“A Barrel of Explosives”
Any talk of rebuilding the third Beis HaMikdash in today’s political climate—we are warned by security professionals—is toxic and dangerous.
The site on which the third Mikdash is meant to be built is one of the most flammable in the world, let alone the Middle East. “A barrel of explosives” is what they like to call it in the political and security circles.
Maybe overly exaggerated, maybe not. But that’s the professional consensus. Maybe that’s another reason we need Moshiach to be the one to lead the construction of the Third Beis HaMikdash…
But if it were up to us, as some argue, why wouldn’t we be able to move the location a mile or two north or south? Isn’t peace the way of G-d? Or even if it is Moshiach who will build it, as the vast majority of contemporary authorities on Halacha understand, why must he pick a fight with over 1.8 billion Muslims (roughly a quarter of the world’s population) if a relocation within the city is possible?
While the volume before us doesn’t deal with this and similar political and security concerns related to the reconstruction of the Mikdash, a recurring theme found in many of the diverse essays it contains, gives us a clear idea on why that wouldn’t be a possibility.
The Rambam titles the section dealing with the construction of the Mikdash not Hilchos Beis HaMikdash, the more commonly used name for the holiest place in the world, but Hilchos Beis HaBechirah – “laws of the Chosen Home.”
Previous places of worship, such as the Mishkan in the desert, and even the one in Shiloh, which stood for 369 years (!—Just 41 years less than the first Mikdash) didn’t enjoy that status. The geographical location of the Shiloh Temple (see image) has no Mikdash-holiness remaining in it after the Mishkan was destroyed by the P’lishtim.
The site of the Mikdash by contrast, is forever a holy site for the Jewish people. The laws of Mora Mikdash—“reverence of the Temple”—warranting respectful behavior in sites with close proximity to the location of the Mikdash are in full effect these days too, as well as the laws barring entry of someone tamei to the sacred site (as well as certain areas on the Temple mount, which are hard to clearly define today) and other laws too (see Guarding the Site of the Beis HaMikdash in the Present Era below); all despite the absence of a Mikdash in its full glory atop the mountain.
The key word is “Bechirah” – choice. The Torah says, “Only to the place which the L-rd your G-d shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there. And there you shall bring your burnt offerings….” (Devarim 12:5-6).
The site of G-d’s choice wasn’t announced until a prophecy in the times of King David identified it as Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place forever; here I shall dwell for I desired it.” (Tehillim 132:13-14)
Free choice can rarely be exercised. Usually our choices are impeded by inevitable bias,—we choose something over another because it’s better! Only when choosing one object identical, or with equal qualities to another, can we describe that as true choice.
The ultimate expression of one’s true self is expressed by choice – when nothing external influences him. True choice reveals the super-rational connection one has to something. The greatest praise one can get is that he was chosen by G-d. G-d’s choice of a people or a place means He invested—so-to-speak—His core being into it.
So it is with Am Yisrael who were chosen by G-d from among all other nations; so it is with the Davidic royal dynasty which was chosen to forever lead G-d’s chosen nation; and the same is with the Mikdash,—the geographical location He chose for them to serve Him in.
Choice by G-d does not attest to the chosen’s merits or quality. To the contrary, the choice is the reasoning why even if they aren’t worthy, G-d will not forsake them or exchange them for another.
G-d’s choice is a testament to the deep connection between the Chooser and the chosen people, king or place. A connection that surpasses any boundaries and rationale.
Shiloh vs. Jerusalem
The concept of G-d’s “choice” of Jerusalem explains many things about the laws of the Mikdash.
In G-d’s Chosen House – Shiloh vs. Jerusalem (essay 3 in both the Hebrew and English editions), the Rebbe uses this idea and expounds on it further to explain why although the Mishkan at Shiloh also was referred in the Torah as “the place which G-d your L-rd shall choose,” it wasn’t the ultimate choice, since it was driven by a reason,—to have one central place to which the Jews will gather to worship, only one of two purposes of the Beis HaMikdash. True choice is beyond reason, and only in the second purpose of the Mikdash, the manifestation of the Divine Presence in the world—a supra-rational desire G-d has—true choice was exercised (see Midrash Tanchuma on Nasso, Tanya ch. 36-37).
Therefore, Shiloh was a chosen House, but the Mikdash in Jerusalem became a chosen location. Houses can be razed, locations cannot, and a holy location remains forever holy.
The Rebbe applies this to explain the concept of bamos, “private” altars: While the temporary Mishkan stood, use of bamos was prohibited. When the Mishkan wasn’t standing they automatically became permitted, exclusively through the lack of a standing Mishkan. This being since the Mishkan had no quality of chosenness.
However, when the Mishkan of Shiloh was destroyed a special source from the Torah was needed to permit bamos. This being since the Mishkan of Shiloh did have a degree of chosenness to it.
Once the Mikdash in Jerusalem was built, bamos became forever forbidden to use by Jews, even after the destruction. This being since the chosenness of the Mikdash in Jerusalem was ultimate and complete that it even penetrated its location.
Within chosenness, the place of the Mizbeach has even a greater degree of chosenness, “The Altar is [to be constructed] in a very precise location, which may never be changed” writes the Rambam in chapter 2 of the code. In A Blemish in a Stone, A Mar For G-d’s Chosen House (essay 5 in the Hebrew original, 7 in the translation) the Rebbe uses this to explain why even the slightest blemish on a stone of the Mizbeach,—“kol shehu,”—is problematic even though it doesn’t impede the service of the Altar even slightly.
To impede a structure with a rational purpose, the blemish must be significant, but the Mikdash, especially the Mizbeach, is a place G-d chose, choice is super-rational so even a blemish so minute to be seen as a blemish from a rational perspective, effects the chosenness.
In The Chosenness of Jerusalem and David (essay 14 in part II) the Rebbe addresses the question of “how can G-d’s choice bring eternity to a material transient location?” The Rebbe quotes a teaching from Zohar that ties G-d’s choice of Jerusalem and makes it depend on the choice of G-d in David and his offspring. The eternity of the Jewish nation and of their leaders is what brings eternity even to a material location which is the opposite of eternity – a quality reserved for the spiritual plane.
The Hidden Aron
The way this manifestation occurs is through the Aron:
In A Buried Treasure: The Entombment of the Ark (essay 11 in the Hebrew original and essay 12 in the English translation) the Rebbe presents a fascinating explanation to the tale of the entombing the Aron in the special underground mazelike vaults by King Yoshiyahu. Why does the Rambam mention this piece of history, in fact an unresolved debate in the Talmud, in his legal code?
The explanation: The Rambam doesn’t see the Aron as a vessel of the Mikdash. This is evident from: (A) the laws of the Aron being discussed not in the chapter which describes the vessels – chapter 3, rather in the chapter discussing the structure – chapter 4; (B) the construction of the Aron isn’t enumerated by the Rambam as a distinct Mitzvah, nor are the laws of its construction ever discussed in his code.
What then is the Aron? – As hinted by the placement of its laws in the code, it is nothing less than a part of the Mikdash structure itself, it is the “soul” of the Mikdash. It is a medium to draw down G-d’s presence to the Mikdash, not an end onto its own.
Once it was constructed and placed in the Mikdash it served its purpose (see Chosen home). It is part-and-parcel of the mitzvah to construct a Mikdash, for without it, it wouldn’t become a dwelling for the Shechinah.
Now the inclusion of the said historical fact is understood: Since a Mikdash without the Aron would never become a Mikdash, G-d instructed King Shlomo to construct a second chamber of the Kodesh Hakodashim in which to place the Aron when it would become necessary. This is not so much to avoid it being exiled by enemies as much as it is to ensure that when the second Mikdash is built, after the destruction of the first (which Shlomo knew would come), it would become a holy place!
The Rambam is also teaching us a lesson regarding the power of Teshuva.
The Aron resembles the deep connection of the Jew to G-d, that which draws G-dliness into the Jew which must always be there, for that is what makes him Jewish.
In order for the Jew to indeed be eternal, even after spiritual “destruction,” that great divine revelation was placed into an inner chamber, “deep vaults.” It became a degree of holiness inaccessible to him so it won’t be accessible to negativity either; It remains only strong enough to ensure spiritual rebirth, albeit of lesser quality; like the Second Beis HaMikdash which had a lesser degree of Kedusha in certain ways (see Destruction for the sake of Improvement above and First Mikdash vs. Second below).
That inaccessibility holds true only to “regular” spiritual activity, but the power of Teshuvah can reach that too. Teshuvah can only be used when a person strays from the straight path. The Aron was placed in “deep mazelike vaults” to symbolize that Teshuva can reach into those depths of the soul. Ultimately bringing about the Third Beis HaMikdash which will be built through Teshuva in which the Aron will once again come out of hiding, this time forever (based primarily on essay 11, with points from essay 10 and essay 2 of part II).
Sanctuary version 3.0
Another recurring theme is the idea that all the sanctuaries, from the first Mishkan in the desert down to third Mikdash are one continuous structure, as they primarily are a manifestation of G-dliness into the world and a portal through which we humans can connect to the Divine. The progression of the various sanctuaries are merely steps along the way and “improved versions” until we reach the ultimate—the third and eternal Beis HaMikdash.
This explains why G-d allowed (and even orchestrated) the destruction of the first and second Mikdash. We are told that G-d observes His own commandments (see Shemos Rabbah 30:9). By destroying the Mikdash, it seems, G-d would be transgressing: (A) bal tashchis – a general prohibition against destroying regarding even the mundane, and (B) a special prohibition against destroying the Mizbeach and the Mikdash!
Using the said principle, the Rebbe in Destruction for the sake of Improvement (part II, essay 23 in the Hebrew) the Rebbe resolves that it was permitted in order to construct a better, bigger and greater one, the more so an eternal one!
Third and Eternal Beis HaMikdash
On the topic of the Third Beis HaMikdash, we find a fascinating observation in First Mikdash vs. Second Mikdash (part II essay 7 in the Hebrew, parts of it appear in essay 24 in the English) that the third will not just be third, but also tripled, for it will contain the advantages each of the first two had; the first was associated with the advantage of Tzadikim, while the second had the qualities of Ba’alei Teshuvah. It will also have the quality of eternity, as sin and evil will be removed from the world at the time of the Geulah.
Another noteworthy essay is Who will build the third Temple? (essay 22 in the Hebrew, 23 in the English edition) in which the Rebbe offers 4 solutions to the famous contradiction between the opinions regarding, “Who will build the third Beis HaMikdash – man or G-d?”
In Holy Iron (part II essay 15) the Rebbe innovates, based on the said fact and on sources in Melachim concerning the first Mikdash, that iron, generally excluded from use in the Mikdash construction, will be used in the third! Iron was excluded since it shortens the life of man, in the future that will no longer be a concern.
In a more practical discussion, the Rebbe addresses a current Halachic topic: In Guarding the Site of the Beis HaMikdash in the Present Era (essay 21 both in part II of the Hebrew original and in the English translation) the presumption is,—in agreement with the author of Mishkanos Le’Abir Ya’akov, Rabbi Moshe Meshil Gelbstein, a rabbi in Jerusalem (1833-1907)—that since the guarding of the Beis HaMikdash is an expression of honor to G-d whose presence continually rests in the site of the Beis HaMikdash, this mitzvah is incumbent upon us in the present era as well. The reason why no attempts were made to fulfill this mitzvah since the Beis HaMikdash’s destruction is because doing so would endanger the lives of the guards, and Pikuach Nefesh surpasses every mitzvah. The Rebbe makes mention of the current political situation (in 1990, but things haven’t changed much since in this vein. L.L.), “Even when it was possible that the ruling authorities themselves would have allowed such practices—or when the Jews themselves are the ruling authorities, even if a true peace treaty was in place with a peace seeking nation —the possibility exists that individuals or groups of gentiles from within that nation would seek to harm the guards.”
A rather famous essay is the one on the proper way to depict the Menorah. In The Design of the Menorah (part I, essay 9 in the Hebrew, 11 in the English) the Rebbe determines, based on Rashi’s writings and especially on the Rambam’s drawing in his commentary on the Mishnah (see facsimile), that the Menorah’s branches ascend diagonally, rather than in an arch. The Rebbe decries the practice of drawing the Menorah in an arch as an error, especially since the source of that drawing is the infamous “Arch of Titus” in Rome (see image) designed by a gentile, which was erected to humiliate the Jewish people!
Another topic discussed from several angles throughout the work is the eternity and continuity of the mitzvah of building the Mikdash. The Rebbe in The eternity of the Mitzvah of constructing a Mikdash (part II essay 3) cites a teaching from the Zohar (cited with practical Halachic relevance by many Poskim, among them the Maharik and the Sdei Chemed) which states that constructing houses of study and prayer is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah. The Rebbe expands this to include any Jewish home that conducts itself in a holy manner.
This theme continues in the closing essay on The quintessential Mikdash Me’at (part II, essay 24. An English translation appears in Sound the Great Shofar and in A Temple in Transit) in which the Rebbe ties in both aspects of the mitzvah and based on Midrashim concludes that when Moshiach arrives all houses of prayer and study will relocate to stand near the Mikdash. The Rebbe, based on the Gemara in Megilla, brings to light different levels within Mikdashei Me’at and resolves that there is always one location in Galus, a quintessential Mikdash Me’at, which is the closest resemblance in its degree of holiness to the Mikdash in Jerusalem.
We can go on and on about the eye opening, intriguing, and most of all, inspiring contents of this volume.
It is a must for anyone who wishes to gain an all-encompassing perspective on the importance of the Mikdash and that which is in it from a Halachic, Kabbalistic, Mussar and Chassidic point of view, and how each of these fields complement one another.
HILCHOS BEIS HABECHIRA L’HARAMBAM im CHIDUSHIM UBEIURIM. Hardcover / 8.5X10.5” / 341 pp. Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos $19.95. Purchase Here
Testimonial to the “One-Torah” approach to study
These studies serve as a characteristic example of the Rebbe’s approach to the study of Torah.
The Rebbe strongly emphasized that the entire Torah is one organic unit (“Torah Achas”). Thus by probing into the depths of one topic, difficulties in another, seemingly unrelated topic, could be resolved.
This organic whole is especially true regarding different realms within Torah: Nigleh, the revealed, legal dimension of the Torah is one dimension of a few; understanding one dimension assists in understanding another dimension of the same unit in a better way.
Thus, a broad-scoped, but penetrating and abstract conception of the laws is combined with a perception of the parallels to these concepts that exist in the spiritual dimension of our Divine service. In regard to the subject matter, we are given an inclusive and intellectually challenging conception of the laws regarding the construction of the Beis HaMikdash, which shows the parallels to these concepts that exist in the inner sanctuary for G-d every Jew possesses within his heart, see The Hidden Aron for an example.
The author based much of this review on the publisher’s introduction and to the English translation Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem by SIE publications.