It seems as if every year when Parshat Teruma rolls around, rabbis all over the world become hard-pressed for their sermons. Sermons, after all, must be “relevant for our times”. And what could be less relevant for our times than the laws of the Temple, sacrifices, and ritual purity? One third of all the mitzvot of the Torah are dependent upon the building of the Temple, yet this mitzvah is absolutely ignored by so many religious Jews.
Yes, there is such a mitzvah, and this Shabbat we read it: “and they small make a Temple; that I may dwell among them.” A positive commandment that is emphasized no less than laying tefilin or eating matzoh on Passover.
Waiting for Messiah
One of the leading arguments preventing Jews from taking this commandment seriously is that we must wait for the Messiah first. In other words, the mitzvah of building the Temple is not incumbent upon us, but rather upon Messiah. Is this really so? Let us take a look at the words of the Rambam at the very beginning of “Hilchot Bait HaBechirah”: “It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God, prepared for sacrifices to be offered within. We (must) celebrate there three times a year as it is written, ‘and you shall make me a Temple’.” Is the Rambam limiting this mitzvah to Messiah? No. No one in their right mind can take this mitzvah, or any other mitzvah for that matter, and claim that the Messiah has some kind of exclusivity over it. The mitzvot were given so that the Jewish People can fulfill them, and God forbid we dismiss ourselves from even one mitzvah by passing it on to someone else, no matter how great that someone might be.
But at the end of “Hilchot Milachim”, the Rambam writes: “The Messiah will eventually arise… and build the Temple in its place and gather the dispersed of Israel”. This is an apparent contradiction to the Rambam’s own words in “Hilchot Bait Habechirah”. The fact is, there is no contradiction. In “Hilchot Milachim” the Rambam does not tell us that it must be that the Messiah build the Temple, but rather that if it is not already built (either because of the Jewish People’s criminal negligence, or because the redemption will come so swiftly that we will not have time to build it – this being an irrelevant scenario in our times), then he will build it. Other commentators explain that Messiah will build the Temple according to the futuristic plans outlined in the Book of Ezekhiel, since the description is incomprehensible to us, and we, until then, should build the Temple according to the designs of the Second Temple. But most important are the words of the “Kesef Mishnah” (who is Yosef Kairo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch) who comments on the Rambam’s writings in “Hilchot Milachim”: “This chapter and the one after (which deals with the subject of Messiah) is to strengthen the faith about the coming of Messiah, and one should not draw halachic conclusions from it.”
If one is not yet convinced, here are the words of the Rambam in “Egeret from Yemen”: “The mitzvot (all of them) do not depend on the coming of Messiah, but rather we are obligated to immerse ourselves in Torah and mitzvot and try to perform them to perfection, and after doing what we have been obligated to do, if God allows us, or our children, or our children’s children to merit to see Messiah, all the better. And if not, we have not lost a thing, but rather we benefited by doing what we were obligated to do.”
The Temple Coming Down From the Heavens
The second argument against building the Temple today dismisses even the Messiah from taking action. We are taking about the argument that the Third Temple will come down from the heavens, ready and built. First of all, simply put, such an approach automatically cancels many of the 613 mitzvot given by the Torah! In addition, since when do we rely on Aggadic sources to determine halachic matters? It must be understood that when a midrash or Aggadic source mentions a Third Temple coming down from the sky, it is not teaching us the practical (“LaMayse”) or operational aspect of the mitzvah, but rather comes to convey to us an idea that goes beyond the “dry” halacha. Most sages explain that the idea intended here is that once we start to build the Temple (notice how they weren’t so quick to give up on such an important mitzvah), G-d will bring down His Divine Presence upon it. The “Third Temple In the Heavens” represents the spiritual aspect of the physical Temple down on earth. This same concept of a Temple above to coincide with the Temple below is also mentioned in Aggadic sources concerning the building of the Tabernacle by Moses, and after the construction of the first Temple by Solomon.
Bringing 200 Mitzvot Back to Life
Perhaps it would not be so bad if our inactivity and lack of awareness to fulfill this mitzvah caused the Temple Mount to stand empty. But that is not the case. In the absence of Jewish presence there is Muslim occupation of the site. The vacuum created by lack of sanctification of G-d’s Name has been filled by a terrible desecration of God’s Name. Jews go to the “Kotel” and ignore the Muslim domes above their heads and are oblivious to the wailing of the jackals that blare from the loudspeakers five times a day.
Every generation is obligated to build the Holy Temple (see “Ohr HaChayim” on the verse, “and they shall make a temple…”) and the conquest of the Temple Mount 28 years ago gives our generation an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah. It still is not too late.