
Theodor Herzl internalized that ethos, then devoted his life to seeing it through. Everything he did towards the goal of creating a Jewish state, however small, insignificant or even utterly ridiculous it appeared at the time, ultimately mattered in the end. Herzl and his followers created what others had for centuries deemed impossible, a Jewish state in the ancient Jewish homeland. They weren't satisfied with simply waiting and praying and hoping, they worked and prepared for the Jewish state that they knew they could create.
"The Maccabeans will rise again," declared Herzl in the last paragraph of his book The Jewish State. He didn't speculate or theorize. He used the phrase "will rise again" as a point of fact.
And so it was.
Yet, in retrospect, there were very few in the early 20th Century who would have seriously thought that a powerful affluent Jewish state, feared and respected by its neighbors, would become a reality in the decades to come. But Herzl believed it. He predicted it. He willed it.
"In fifty years time everyone will know it," said Herzl of the future Jewish state.
They see time as a sequence of events on their side.
And now we have rabbis and yeshiva devotees working diligently to prepare for the rebuilding of the Third Temple. They see time as a sequence of events on their side - the Jews return to the Promised Land, the Jewish state is reborn; surrounding hostile nations try to destroy Israel, the Jewish people reclaim Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Those are the obvious events. Less obvious are the more subtle realities that add up - the rebuilding of the Jewish Quarter; Jews steadily moving into the Old City; even the Temple Mount tunnel excavations.
But alas, those big mosques are still situated on the Temple Mount. For now.
So in the meantime, they pray and wait - and prepare for that inevitable day when the Third Temple will be rebuilt. They know. They've learned from history.
If you will it, it is no dream.