Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Temple: A Means or a Goal? - Guest Post by Yosef Hakohen



The Prophet Jeremiah lived in the era when the First Temple was destroyed and the people went into exile. Before the destruction of the Temple, many of the people were abandoning the Torah, and this abandonment led to idolatry, sexual immorality, murder, and oppression of the poor. During this period, Hashem told Jeremiah to remind the people of their spiritual potential (Jeremiah 2:2); moreover, he was also told to remind the people of the following Divine message which the Twelve Tribes of Israel heard before they entered the Promised Land: The Land will be given to them for the fulfillment of the Torah, but if they abandon the Torah, they will eventually lose the Land. (Leviticus 26:14-46)


Jeremiah was also told to tell the people to engage in a process of "teshuvah" – spiritual return and renewal – in order to avoid the exile. The people, however, thought that since they had the Temple of Hashem in their midst, they would be saved; thus, the false prophets of that era told the people that there was no reason for concern. In this letter, we shall discuss Jeremiah's response to those who claimed that the Temple itself would save them from destruction and exile.


Dear Friends,


The Prophet Jeremiah conveyed to the people of his generation the following Divine message:


"Thus said Hashem, God of the hosts of creation, God of Israel: Improve your ways and your deeds and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust the false statements that say, 'The Sanctuary of Hashem, the Sanctuary of Hashem!' The Sanctuary of Hashem are they!" (Jeremiah 7:3,4)


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses the above passage in his commentary on the Torah, and he writes:


"A later generation sought to reduce the whole substance of their relationship to God to the life of the Sanctuary and its offerings. Even when they were rebuked for their social degeneration, they took cover behind the cry, The Sanctuary of Hashem, the Sanctuary of Hashem!


The Prophet then thundered against them:

The Sanctuary of Hashem are they! – they themselves should be the Temple of God!" (Commentary on Exodus 6:7)


The people failed to realize that they, as a community, are to become the Sanctuary of Hashem. As Rabbi Hirsch explains:


"When God says, I will take you to Myself as a people (Exodus 6:7, it means: Your social lives are to be guided by My wisdom; your social lives should be a revelation of My spirit." (Ibid)


Our society should therefore become the Sanctuary of Hashem; however, our society is composed of each of us!  We will therefore discuss a related teaching which reveals that each one of us is to become a Sanctuary of Hashem:


Rabbi Chayim Voloziner was a leading sage who was a close disciple of the Vilna Gaon. In his classical work, Nefesh HaChayim, Rabbi Chayim discusses the metaphysical significance of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle which was built in the wilderness, and the Beis HaMikdash – the Temple in Jerusalem.


He discusses various metaphysical insights regarding how the construction of the Mishkan corresponds to the creation of the universe, in general, and the creation of the human being, in particular. He then discusses how the human being can become a Sanctuary for the Shechinah – Divine Presence – through observing all the mitzvos of the Torah. He finds a reminder of this goal in the following Divine statement concerning the People of Israel which was conveyed to us by the Prophet Jeremiah:


"The Sanctuary of Hashem are they!" (Jeremiah 7:4).


The people are to realize that the purpose of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is to inspire them to become a Mikdash Hashem – a Sanctuary of Hashem. Rabbi Chayim notes that the above Divine statement is in the spirit of the verse where Hashem says: "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell within them" (Exodus 25:8).


Rabbi Chayim points out that this verse does not refer to the Shechinah dwelling in the Sanctuary, but within the people – "within each and every one of them" (Nefesh HaChayim 1:4). With this statement, explains Rabbi Chayim, Hashem is saying:


"Do not think that My ultimate intention is the construction of the Sanctuary edifice; rather the entire purpose in desiring the Mishkan and its vessels is merely so that you should infer from it how to mold yourselves; namely that through your deeds you should be as desirable as the Mishkan and its vessels – all of you holy, fitting, and prepared to be receptacles for My Shechinah in a literal sense." (Ibid)


Rabbi Chayim also explains that the existence of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash were contingent on Israel's realizing its potential as a community of sanctuaries. He writes:


"And so did Hashem, Blessed is His Name, tell Shlomo (Solomon) after the completion of the Beis HaMikdash: 'This Temple that you build – if you follow My statues, fulfill My social laws, and safeguard all My mitzvos….then I shall dwell in the midst of the Children of Israel, and I will not forsake My people Israel' (I Kings 6:12,13). Therefore, when they ruined the inner Mikdash that resided within their beings, then the external Mikdash was of no use and its foundations were razed."


When we yearn for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, we are yearning for the renewal of the Sanctuary of Hashem in Zion which can help each of us and all of us to become the Sanctuary of Hashem.


May Tisha B'Av – the day we mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash – be followed by the messianic era of holistic holiness.


Be Well, and Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings and Comments:


1. We have a tradition that the human being was created at the site of the future Temple in Zion. This tradition is cited by Maimonides in his code of Torah law, Mishneh Torah, where he states that the human being was created at the site of the altar of the Temple on Mount Moriah (Beis Habechirah 2:2). 

2. The Talmud states the following teaching in the name of Rabbi Elazar: "A person should always view himself as if the Holy One is within his inner organs" (Taanis 11a-b).


3. On Mondays and Thursdays, we read a section from the Torah portion of the week during the morning service. Before returning the Torah to the ark, we chant the following prayer concerning the restoration of the "House of our lives" – the Temple:


"May it be the will of our Father Who is in Heaven to establish the House of our lives and to settle His Shechinah  within us, speedily in our days – and let us say: Amen."


We do not pray, "to settle His Shechinah within the House"; instead, we pray, "to settle the Shechinah within us!"


4. One can find an English translation and explanation of the above teachings from Nefesh HaChayim in the following book: "Inspiration and Insight" – Discourses on the Weekly Parashah by the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal. The book is published by Mesorah Publications:  


5. Tisha B'Av begins on Wednesday evening, July 29th.  


Rabbi Zev Leff is a noted Torah scholar and educator who is also the Rav of Moshav Matityahu in Israel. To hear a live Tisha B'Av webcast of Rabbi Leff expounding upon the kinos – the traditional poetic prayers – of Tisha B'Av, visit:  . The talk is in English, and it will take place in Israel on Thursday morning at 8:15.

The above website also lets you know when people in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Melbourne can hear it.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision:

No comments: