Tisha B’Av: The Holocaust That Is Overshadowed by the Destruction of the Temple

The revolution against the Romans and siege on Jerusalem which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple, produced one of the worst holocausts in Jewish history. According to the testimony of Yosef Ben Matitiyahu (Yosefus Plabius), about one million Jews were killed in Jerusalem, and 100,000 prisoners were taken captive to Rome.

Despite this chilling fact, it is only a footnote in the history of this era. While every child knows that on Tish A B’Av the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land, many Jews are less aware of the physical holocaust which accompanied it.

And how puzzling are the words of our sages, who tell us that that G-d had mercy upon the Jewish People, pouring out his fury on wood and stones (the Temple) instead of on the Jews themselves who had sinned. If this is so, the question is two-fold : 1. One million Jews killed shows us that “G-d poured his fury on wood and stones”? 2. Why has the death of so many Jews become marginal in our Tisha B’Av mourning? Is human life less important than the wood and stones of the Temple?

To answer these questions, we must free ourselves from our western mindset. For according to the Jewish idea, physical existence is NOT the ultimate value, but rather there is a purpose to the life of a Jew, and without this purpose, the reason for his existence becomes less significant.

This is the reason that the massive slaughter of Jews that took place during the siege is dwarfed in importance when compared to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish People from their land. Because when the People of Israel are not in the land of the living, Eretz Yisrael, and when their Temple is destroyed, the Jew can no longer properly fulfill his destiny in the world. His life, so to speak, loses its meaning.

This explains the startling stories of many Jews who lost their faculties upon seeing the Temple burning in flames, and simply cast themselves into the fire, burning themselves alive! They could not grasp a reality of “Am Yisrael” without the Holy Temple.

After 2,000 years of exile, this idea seems a bit extreme. Is it really the end of the world when the Temple is burned down? Don’t we at least fulfill mitzvot in the exile? Can’t we fulfill our destiny as Jews without a Temple? The answer to this is clear: No. The entire reality of observing mitzvot in the exile is “B’diavad” – that is, it is undesired, but must be done because of lack of choice. For the Torah was given to the Holy People to be performed in the Holy Land, and in the exile we became a mere religion comprised of individuals. For this the sages tell us that the purpose of fulfilling mitzvot in the exile is only so that we won’t forget them when we return to the Land of Israel, where the fulfillment of mitzvot take on their full significance.

Now we can answer the two questions we posed: When Israel sinned,desecrating the Holy Temple and turning it into a “discotheque”, G-d wasreally supposed to destroy us all, G-d forbid. But since G-d loves us and ties His Name (His existence, so to speak) to the name of the Jewish People, He determined that we will never be totally wiped out. Therefore, he destroyed the wood and stones of the Temple instead of destroying those who desecrated it. But this does not negate the possibility that the Jewish People will be severely punished with the likes of holocausts and exiles (which is the harshest punishment of them all). Indeed, total annihilation will never be, and in the end there will be redemption, with the Jewish People returning to fulfill it’s destiny in a complete way in its land and Temple.

Now it can be understood how the massive killing of Jews in Jerusalem can be viewed as a marginal event in relation to the destruction itself. Because the moment the Jewish People are exiled from their land and there is no Temple – life itself becomes less significant. More than that, all the tragedies of the exile – the Inquisitions and Holocausts, are secondary to the exile and the destruction itself. In fact, the spiritual vacuum of the Temple is the reason for the physical tragedies that befall us, for one is dependent upon the other!

Therefore, all efforts for “Eretz Yisrael”, for the building of the Holy Temple and for the purifying of the Temple Mount which is the life-center for “Am Yisrael”, are not reserved just for “those interested in politics”. All those who fear G-d, love Israel and are pained by the exile of the Divine Presence must make these issues the center of their lives. For the fulfillment of the mitzvot are dependent on them. The return of the Jewish People to life is dependent on them!!

Vayakhel-Pikudei: A Time to Build

Parshiyot Vayakhel and Pekudei are basically repetitions of the material which was previously covered in parshiyot Terumah and Tezaveh. This naturally gives rise to an often asked question: How can our Torah, which we know is never redundant, go ahead and “waste” so much space on all of these extra verses? Why not simply state, “and the bnei Yisrael did as Moses commanded them”, as is frequently done in the Torah?

It is also important to note that even in the description itself of the Tabernacle and its vessels, the Torah is uncharacteristically verbose. Furthermore, these portions are only an introduction to the book of Vayikra, which deals primarily with topics related to the tabernacle and offerings. And yet, despite it all, most of us feel completely detached
from these portions of the Torah. We can’t seem to relate to them, despite the fact that over one third of the mitzvot are connected to the subject of the Temple and sacrifices.

Lost Proportions
In light of these facts, it must be concluded that our sense of proportion regarding what Judaism considers truly important has been badly distorted. While this Torah sheet often expounds upon basic ideas and concepts which in this lost generation have become so foreign to us, what we see now is that even the mitzvot themselves have become foreign to us, and the Torah has been reduced to it’s bear minimum.

The reason that the Torah allocates such a hefty portion to the Temple and the sacrifices, is because these subjects are so central to the living of a true Jewish life. It is curious that when the Torah devotes a lot of space pertaining to the details of other mitzvot, no one sees this as strange. On the contrary, many feel that indeed, more space should be allotted to the explanations of various mitzvot. Why? Because people understand that without the mitzvot, there is no Torah. But this is precisely the problem. While everyone understands that there is no Judaism without mitzvot, many
do not grasp the fact that the Temple and sacrifices are also essential to Judaism, and without them, there really is no Judaism.

The Holy Temple In Our Days
Only now can we begin to address the issue of our obligation to rebuild the Temple and renew the sacrifices.

In general, this idea is met with immediate opposition. There are no shortage of excuses, each camp offering it’s own explanation why we can’t build the Temple today. Some say: “The Temple will fall from the sky, and it is none of our business”. Others claim: “The Temple is a project for the Messiah”. And then there is this gem: “We are on too low a level to deal with such a lofty topic”. And there are more.

A Mitzva is a Mitzva
For all these excuses, there are clear and powerful answers. However, in this limited space, we cannot bring them down. But there really is no need to. Why? Because the rebuilding of the Temple is one of the 613 commandments. Case closed. Have you ever heard anyone say that eating matzoh on Passover is a job for the Messiah? Has anyone ever said: Family purity? Mikveh? What for?! Family purity will descend from the heavens! Or how about: Study Torah!? A lowly sinner like me should study the holy Torah!?

Of course these excuses are absurd. We do not seek ways to avoid performing mitzvot, all the moreso the mitzvah which literally causes the Divine Presence (Shechina) to dwell amongst us. (Dear friends, did G-d allow us to conquer the Temple Mount thirty years ago just so that the Arabs can continue to desecrate His Name on our holiest site, this time under Jewish sovereignty? Shouldn’t we feel that this is the very last mitzvah we should choose to ignore?)

Grass eaters
Many say that since in the exile there were mitzvot which served as substitutes for the “Shechina”, it is not so terrible if we suffice with these substitutes temporarily in Israel, too. But in the exile we had no choice, and Hashem will forgive us for neglecting the mitzvot pertaining to the Temple. But now, when we control our own fate, how can we possibly suffice with substitutes? This is similar to a man who eats grass instead of food. People ask him: What are you doing? He answers: Look, I was once stuck in the wilderness without food. I found some grass and I ate it to survive. They tell him: Fool! Then, you had no choice, so you were forced to eat grass. But now? You have real food, so why are you still eating grass?

And we. When will we stop eating grass?…

Vayakhel-Pikudei: Turn to Me and I Will Turn to You

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.

Terumah: Cleaning Up the Mount Before Building the Temple

The parasha tell us “and you shall make Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell amongst them”. Simply put, we should be talking about the building of the Beit HaMikdash during this class. Today, religious Jews have come up with all kinds of reasons (excuses?) why we shouldn’t build the Temple: It will come from the heavens, or the Messiah will build it, we are not yet worthy, there are no Cohenim, etc….

Each camp has its own special reason. Despite this problem, I will not refute these arguments in this shiur, because as it says on the schedule, the topic of this class is: “Cleaning up the Mount before Building the Temple”. Because I believe that with all the importance there is in building the Temple and refuting the aforementioned claims, the most BASIC and real obstacle to building the Temple today is the existence of the Arab mosques and Waqk. That is what scares people away; that is what makes the concept of building the Temple sound like some far-fetched pipe-dream. Sure, the Temple seems like a distant fantasy because its been absent for 2,000 years and the offering of sacrifices is so removed from us. But what really makes it difficult to take the building of the Temple seriously is the fact that we know how problematic that place is. The place where the Temple is supposed to stand is the most problematic place in the entire world. This is the problem we run away from.

There is a concept in Judaism, “Sur Me Ra, Ase Tov” (Remove evil, do good). Last week, for Parashat Mishpatim, we discussed the strict prohibition of appearing before courts that carry out gentile law, and we discussed how the Supreme Court spearheads the Hellenist front. People say that the solution is a Sanhedrin. But that is not a real solution. The real solution is to first undercut the Israeli Supreme Court. After all, what are we going to do – serve a petition to the Supreme Court to establish a Sanhedrin? Of course the problem is a powerful and aggressive Israeli Supreme Court and judiciary system, which many people, including religious Jews find great favor with, unfortunately. And so, saying, “we must establish a Sanhedrin” is no answer. The REAL obstacle to the Sanhedrin and any Jewish content in our country is this all-powerful institution called the Supreme Court of Israel. You won’t convince anyone by saying, “establish a Sanhedrin”. It will always remain in the realm of abstract, far off – because there already exists another well-oiled judiciary mechanism, which is the utter antithesis to a Sanhedrin.

All the moreso when discussing the Temple. We say, “we must build the Temple”. But it is a fantasy when you have the very antithesis to it standing in its place. The problem is that people have difficulty dealing with the “negative” aspects. They like to do the “positive” aspects, as we have mentioned before regarding the building of settlements. People want to build settlements, but don’t want to deal with the “negative” aspect of the mitzvah of settling the land, which is the expulsion of the goyim. In similar fashion, people like to establish Temple Institutes and to show the beauty of the Temple vessels, and to give the feeling of the splendor and importance of the Temple. Of course this should be done – but if ONLY this is done, there is no way we will make it a reality. First, you must take care of the problem. That’s “Sur Me Ra, Ase Tove”. It is like doing surgery – you have to cut. There is blood and it is messy – so people choose to skirt the issue.But we must do it – we have no choice.

We must deal with the desecration that takes place up there. After the “shiur” you will see a shocking video from “Chai ViKayam” which shows the shocking reality of the Temple Mount situation. It is a must see. Every rabbi should see it. Unfortunately most rabbis will say that videos and TV’s are “impure”. The problem is that we worry about the small “impurities”, and forget about the big “impurities” (like on the Temple Mount)

It says in the Zohar, Parashat VaYetze: “Rebbe Zera went to meet with R. Elazar, and saw him crying. Rebbi Zera asked the shamash of R. Elazar, ‘why does he sit and cry’? The “shamash” said: ‘twice I tried to get near him to find out, but I couldn’t’. They saw R. Elazar leave his place of learning and crying on his way home. Rebbe Zera heard R. Elazar say: ‘The stone, the stone. The holy and loftiest stone – the nations of the world, in the future, will degrade you and put loathsome idols on top of you to defile your holy place. Oy for the world, oy for that time, oy for that generation!'”

We are talking about the “evin hashtiya”, the foundation stone in the Temple on which the arc stood. The Zohar continues: “R Elazar sat down, and Rebbe Zera asked his “shamash”: ‘Go ask him if I can see him’. The shamash entered and said, ‘Rebbe Zera is here’. R. Elazar did not react. After a little while, he said, ‘let R Zera enter, and you sit outside’. Rebbe Zera entered. He prostrated himself before him. R. Elazar kicked him and said, ‘arise from your bowing and sit regular’. He sat in his usual manner. Rebbe Zera asked him: ‘what were you crying about?’ He said, ‘On a great tragedy that will take place. I saw that the holy stone from which the world was created; the stone which Yaakov’s head rested upon, and on which the Almighty built His House upon for the Divine Presence to rest – I saw that on this stone, it is destined in the future to be degraded by the nations, and upon it will be their corpses. Who won’t cry? Oy to the world, oy to that time, oy to that generation.

” We are talking about the impurity (“tooma”) on the place of our holiest site. We know that the Temple Mount today has indeed become a cemetary for the Arab corpses. Abdullah, king of Jordan is buried there. The flag of Jordan waves on the Temple Mount. In short, they have deliberately put a lot of “tooma” there. Throughout history, the forces of “tooma” have been attracted to the Temple Mount. After the Bar Cochba rebellion, Hadrian built a temple for idols; the Christians and the Muslims afterwards. Our sages didn’t just cry about the “churban” (destruction), but they also cry about the foreign intruders and impurities which permeate the area.

In Sefer HaMitzvot, the Rambam brings down that we are forbidden to plant trees on the Temple Mount, even if it is for beautifying the area. Today we know that the area is full of trees and grass, so that the Arabs can have their picnics. When David fought the wars of Israel, he conquered areas outside of Israel (Aram Zova and Aram Naharayim), but neglected the Yevusites in Jerusalem. The Sifri says: “The area of My palace you didn’t conquer, and you go and fight Aram Zova?”. But David DID conquer Jerusalem, as we see in Shmuel Bet, so why is Hashem saying he didn’t conquer it? But the answer is that he left the Yevusites “autonomy”. Despite the fact that the Yevusites were resident strangers, it was not considered conquering them, because he left them with self-rule on the Temple Mount. It is like today, where we build and build on the outskirts, but “near My palace, you didn’t conquer”.

If we don’t talk about the need to remove the disgrace, we arrive at absurd conclusions. Here is an article by someone who suggests building the Temple in the area of the Kotel. He says this will “neutralize the hostility” between the nations. All this is a symptom of the sickness of not talking about the mosques. It’s not nice to talk about dismantling them, or blowing them up, or moving them. But their presence is what deters most people from thinking about building the Temple. Here is another idea written here: We needn’t dismantle the mosques, but rather we can have a kind of dual-condiminium concept – maybe build the Temple on the second floor of the mosque…(laughter) All this stems from the sickness that we don’t want a confrontation. So we have the hugest contradiction in the world: the holiest site contains the greatest “tooma”. So we evade the issue. If you don’t settle problems and contradictions, the results are absurd and ridiculous ideas. We see this in all areas of life here. My father wrote an entire book on the subject called, “Koo-Koo Land”, to depict the insanity. Today, the situation is much worse.

As I researched through the articles on the Temple Mount, I asked myself: what happened to all that awakening which had been taking place ten years ago in regard to ascending Har HaBayit, etc. There had been the beginning of a real awakening in the subject. Chai ViKayam had been going up, breaking through. Others were going up.. What happenend to it all. Why has it faded? People go up the Mount still, but less than before. But there is no progress. When Chai ViKayam started, they had an intention to force the issue much further, but things got stuck, everything is stuck…

Question: But we must go up still, it helps..

Kahane: I say that as a rule, ascending the Mount through degradation won’t help us. People should go up the Temple Mount, if that’s all there is, people should do it. But I think that such activities won’t light the fire, won’t elevate, or have any revolutionary impact. This goes for all the activities taking place on the national front. Everything is stuck. For twenty years we have had the “Aliyot” to the Mount, and there is no progress. Therefore, we must contemplate why.

I say that we are not in the galut, and we can’t act as if we are. To go up to the Temple Mount, to present our Tiudat Zehut, to be frisked, to be escorted by the Waqk – it’s a degradation! We already supposedly passed the stage of degradation. We are not supposed to be a generation of degradation. Though we are, it is not supposed to be. The Almighty returned us to Eretz Yisrael in order to blot out the desceration of His Name. And the Beit HaMikdash won’t be built via degradation. The State of Israel wasn’t established through degradation, but through mighty heroism and self-sacrifice of Jews who fought and fell on Kiddush Hashem. Beit Mikdash can’t be built through anything less. It won’t be built via “understandings” with the Waqf, which is the plan of many mistaken Jews. It just doesn’t go together.

Question: What’s the alternative?

Kahane: That’s a big question. The alternative is mighty deeds, Kiddush Hashem. I know the alternative. I’m not leveling complaits against anyone.

But we must know that there is a lack of self-sacrifice today, and I know that even being one of the few who ascend the Mount under the present conditions is self-sacrifice, too. But it’s not enough. The Almighty demands a great deal more of us. This is why everything that has been tried up to now has not worked – Hashem is not letting it work, because he wants greater “msirut nefesh”. I’m not better than anyone else, but this is how I understand the realities of the situation…

Terumah: Removing the Mosques: Part One of the Mitzvah of Building the Temple

On the verse, “and you shall make me a sanctuary”, the Ohr HaChaim writes: “And by saying, ‘you make shall me a sanctuary’ – it is a mitzvah for all times”. The Rambam writes in Chapter 1 of “Hilchot Bet HaBicheira”: “It is a positive commandment to construct a House for G-d, as it is written, ‘and you shall make me sanctuary…” We have discussed this subject on numerous occasions, and we will continue writing about how the mitzvah of building the Temple is an unconditional commandment, not dependent on Moshiach, and not on the nation’s “level”. Certainly we will continue to address all the other arguments and lame excuses that have enabled Jews to dismiss themselves from this vital mitzvah.

But in this article, our goal is not to deal with the different arguments which oppose the building of the Temple in our days. A reason for this is that in recent years, more and more people have become aware of the Temple and the Temple Mount. The irrelevant arguments preventing Jews from building the Temple and entering the Temple Mount have been refuted in the hearts of many, as heightened awareness of the subject has caused Jews to study the subject in halachic depth. More and more people are beginning to understand that unless we are absolutely under compulsion (as was the situation for 1800 years when we did not have sovereignty in the Land of Israel), there are no excuses for canceling any mitzvah from the Torah, including the grand mitzvah of building the Temple, of which another 200 mitzvot are dependent upon. The moment the opportunity to build the Temple returned to us, then the mitzvah, “and you shall make me a sanctuary” also returned to become an obligation, no different than laying tefilin.

But before we can pick up the mortar and bricks to start fulfilling the awesome mitzvah of building the Holy Temple, there is a problem. It is on this problem we shall now concentrate, for it certainly is a precondition for building the Temple.

We are talking about the terrible “Hillul Hashem” (Desecration of G-d’s Name) that is created by the existence of the Moslem Mosques on the Temple Mount, precisely upon the place where the Holy of Holies once stood. We are speaking about the fact that while Jews are forbidden to pray or to exhibit signs of sovereignty there, the Arab jackals desecrate the site, blasting their loudspeakers five times a day, turning the place into their national and spiritual center, the hotbed for incitement and Jew-hatred.

Let us not make the same tragic mistake concerning the Temple Mount that the YESHA settlement leaders made. What mistake are we referring to? Since the very beginning of the Gush Emmunim settlement movement, Rabbi Kahane, HY”D, warned and pleaded that if we do not deal with the other (“negative”) side of the mitzvah of “Yishuv HaAretz” – that is if we do not expel the gentiles, than G-d forbid, the settlements will not last, as the Torah explicitly says. But his warnings fell on deaf ears. The settlement leaders preferred dealing in the “positive” aspects of “Yishuv HaAretz”, not wanting to jeopardize public support by discussing the Arab threat. The results we see today: The Arabs arose, the left labeled all the settlers as “extremists” anyway, etc., etc.

It appears that the exact same mistake is in danger of being repeated concerning the Temple Mount. The desire to be accepted by larger segments of the public and to expand existing circles has prevented all talk about the removing of the terrible reproach that is represented by the mosques on the Temple Mount. There is a difference, though. On the subject of “Eretz Yisrael”, the settlers were able to settle the land, and temporarily ignore (with the help of their illusions) the Arab powder keg that laid planted beneath the entire settlement enterprise. But regarding the Temple Mount, even this is impossible. What will they do? Build the Temple on the second floor of the mosque??

The removal of the mosques is an obligation that precedes the obligation of building the Temple. First, one must “remove from evil” (“Sur MiRah”), before he can “do good”. (“Ase Tov”) And so, we must speak about removing the mosques just as we speak about building the Temple. What are we afraid of? They will label us as fanatics? They do it anyhow!

Teruma: The Grandest Mitzvah of Them All Faces Total Blackout

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.

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