LeShana Haba’a BiYerushalayim HaBenuya
We have begun the parshiot extensively covering the subject of Mishkan, and much of Sefer Vayikra will also deal with matters directly related to the Mishkan. Furthermore, from the moment Am Yisrael enters Eretz Yisrael there is one long-term objective – the building of the Beit HaMikdash.
So much of our heritage centers on our Mikdash; to this day we wait with eager anticipation for the coming of Mashiach, and the rebuilding of the third Beit HaMikdash. It therefore seems only natural we dedicate a sicha to the importance and centrality of the Temple to the Jewish people.
This issue is complicated by the knowledge that Am Yisrael needs no medium in their relationship with the Almighty. We have been taught to turn to God directly, ‘reveal’ our innermost thoughts, and pour out our hearts. A Jew can always turn to the Almighty, wherever he or she is, whatever he or she may be doing.
In light of this fundamental principle, why do we need a Mikdash? And if the Mikdash is so essential, how have we managed to survive without it for two millennia? What does exile represent?
The Ramban, in his introduction to Sefer Shemot, seems to understand the Mishkan as an ongoing Har Sinai experience. The Revelation was not meant to be a one-off encounter; it was just the beginning of a continuing relationship with the Almighty.
The structure of the Tabernacle is not dissimilar in its boundaries to the layout of Mount Sinai at the time of Matan Torah. On the very day we received the Torah, there were areas designated only for the pure, areas for the elders, an area for Yehoshua, and even areas defined for Moshe Rabbeinu alone.
We experience similar divisions in the Beit HaMikdash: areas any pure Jew can enter, areas solely accessible to the Priests, and areas limited uniquely to the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The Holy of Holies appears to run parallel to the top of the mount; just as the Torah emanates from Har Sinai, ongoing revelation stems from the Holy of Holies.
As mentioned earlier, this beautiful idea establishes the understanding that the Torah is a living Torah, an unending revelation. The ideal scenario is that this revelation last forever. This form of dialogue between the Almighty and Am Yisrael should retain its spiritual level, slowly but surely spreading God’s message throughout the world.
That said, how are we to understand the destruction of the Temple? Are we to understand that the revelation is over, Heaven forbid? And if it is over, how can we survive in the spiritual arena? What are we meant to achieve through exile?
The truth is we cannot survive without the Torah. Not only is there no Am Yisrael without Torah, there is also no purpose to the world. The Torah is the engine of this world, and without it there is no meaning, no direction, and no objective.
The Mikdash is the extension of Har Sinai with one essential distinction. The Torah had not yet been given at Har Sinai, but once we received it, it became ours for eternity – Torat Hashem… Torat Yisrael.
Clearly, the highest and most ideal form of Torah relationship with the Almighty would initially be reflected by the enduring revelation through the Mishkan, and later on through the Mikdash. However, if Am Yisrael were no longer spiritually worthy of such a revelation, all would not be lost. The Torah would accompany us wherever we were sent; it would retain our spiritual status and nurture us until we were once again worthy of direct revelation.
The Mishkan/Mikdash develops an already existing phenomenon, introduced at Har Sinai. The world could never exist without the initiation of the latter, but it can continue to develop, albeit at a slower pace and at a lower level, without the former, through continuing Torah observance and study.
According to the Ramban, we suggest that man can speak to God whenever he wants, but the Revelation at Har Sinai can only be extended through Mikdash.
How have we been able to survive the terrible years of exile? Only through the Torah; strict observance and continuous study. Why do we yearn for the third Mikdash if we have managed for so long without it? Because indeed we have only ‘managed.’ We can never fulfill our greatest spiritual potential in a society that exists without Mikdash. We are limited in what we can achieve; our potential is stunted.
We should not be misled by the growth of Torah learning in our generation. It is indeed an incredible feat, especially in the light of the tragedies of the not-so-distant past, yet the further we are from our idyllic scenario, the less we really comprehend, and things become more superficial.
The Mikdash cannot be replaced, just as Yerushalayim cannot be replaced. To merit the revelations of Yerushalayim we have to deserve it. The exilic Torah sustains us, keeps us alive, even elevates us, but the Torah of Mikdash takes us to the Heavens, revealing spiritual realities we never knew existed.
If we are to merit the Mikdash, we must repeat the acts of our forefathers all those years ago. In just seven weeks, Bnei Yisrael managed to transform themselves from an almost unidentifiable mass being dragged out of Egypt, into a holy people worthy of Revelation.
As we have said on so many occasions, the Mikdash is not a building. It is a spiritual reality. When we reach that reality we will have a Mikdash once again, de-facto.
The Abarbanel suggests a theme that adds to the Ramban. The Abrahamic idea of monotheism saw the Almighty God as being an active God, totally involved in this world. Har Sinai only comes to publicly confirm the lessons taught in Egypt: it is God’s world. He rules it; He controls it. The purpose of Mikdash is to act as a constant reminder of God’s active presence in the world. Surely man can pray to God wherever he may be, but when he arrives in Yerushalayim he will be strengthened through the experience that God is ‘there for him to see.’
A generation worthy of the Temple is a generation that fully comprehends God as the true King of Kings. When learning sifrei mussar, the authors often talk of the lowest level of ‘fear of God.’ This is claimed to be obvious and easily attainable, yet it seems so far from our daily experience.
The base level of fearing God is the constant awareness that we will be held responsible for all of our actions; He is watching all we do; He is everywhere, and we need to be aware we always stand before Him.
But is this really so easy? Is it so simple to walk the streets with a full awareness of the Holy Presence? Even in Mikdash times, when the level of spiritual awareness is formidably higher than exilic standards, there is still a need to periodically make one’s way to Yerushalayim for a strong reminder before whom we stand.
For the Abarbanel, the idea of Mikdash is not simply a continued revelation, but a symbolic statement. The people are of a spiritual caliber that makes them fully conscious of God’s direct involvement in the world. If we ever become complacent of such a fundamental principle; if we begin to forget that God is the active center of this world, then the consequence is the removal of Mikdash.
With this understanding, there is no suggestion that exile is the end. On the contrary, we are sent into exile with the ultimate challenge. You have forgotten who rules the world; God will now ‘hide’ Himself, and you will prove yourselves worthy by finding Him again. Those of us who are worthy will find him everywhere, even in the darkest areas of exile.
In his sichot to Chanukah, the Netivot Shalom repeatedly emphasizes that Chanukah occurs during the darkest time of the month (the end of Kislev and the start of Tevet.) This is the darkest month of the year, and if that were not enough, we are told to light the candles at a height of 10 tefachim (handbreadths) – a height ‘devoid of Divine Presence!’ Despite these ‘limitations,’ we are told to light the Chanukah lights.
We can find God in the darkest of realities. In the winter, with desolation – bare trees and uprooted plants – all around us, we are told we can and must light lights. The mission of the exile is to find God once again, and to bring Him back into our lives. As soon as we have done this we will once again merit Mikdash. That Mikdash will reflect our achievement; a public declaration that man has crowned God as the Ruler of the Universe.
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 95) suggests the purpose of the Mikdash was to be a single place representing the ideal for humankind. A place to go for inspiration, a place to realign, redefine oneself, to gain strength and move forward.
This Mikdash is for sure not the only place man can speak to God. On the contrary, every individual lives in their own respective areas, attends their own shul, and speaks to God wherever he may be.
Jerusalem was not a normal city; it was the city of the Mikdash. Civilians were not encouraged to live there, but they were encouraged to visit. Jerusalem essentially belongs to no particular tribe, even though it is within the area designated to Yehuda. It belongs to the whole of Am Yisrael.
With this in mind, we can clearly see the Mikdash is not the only place man can converse with God. It is worth noting that in Shlomo Hamelech’s consecration of the Temple, the Mikdash is described as a place where people come to pray to God. However, a detailed study of the chapter shows that the occasions enumerated are either national, or very serious private ones. There is certainly no inference that this is the only place to pray.
So the Mikdash reflects a central focus for spiritual inspiration. To be inspired, one needs to value the Mikdash. If we are to be influenced by the holiness of the holy city, we must surely value that holiness. Exile comes when we no longer see Yerushalayim as our central objective; when we create alternative ‘Jerusalems,’ or alternative ‘Batei Mikdash.’
We cannot be inspired if we do not value the source of the inspiration. We were sent into exile because we no longer valued the truth the Beit Mikdash represented. Perhaps we valued the building and its external symbolism, but we had replaced the important central themes with peripheral ones.
Our role in exile is to reassess our value system; regain our perspectives and once again yearn for Yerushalayim and Mikdash. To yearn for Mikdash is not to yearn for escapism from an oppressor. To yearn for Mikdash is not to pray that our financial burdens be lightened.
Whenever visiting Poland, I stress to our students that we do not live in Israel in order to escape another Holocaust or anti-Semitic persecution. We live in Israel because we see Israel as a spiritual platform; an inspirational place to come closer to the Almighty.
Unfortunately, today’s reality is that the majority of Jews who have made aliya to Israel have come from countries of persecution. Spiritual Israel is not meant to be a country of refuge but an idyllic home for the Jewish people. If religious Jews really saw it that way, they would make aliya from ‘friendly’ countries hosting us with generosity, warmth, and equal rights.
If we were really mourning on Tisha B’Av, feeling empty because we really feel the lack of Mikdash, then Mikdash would come…
Why do we start Ma’ariv immediately after Neilah with a request to be forgiven for our sins? A colleague told me it’s because we could have committed the one possible sin between the end of Neilah and the beginning of Ma’ariv: singing ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ with no real intent and yearning!
The exact same principle is true for the Beit HaMikdash. To merit it, we must pray with a real yearning to have it for its own sake, and not to escape the problems of exile. When we really feel we are missing something crucial; when we internalize the fact that the Mikdash is our supreme inspirational source, our actions will reflect a shift in perspective, and the Almighty will return it to us.
The only one of the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith demanding a constant daily yearning is the coming of Mashiach. When we sing of ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ we must mean it, and if we don’t really mean it we cannot be surprised if it doesn’t materialize.
In conclusion, perhaps we could add a fourth facet to Mikdash. Mikdash represents the united people of Israel. We can live as individually religious Jews or we can live as a people. If we compare the yearly calendar during Mikdash times with that of exilic times, we see two entirely different religious experiences.
Today, Pesach virtually centers round the destroying of chametz and the Seder Night. Each family is in their own home reliving the events of the Exodus. During Mikdash times, Pesach is a unique gathering of the entire people of Israel in Yerushalayim.
All of Israel must be there because we must all partake of the Korban Pesach, and that can only be done in Yerushalayim. Imagine the whole of Am Yisrael packing the narrow streets of the Old City of Yerushalayim … imagine the roads leading to Yerushalayim… imagine Seder Night around the Korban Pesach, with groups of families crowded together in makeshift accommodation throughout the city… imagine that kind of Pesach; an experience that unites the Jewish people, a true national independence day.
Each festival, even the High Holidays, becomes a national celebration; a conglomeration of Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, and Torat Yisrael. In times of Mikdash our existence is a national one, but if we cannot live without inner strife and selfishness then the Mikdash can no longer unite us.
We are exiled; we are no longer worthy of our extended revelation because we no longer behave like a people. We must be exiled, regroup, reunite, and only then return to our ideal of the three pillars – Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, and Torat Yisrael.
 See page ?
 Ethical works.
 Rabbi Shalom Noach Brazovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe, 1911-2000.
 A Study of the 613 Mitzvot and their meaning in our lives, attributed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona in the 13th Century.
 Melachim Alef, 8.