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We Want the Temple Now!

By Tzvi Fishman
2/27/2011, 12:00 AM

There are a few other problems preventing us from building the Temple right now. In this blog, we will mention some of them, without entering into the thorough halachic explanation that they involve.   In general, matters relating to the Beit HaMikdash are on such a transcendental level that they are very often above our rational understanding, in a category all by themselves, not to be compared to the performance of regular mitzvot. In fact, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook wrote  that one small trespass on the holiness of our eternal Beit HaMikdash negates the merit of the establishment of millions of settlements in the Land of Israel (Igrot HaRiyah 2:285).  

My perspective follows the opinions, as I understand them, of Rabbi Kook, his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and former Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, and Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, all of blessed memory.  

A blueprint isn't enough.

As we noted in the previous blog, the Redemption of Am Yisrael is a developing historical process which comes gradually to completion, with the passing of time. The Talmud states: “The Nation of Israel was commanded with three commandments upon entering the Land: to appoint a king; to wipe out the seed of Amalek; and to build the Beit HaMikdash” (Sanhedrin 20B). These mitzvot are to be carried out according to the order stated. First, the Kingdom of Israel must be solidified, then Amalek must be destroyed, and then it is possible to build the Beit HaMikdash. The Rambam rules that this order was not only the way the Temple was built in the days of Joshua, King David, and King Solomon, but also true for us today (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 1:1-2).

Today, we have been blessed with establishing Jewish sovereignty over a portion of Eretz Yisrael, and there is an aspect of Jewish kingship (Malchut) in this, but we are still in a stage of development, in which both the physical and spiritual aspects of the nation need to be strengthened. Jerusalem is being rebuilt, the ingathering of the exiles continues, more and more Torah institutions are opening to meet the ever-growing thirst for the word of G-d, and the arrival of Mashiach, the pinnacle of Malchut, is coming closer every minute. Soon, the majority of Jews in Israel will be religious, and when the Knesset has a religious majority, the laws of the State will undergo a drastic change for the better, bringing us ever closer to our long-awaited goal of establishing a Torah State over all the Land of Israel, may it come to pass soon. If Hashem decides to speed up the process and send the Mashiach before the Knesset calls for the election of a king, well and good, but the fact remains that, at present, we still have a ways to go before our true Jewish kingdom develops to completion. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook emphasized that our task today was to strengthen the Torah foundations throughout the nation, and that would lead the way to the Temple’s rebuilding.

As far as Amalek goes, today we don’t know exactly who the nation of Amalek is, and so we can’t do away with him, even if we wanted to. While Israel has no shortage of enemies, not every one of them is necessarily from the seed of Amalek. It seems obvious that the spirit of Amalek surfaced in Hitler’s Germany, but we can’t be sure that all of today’s Germans are Amalekites. And we can’t slaughter all Arab peoples, no matter how much they hate us, under the supposition that they are Amalek’s offspring. So this uncertainty presents another problem on our way to rebuilding the Temple.

According to the Prophet's instruction.

In addition to these two hindering factors, the Beit HaMikdash can only be built upon a prophet’s instruction (Ramban on Deut. 12:5, according to the Sifre. See also, Mishpat Kohen 174). King David learned the details of the Temple’s construction from the prophet, Samuel, yet he didn’t set about to build it until the prophet, Gad, instructed him to begin (Samuel 2, 24:18-19). And he finally was thwarted in realizing his dream, once again by the prophet, who told him to stop gathering materials, for it was his son who was destined to oversee its construction (Kings 1, 8:19). Also, regarding the building of the Second Temple, the initiative was taken by Ezra, who was a prophet, recognized as Malachi by the Talmud (Megillah 15A). The Talmud teaches that three prophets returned with the Jews from Babylon, each with explicit instructions regarding the rebuilding of the Temple (Zevachim 62A). When the Persians ordered that work on the Temple immediately be stopped, the prophet Haggai ordered the building to continue (Haggai, 1:2). Everything was on the instructions of the prophets of Israel, not according to well-meaning activists, however fervent they might have been in their zeal for the Beit HaMikdash.           

Of course, Hashem can bring things about however He sees fit: with a king in Israel or without one; with a prophet or without one. But as long as He lets things unfold in a seemingly natural developmental process, we have to go by the principles which our Sages established.

Furthermore, the “Sefer HaChinuch” states that the building of the Beit HaMikdash applies in a time when the majority of Jews are in Israel, for this is a mitzvah which is incumbent on the entire Jewish community, and not only a group of inspired individuals (Sefer HaChinuch 95).

The question can rightly be asked – if all this is true, how was the Second Temple built, since there were neither a majority of the world’s Jews in Israel at the time, nor a sovereign Jewish kingdom?

One answer is that upon a prophet’s instruction, as occurred with Ezra and Haggai during the time of the Second Temple, the Almighty is free to bring things about as He pleases. Nonetheless, our Sages teach that because the majority of Jews did not return to Israel from the fleshpots of the Babylonian exile, and because the Jewish kingdom wasn’t established at the time, the foundations of the Temple were weak from the start, and its destruction was just a matter of time.

Our Sages teach us that it was fitting that Hashem perform miracles for the Jews returning with Ezra, but that “sin prevented it” (Berachot 4A). What sin? The Maharasha explains, “Because all of the Jews didn’t return” (Yoma 9B). Because they didn’t all return like a “wall,” standing strong and fortified together to establish the Kingdom of Israel (Rashi, Ketubot 111A), the foundation was bound to rot and the Temple be destroyed. By the time the Hashmonaim dynasty established the kingship generations later, the seeds of destruction had already been planted through the Temple’s building in national division and weakness.

According to Resh Lakish, the Shechinah did not rest on the Second Temple in its full splendor because the majority of the nation remained behind in Bavel (Yoma 9b). When Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah came from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael, he saw Resh Lakish swimming in the Jordan River. Resh Lakish said to him: “I don’t return your greeting, for you Jews (who remained in Bavel) destroyed the Beit HaMikdash."

The “Kuzari” also attributes the Shechinah’s absence from the Second Temple to the sorrowful fact that the majority of Jews of the time preferred to remain in exile: “This is the sin which kept the Divine promise regarding the Second Temple from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to ascend. But only a part was ready to do so, while the majority and the community leaders remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, unwilling to leave their villas and business affairs” (Kuzari 2:24).

Without the unity of the nation that could have established Jewish sovereignty from the start, the Second Beit HaMikdash lacked the basis necessary for its continuance.  

Who will be the lucky heifer?


Finally, for the service in the Temple to begin, we need the Parah Adumah - the ashes of the “Red Heifer” to purify us so that we can ascend the Temple Mount proper with our sacrifices, at least up to the “Cheil,” and so the Kohanim can enter the holiest precincts of the Temple “Azarah” courtyard and Hechal. The “Cheil,” which surrounded the entire perimeter of the Beit Hamikdash, was either an open space ten amot wide or a wall ten amot high (Aruch Hashulchan Ha’atid, Beit Hamikdash 11:5; Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Sefer Har HaBayit, chap. 24).While several potential red cows have recently been sighted, none of them met all the requirements for the job. Cloning presents a new hope, but we’re still waiting for the first holy “Dolly.” In the meantime, while several esteemed Rabbis allow Jews to ascend the Temple Mount in areas remote from the site of the Temple proper, no one gives permission for anyone to come close to actual Temple Azarah courtyard and Hechal, where the Kodesh and Kodesh HaKodeshim were located. And since, without a prophet, we can’t know exactly where these boundaries lie, the official policy of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel still forbids Jews to go up to the Temple Mount at all, lest they mistakenly wander into a prohibited area and get themselves fried with the severe punishment of karet, being cut off before one’s allotted time (Bamidbar, 19:13, 20; Makkot 14B; Rambam, Beit HaMikdash 3:12-13; and Sefer HaMitzvot, negative commandment77, positive commandment 31).

Having written all this, I apologize for its briefness and for my lack of expertise on the very wide scope of the subject, hoping that I haven’t misstated any of the opinions of the esteemed and holy Rabbis mentioned.

Shavuah tov!