This is the time of year when the weekly Torah readings deal with thesubjects of the Temple, sacrifices, and ritual purity. But alas, for the vast majority of us these parshas seem irrelevant. But what are we to do? They appear in the Torah, and therefore we must read them. They do not inspire us at all. In fact, we feel detached and are bored by them.
The Red Heifer
And yet, even the subject of the red heifer cannot be kept inconsequential forever. Here we are, about to read “Parshat Para” which deals with the laws of the red heifer, another seemingly irrelevant topic. Or is it? Surely you have heard of the red heifer which was born in Kfar Chassidim, which caused great excitement. Recently, though, it was disqualified when it grew two black hairs on its tail at the age of six months. Apparently, only a very few people were truly devastated by this. Everyone else, obviously,dismissed it with the thought: Nu, we’ve lived 2,000 years without this sacred cow, certainly we can wait a little more… And thus they returned to their truly important affairs….
We have not the slightest doubt that this red heifer, like so many other events taking place in our days, is a sign from heaven. Everything is ready but we prefer to busy ourselves in the smallness of our day-to-day lives. Even the disqualifying black hairs are a sign from above: G-d may open the door, but it is still up to us to enter. And if not, then that door closes. In our generation, G-d has opened up many doors for us; we have had opportunity after opportunity. And us? King Solomon described this situation laconically in the Song of Songs: “my Beloved is knocking, saying, Open to me, my sister, my bride, my undefiled..”. And us? “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I soil them?” And in the meantime – “But my Beloved has turned away”….
“The Divine Presence” – What Is It?
The real question is: Do the b’nei Torah of our time see this as irrelevant -or worse, contemptible? Do they understand that the red heifer is not merely one more personal mitzvah, but rather the pre-condition for the hundreds of mitzvot which are dependent upon the Temple and in fact – the pre-condition for the Divine Presence in Israel!
To our great sorrow, even the phrase the pre-condition for the Divine Presence in Israel does not arouse any great emotions. It is simply words. The truth is (and this is so hard to say) that the Torah world has grown accustomed to living without this. In fact, why not? As long as one occupies himself with Torah from morning till evening, is concerned with all the myriad details of halacha – what can be missing? The Temple? The Temple?! Forget that! Go learn another page of Gemorrah, and chill out.
But those who think this way are cut off from authentic Judaism. Through 2,000 years of exile a barrier was erected between the Torah and the HolyTemple. And this, in point of fact, is a barrier between the Torah and He who gave the Torah!
An Intolerable Situation
Indeed it is so. There is no Torah without the Giver of the Torah, and the connection to Him is through the Divine presence in the Temple. The essence of the temple is the ark in the holy of holies, where the tablets are kept. That is where the Divine Presence is found. And The Sages explained in Shemot Raba on Parshat Terumah (33:1): “G-d said to Israel: I have given you the Torah – I cannot separate myself from it; and I cannot tell you not to take it; so wherever you may be found, build a house for me to dwell in – asit is written “Build for me a temple”.
We must understand what is written here. G-d “could not” separate himself from the Torah – and He therefore asked us to build for Him a house. Andnow, since the destruction of the Temple, the reality is that G-d has been exiled from His house, and therefore it is as if He has been separated from His Torah. Is this only His concern? Of course not! We are in a situation where although we have the Torah – G-d is nevertheless far from us. This is an intolerable situation. It is a deficiency which damages the essence ofour connection to the Torah!
When we were in exile, it was out of our hands. After all, what could we do? But what can we say now when as we have the ability to build the Temple, are commanded to do so (see Rambam Hilchot Beit Habichira 1:1), yet despite this we say: There is time, there are other more pressing needs, the important thing is to sit and learn? It is as if we are saying to the Almighty: See how nicely we are managing without You, with the Torah that You have given us. And You can stay where You are!
This shows a lack of basic understanding in the nature of Torah and the nature of the Temple. The Temple connects us to the Giver of the Torah. Insuch a situation, the learning of Torah and its fulfillment are brought to an entirely different level. For this reason it is precisely the bnei Torah who are constantly immersed in Torah, who must take the lead the process of building the Temple.
And this must happen, as the Yerushalmi says in Tractate Maaser Sheini, before the coming the Messiah. If not, it raises doubts as to whether to some extent we are only clinging to the surface of the Torah, and not to its essence.