Shiur #04: The Absence of the Mikdash (Part IV) - What Can We Do to Hasten the Rebuilding of the Temple?

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

            In this shiur, we wish to complete our discussion of the significance of the absence of the Mikdash.  After having noted several realms characteristic of the Temple service that no longer exist, we wish to propose several areas in which every Jew can contribute in a practical way to hastening the Temple's rebuilding.  We will also touch upon the issue of seeking out the place of the Mikdash and our present-day connection to the Temple Mount and the Mikdash.




The most important repair is based on the understanding that the Mikdash expresses a spiritual reality.  The gemara (Sanhedrin 96b) states that when Nevuzaradan destroyed the first Temple, he became haughty and conceited.  A heavenly voice issued forth from Heaven and said to him: "You killed a dead nation, you burned a burnt sanctuary, you ground ground flour." That is to say, from the moment that Israel's spiritual level deteriorated to the low state that it had reached, the Mikdash was already regarded as destroyed, so that the nations that actually destroyed it merely "finished the job."




            The gemara in Yoma 9b explains the main cause of the destruction of the second Temple:


But why was the second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves in the Torah, [observance of] mitzvot, and the practice of loving-kindness? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause.  This teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as equal in severity to the three sins of idolatry, incest and bloodshed together.


            The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael, chap. 4) explains that the superiority of the second Temple, in which the Shekhina did not reside (see our shiurim on biblical Jerusalem, 2nd year, shiurim 26-28), lay in Israel themselves, who were united through the Temple.  Once groundless hatred began to grow and Israel's unity around God and the Temple unraveled, there was no longer room for the Mikdash.


            What is groundless hate? The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hechaltzu, p. 259) explains:


Because of a person's being, he does not make room for the other.  For perforce the other diminishes his existence, and therefore he cannot tolerate him. 


            And the Netziv writes (Ha-amek Davar, introduction to the book of Bereishit):


The people who lived during the second Temple period were righteous and pious and they toiled in the Torah, but they were not upright in their worldly conduct.  Therefore, owing to the groundless hate that they harbored in their hearts one for the other, they suspected anyone who did not follow their own approach in the fear of God of being a Sadducee or a heretic.  And this brought to bloodshed[1]




            Well-known are the words of Rav Kook:


If we were destroyed and the world was destroyed with us owing to groundless hate, we will be rebuilt and the world will be rebuilt with us through groundless love (Orot Ha-kodesh, III, p. 324).[2]


            Just as the destruction was based on a corrupt spiritual reality, so, too, the Temple will be rebuilt through a repair of that spiritual reality through groundless love.


            Here the question arises: Surely we are all bound by the positive commandment of "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord" (Vayikra 19:18).  What, then, does "groundless love" add to this mitzva? What precisely is the added dimension of groundless love in relation to the basic level of love obligated by Torah law?


            The idea of groundless love may be as follows: Love that does not depend on anything else – love that does not flow from the manner that the other person appears or conducts himself, but from the very recognition of his goodness, as he is.  We naturally love another person  because of his good qualities, his radiant personality, or his worthy outlook on the world; in this sense, our love depends on something.  According to what we have proposed, groundless love is love that is not founded on an evaluation of the other person based on his personality or qualities, but rather unconditional love of every creature, of every person, regardless of the traits that he has or lacks.


            A second possibility is that one must love his fellow precisely as we love ourselves.  It is the way of the world that we tend to forgive ourselves for our weaknesses, providing all kinds of excuses and justifications for our own behavior, whereas with respect to other people we are inclined to be meticulous and set more stringent standards.  Groundless love may be love that is similar to self-love.  Just as a person does not love himself because of his good looks, his intelligence, or his skills, and just as he continues to love himself even when he acts wrongly,  he must love every other Jew in the same way.  The ability to see another person's virtues and not his failings, and not only to act with forbearance towards him, is what can lead to groundless love.[3]


            Another possibility is that groundless love refers to love of a wider scope - love directed at a community with which one does not have close social connections.  In addition,  a higher quality love of one's more immediate surroundings is demanded – more refinement, more sensitivity, more attention and consideration with respect to other people.


            The Yerushalmi's position is well-known:


Any generation during whose days the Temple is not rebuilt is regarded as if it had destroyed it (Yoma 1:1).


            In every generation, the potential exists to rebuild the Temple, and each generation's responsibility for not realizing that potential equals the responsibility of the generation of the destruction! The primary mission following from the absence of the Mikdash is spiritual repair.  This repair can express itself in many different ways: on the individual level and on the community level, in the realms of unity, peace, social justice, tolerance, help to others, and the like.


            In the past, I have proposed in various frameworks that we should establish regional offices of professionals in various areas – doctors, lawyers, accountants, carpenters, plumbers, psychologists, social workers, and the like – who are ready to volunteer their services to help others.[4] These offices will be called "Offices for the Rebuilding of the Temple." In this way, everyone will understand that the rebuilding of the Temple requires a spiritual rebuilding of the nation, and that the way to rebuild the Temple is through a full joining together of all sectors of the population -  right and left, secular and religious, rich and poor.  "O Jerusalem, built as a city that is compact together" (Tehillim 122:3) – through our connection to one another, the Jewish people will reconnect to God, and as a result we will be privileged to have the Temple rebuilt speedily in our days.


II.        STUDY


The main way to cope with the absence of the emotional experience of the Temple is through study.  The book of Vayikra in the Torah, the orders of Kodashim and Taharot in the Mishna, and the chapters dealing with the Mikdash and the sacrificial order scattered throughout the Talmud – all these are distant from our consciousness.  They are not the subject of study, examination, knowledge and deep understanding.


The Chafetz Chayyim related to the study of the Mikdash and the sacrificial order as an integral part of awaiting the building of the Mikdash.[5] What will we do if the messianic king arrives tomorrow morning? How will we know the location of the altar? How will we apply the law of a red heifer? What about the presumed lineage of the priesthood or the priestly garments?


There are two aspects to this study: study for the sake of practice, and study that intensifies our relationship with the Mikdash and magnifies our yearnings.  In addition to increasing one's knowledge, study enhances one's emotional connection to the studied material, brings one closer to its concepts, and leads one to a recognition of the perfection that exists in this ideal world.




Every day we pray: "May it be Your will… that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days." What do we hope for? What is missing without the Temple, and what are we asking of God? Do we really mean what we say, or are we merely parroting words?


In his book Ma'ayanei Ha-yeshu'a (chap. 56), Rav Charlop, ztz"l, explains that when a person sees the full reality of the Mikdash before his eyes and lives and breathes it, it gains meaning and his waiting turns into reality.  "Whoever mourns over Jerusalem merits to see it in its joy" (Bava Batra 60b) – it does not say here that he will merit to see it in its joy, but rather he merits to see it in its joy.  When yearnings have substance in the consciousness, in the will, and in the soul, those yearnings turn into absolute reality.


A person must honestly and seriously ask himself: Is the Mikdash really missing for me? Does today's spiritual reality, on both the individual and collective levels, suffice for my desire for God's closeness? What am I prepared to invest in order to draw closer to God and work to repair the world?[6]


            There is a famous story at the end of tractate Makkot (24b) about Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva:


Once again they were coming up to Jerusalem together, and just as they came to Mount Scopus they saw a fox emerging from the Holy of Holies.  They fell a-weeping and Rabbi Akiva seemed merry.  They said to him: Why are you merry? Said he: Why do you weep? They said to him: A place of which it was once said: "And the common man that draws near shall be put to death" (Bamidbar 1:51), is now become the haunt of foxes, and we should not weep? He said to them: Therefore am I merry, for it is written: "And I will take to Me faithful wintesses to record, Uriya the priest and Zekharya the son of Yeverakhya" (Yeshayahu 8:2).  Now what connection has this Uriya the priest with Zekharya? Uriya lived during the time of the first Temple, while Zecharya lived [and prophesied] during the second Temple.  But Scripture linked the prophecy of Zekharya with the prophecy of Uriya.  In the [earlier] prophecy [in the days] of Uriya, it is writrten: "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field" (Mikha 3:12).  In Zekharya it is written: "Thus said the Lord of Hosts, There yet shall old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem" (Zekharya 8:4).  So long as Uriya's prophecy had not had its fulfillment, I had misgivings lest Zekharya's prophecy might not be fulfilled; now that Uriya's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is quite certain that Zekharya's prophecy is being fulfilled.  They said to him: Akiva, you have comforted us! Akiva, you have comforted us!


            Once again, the gemara does not say "it is quite certain that Zekharya's prophecy will be fulfilled," but rather "it is quite certain that Zekharya's prophecy is being fulfilled." Rabbi Akiva, who saw before him the enormity of the destruction of Jerusalem brought about by Emperor Hadrian – its being plowed over and turned into a pagan city – is capable of seeing in the destruction the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zekharya in his very day.  The vision is alive, it breathes and beats within him, and even allows him to see salvation and repair in the depths of the destruction.


            The obligation falls upon us to try to deeply experience the thirst for the closeness of God, out of hope and striving that we be worthy of the rebuilding of the Mikdash.




Before concluding, let us try to understand the meaning of our connection to the Temple Mount today.[7]


The Torah states:


But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, there shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come.  (Devarim 12:5)


            On this verse, the Sifrei states (ad loc., piska 12):


Seek out the word of a prophet.  You might say you must wait until a prophet tells you.  Therefore the verse states: "There shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come" – seek and find, and afterwards the prophet will tell you.[8]


            In other words, the site of the Mikdash demands seeking.  It is not by chance, therefore, that the Torah does not specify the site of the Temple, but speaks of "the place that the Lord your God shall choose."[9]


Seeking the place in our day


            Following the tremendous miracle of our returning to Yehuda, Shomron, and the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, masses of people began to stream to all the holy places which came back under Israeli control: the Makhpela Cave, Joseph's Tomb, Rachel's Tomb – and also the Temple Mount.  In the wake of this activity, a proclamation signed by many of the generation's leading Torah authorities was issued in Elul of 5727 (1967), warning about the sanctity of the Temple Mount and the prohibition to step foot on it.


            It would have been appropriate to mark off the holiest areas and define them as "out of bounds" for everybody: Jews and Arabs, Israelis and tourists.  But the Minister of Defense handed over the keys to the Temple Mount to the Moslem Wakf.  Practically speaking, the Temple Mount fell thereby under Moslem control.  At the same time, the Kotel plaza began to assume independent significance, detached from the Temple Mount, and what is more, replacing it.


This finds expression, first and foremost, in the very name "Kotel" – the western supporting wall of the Temple Mount.  When a person goes to visit a friend and finds that he is out, does he feel that he has visited the wall of his house? This plaza should rightfully be called: "below the site of our Temple." Moreover, most people who come to pray in the Kotel plaza face the western wall of the Temple Mount, whereas Halakha (and common sense) dictates that one should face the site of the Holy of Holies (see shiur 2), which the Radbaz and others identify as below the Dome of the Rock.  Attesting to the extent of the alienation and ignorance is the comprehensive plan drawn up by an architect in the wake of the Six Day War for the building of the Temple in the Kotel plaza.  These are all expressions of how the "Kotel plaza" was turned into a place of its own, which is not intimately connected to what lies above it.


Over time, the stream of people leading to the Temple Mount came to a total halt, the rabbinic proclamation remained in force, and Moslem control over the mountain grew stronger.  This situation found a most radical expression in the terrible plunder conducted by Moslems over five years ago in the southeastern section of the Temple Mount: The flooring was broken with heavy machinery, in order to connect up at a depth of twelve meters to Solomon's Stables and open a northern entrance to the new mosque that was built in that space.  This is the spiritual expression of the weakness of our hold on the place.


Another difficult expression of this weakness is the way in which the Jews who wish to ascend the Temple Mount in a state of ritual purity are related to.  The issue of such a visit is complicated and involves spiritual, halakhic, and conceptual elements, which we will not deal with here.  For our purposes, let us say that the situation today is that at the world's holiest site a Jew cannot open his mouth in prayer, not even in the manner of Channa's prayer: "Only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard" (I Shemu'el 1:13).  Every group is accompanied by uniformed police, undercover detectives, and Wakf representatives, who watch the mouths of religious Jews,[10] and anyone who is caught praying is arrested by the Israeli police for the crime of disrupting the public order.[11]


To sum up, today there is not even a hint to Jewish presence and control of the Temple Mount, neither flag nor any other symbol of sovereignty.  This situation has created de-facto Moslem control over the Temple Mount,[12] and public and worldwide recognition that the Temple Mount belongs to the Moslems and the Western Wall to the Jews.


THe bottom line: What practical expression are we to give today to our connection to the Temple Mount?


            Every person can give practical expression to his physical connection to the Temple Mount in various ways:


        ·          Study of the historical sources and the archeological remnants at the entranceways to the Temple Mount.

        ·          Tours along the length of the southern and western walls of the Temple Mount.

        ·          On the eve of every Rosh Chodesh, a "Sivuv She'arim" is conducted.  Participants circle the Temple Mount and recite the Songs of Ascent (Shirei Ha-ma'alot) at its various gates.  We thereby articulate that the Temple Mount is exceedingly precious and important to us, and that the reason that we do not proceed further is the mountain's sanctity.  This persistence with a monthly connection to the holy place emphasizes its importance to us.  When we merit that masses of people will visit the place every month, the Jewish people's connections to the place will be clearer. 

        ·          Part of seeking out the place is being familiar with it and visiting it.  Going up to the Temple Mount in a state of holiness and purity, out of fear of the Mikdash, magnifies its holiness in our eyes, in the eyes of the authorities, and in the eyes of the world.  It is very important to emphasize that going up to the Temple Mount does not substitute for vitally necessary spiritual work.  Even someone who does not go up to the Temple Mount for whatever reason can study its entranceways and approaches and visit them.[13]


THe significance of the absence of the Mikdash: Summary


            In the last four shiurim we have probed the meaning of the absence of the Mikdash.  Many areas are connected to the Temple service, and we examined only a few examples, in order to demonstrate for ourselves the reality of life during the time that the Temple stood.  All the examples that we brought highlight the centrality of the Temple on both the individual and communal planes.


            We saw that a Jew reaches the Mikdash at set times – the three Festivals, when he brings his first fruit to the Temple between Shavu'ot and Sukkot (or Chanuka), and in the framework of his service in the priestly or levitical mishmarot or the Israelite ma'amadot, if he belongs to one of them.  But he also comes on other occasions, which do not have a fixed time, for example, when he brings a sacrifice (a sin-offering, a thanksgiving offering, a firstborn, animal tithe, or the like), or when he is involved in a court case that went up to the great Sanhedrin, which convenes in Lishkat ha-Gazit.  Coming to the Mikdash means unmediated recognition that it is the center of the nation and of all being: the center of Divine presence in the world, the source of material blessing in the entire world, and the place where a person may lift himself up to his Creator.


            The entire nation assembled in the Mikdash on various occasions (the three Pilgrim Festivals, on Yom Kippur, at the hakhel assembly, and the like).  But besides this, the Mikdash had communal significance by its very existence in that it was clear to all that God has a place that gives expression to His presence in the world and that He has a special love for the Jewish people.  The Mikdash testifies to the fact that owing to the presence of God in their midst, the Jewish people committed themselves to give constant expression to their connection to the place by serving God there.


            When a person would come to the Mikdash, he would feel the unmediated nearness of God to a degree altogether different from what can be felt today.  This feeling impacted upon his entire life and directed it to the worship of God.


            With the destruction of the Temple, our connection to God diminished and our relationship to Him weakened.  Through groundless love, yearning, prayer, study of Temple-related matters, and the renewal of our connection to it – we hope to merit speedily in our days to be worthy to have the Shekhina rest once again among us, and to be able to rebuild God's Temple.  "And there we shall serve You in fear as in ancient days and years of old."


* * *


            We have finished our discusion of the first topic in this series: the issue of the absence of the Mikdash.  In the upcoming shiurim we will move on to the next topic – the various functions of the Mikdash.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1]   This issue requires broader clarification, for there are situations in which there is a mitzva to hate.  The Rambam writes as follows (Hilkhot Rotze'ach 13:14): "How can an Israelite have an Israelite enemy when Scripture states: 'You shall not hate your brother in your heart' (Vayikra 19:17)? The Sages decreed that if one sees another committing a crime and warns him against it and he does not desist, one is obligated to hate him until he repents and leaves his evil ways." This implies that any hatred that is not mandated by law is forbidden, and it is possible that it would be regarded for this purpose as groundless hate – hatred stemming from personal interest.  Indeed, the Zealots of the end of the second Temple period acted in this way not only toward others, but among themselves as well.

It is clear that at the end of the second Temple period several factors contributed to the eventual destruction.  In the religious realm, the clear distinction drawn between chaverim and amei ha-aretz, to the point of separate lanes for the two groups (see the previous shiur), caused a great division between the two societies.  The national factor was the bitter disagreement between those who maintained that it would be better to cooperate with the Roman authorities and those who advocated opposition.  Socio-economically, the gap between rich and poor, and the gap between the Sadducee elite and the general masses, contributed to the tension among the people of Israel.  Each of these factors was by itself a significant cause leading to the destruction; the combination brought the destruction about all the more quickly.  On the assumption that by improving our ways we will become worthy of the rebuilding of the Temple, we must consider the practical implications of this lesson.

[2]   I have not found this idea in earlier sources, except for the Sefat Emet, Re'ei 5641 (s.v. be-pasuk lo ta'asu ken) and the Chafetz Chayyim in the fifth chapter of his Ahavat Yisrael.

[3]   This description fits in well with the simple understanding of the verse, "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." That is to say, one must love another person exactly as we love ourselves.  This understanding, however, has various difficulties, and most Rishonim did not accept it.

[4]   Such an organization already operates in Jerusalem and it is in the process of establishing itself across the country.  It is called Mumchim Le-ma'an Ha-kehila, Experts for the Benefit of the Community.  Volunteers working for the organization provide free financial advice to the needy. 

[5]   Thus he writes in his introduction to Likutei Halakhot, in his introduction to his commentary to the Sifra, and in his introduction to Asufat Zekenim that was published separately as Torah Or.

[6]  It is possible that we fear, consciously or unconsciously, the great commitment that the closeness to God would demand of us if the Temple would be rebuilt.  Are we ready to bring sin-offerings, with all that that entails (purity, effort, cost), every time we forget that it is Shabbat and turn on the light? Do we genuinely identify with what Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha wrote in his notebook: "I, Yishmael ben Elisha, did read and tilt the lamp on Shabbat.  When the Temple is rebuilt I will bring a fat sin-offering" (Shabbat 12b).  Have we even begun to contemplate this possibility?

[7]   We will devote a separate shiur to the many aspects of our connection to the Temple Mount.  Here we will relate only to our connection to the Temple Mount today, as part of the obligation to seek out the site of the Mikdash. 

[8]   In the continuation of this derasha, the Midrash brings the testimony of King David himself regarding his yearnings and strivings to find the site of the Mikdash: "A ma'alot poem.  Lord, remember in David's favor all his afflictions: how he swore to the Lord, and vowed to the mighty God of Yaakov.  Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes, slumber to my eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the Mighty One of Yaakov" (Tehilim 132:1-5).  David's self-sacrifice reached its climax precisely when the prophet Nathan told him that he would not build the Temple (II Shmuel 7).  From that moment on, David did everything he could possibly do to advance the building: searching for the site and finding it, which involved the readiness to give up his life, building an altar on the site, preparing the materials, craftsmen and plans, and even preparing the mishmarot and ma'amadot that would serve in the Temple in the days of Shlomo.

[9]  The Torah's failure to identify the place has other reasons as well, some of which we discussed in our shiurim on biblical Jerusalem, Year 1, shiur 4. 

[10]    The Israeli police (following the Wakf) clearly distinguish between religious Jews, who are accompanied and carefully watched the entire time that they are on the Temple Mount, and those who are not religious, who can freely walk about the Temple Mount without any accompaniment, like other tourists.

[11]    It is important to emphasize that there is no law prohibiting prayer on the Temple Mount; indeed, the courts have stated this in their rulings on the matter.  Owing to their fear of confronting the Wakf, however, the police relate to any prayer on the Temple Mount as a disturbance of the public order.

[12]    One of the painful expressions of this reality is the Israeli government's readiness to discuss with the Palestinians the possibility of granting them full control over the Temple Mount, and to leave only the Kotel under Jewish sovereignty.  Aside from the political ramifications, this testifies to our great alienation with respect to the place.

[13]    We have tried to emphasize here that even someone who for various reasons refrains from entering the Temple Mount is not exempt from the other realms in which a person can draw himself closer to the Temple Mount and the Mikdash.  To a certain degree, it is precisely his distance from the place itself that obligates him to do everything to become familiar with its outer approaches, to intensively study the issue with the hope of actualizing what he learns, to yearn and to pray, and above all else, to repair our spiritual reality with this objective in mind.