The Place Where G-d Sets His Name: Why No Temple Yet?
In chassidut we learn that we are to live in the parsha; some weeks the message just meets up very nicely with current events. This is one of those weeks. I come into this week’s lesson having in mind the recent news that may suggest a new shift in religious experience for the Jewish people. It appears that for the first time within the context of the State of Israel a bill is being proposed that will allow Jews to be permitted to pray upon the Temple Mount. If passed and implemented this will break the long standing Muslim monopoly on worship in the site. This action comes to the forefront due to the assertion by foreign governments that the current baring of religious expression of non-Muslims is discriminatory. (see “Bill calls for Jewish prayer times on Temple Mount.” – Jpost ) The site is sacred to people of other faiths and they should also be permitted access. Yet we still await to see what will become of this. Are Jews attempting to build a Temple there? What does it mean for the site itself, and how does this play out for us when reading this situation through the eyes of Torah?
Many have wondered why it is that the Jewish people have permitted this dominance of Muslims over this site. Some can understand why in a secular state there might be little interest to dismantle the Muslim presence that holds the site, that is not the objective of a people’s state.
What is shocking to many is the religious reluctance to razing the mosque upon Har haBayit – the Mount of the House of G-d – and restoring it to its former glory once again as the Holy Temple of the Jewish people. After all, this is the most sacred site on the entire planet for us Jews, and only auxiliary in important to the other grandfathered religions that arose upon the foundations of Judaism. In fact the more Orthodox the person is, the more conservative one tends to be on the idea of seizing the Temple Mount, and the establishing of religious worship upon the site itself.
The simple reason is this, because we hold the site so sacred that we do not want to defile the sacredness of the place in our lowly condition. We may be politically liberated, but spiritually we are still in exile and will remain so until the coming of the Messianic Age; the future age of universal peace and stability. The more Orthodox a person is the more there is the sentiment that one must wait until it is established by Divine Will and not by force. Until then we keep going on with our business as usual, worshiping and making atonement through prayer in our synagogues through the sacrifice of our lips as spoken of by the prophets. (see Isaiah chapter 1)
Synagogue worship has a rich history dating back to our most ancient history. I need to point this out because most people think that the engagement of synagogue worship dates back only to the Greco-Roman period, where under exile and dispersement there was a system of congregational worship outside of the established Temple. This could not be further from the truth. This misconception comes from the fact that word synagogue is a Greek word (συναγωγή), however even the scholars tend to only think that worshiping in small, local sites could only date back to the Babylonian exile because it is in that context that we see the first use of the term in the Greek translations of the scriptures that references such congregations. This is also incorrect to us religious Jews. According to scriptures and the sages the basis of worship in a state of exile originated in the age of Moses; being taught to the Israelites on the outside boarder of the Promised Land, just opposite the Jordan before going into the Land. Also in this same speech he gives the a solution to what to do to establish a central religious site once they have settled.
Moses says to the Children of Israel:
“You shall not do
all that we do here today,
every man what is right in his own eyes.
For you have not yet come
into the resting place
or the inheritance
which Hashem your G-d
is giving to you.”
| Lo ta’asun
| kechol asher anachnu osim poh hayom
| ish kol-hayashar be’einav.
| Ki lo-vatem ad-atah
| asher Hashem Eloheicha
| noten lach.
Now what does this have to do with communal worship in dispersed Israelite communities? It might not seem apparent to us because most of us are used to hearing long speeches on this text, but taken out of context. Most often its ripped from the rest of the text as the more fundamentalist voices twist it around to call for the establishment of a religious state upon the basis of a Jewish majority. These extremists say that we cannot allow people any longer to just to do what ever they see fit now that we occupy our land, we need to live in a theocracy. Odd, considering they will wait for Mashiach for the Temple for not for formation of a halachic state based solely on Jewish religious law. That is not what it’s saying for us to do, at least not on the surface. So what does it plainly mean? For our answer we turn to our regular source for p’shat (a simple, surface, straightforward understanding), Rashi:
“You shall not do
all that we do [here today…]:
referring to that above
‘For you are crossing the Jordan…’”
לא תעשון |
ככל אשר אנחנו עשים וגו‘: |
מוסב למעלה |
“על כי אתם עוברים את הירדן וגו‘: |
(דברים יא, לא) |
Rashi on Deuteronomy 12:8
Unless you know the Torah text very well, you might not see what he is getting at. What Rashi is saying is that this verse can only be understood in the context of the previous verses, starting above. So we are forced to roll back our reading in this parsha a little bit to see the full context:
At the start of the verses leading up to this, beginning with chapter 11 verse 31 we see that what is being said going forward is in the context of the people entering and permanently setting the land; to possess it and to dwell in it. That is key, not just posses it, but to also live in it. Once this happens the nation of Israel is to keep all the statutes and ordinances of the Torah that were given by Moses. (v.32) Now with be beginning of chapter 12 (even though this is all one actual paragraph, there is no break in our Hebrew text; as usual, chapters are arbitrary), we see that a set of commands about to be given. When are they to follow through with these commands? When they occupy it and decide to live there the rest of their lives; when permanently settled. (12:1) What are the commands? Our text continues:
“You shall utterly destroy from all the places
where the nations worship therein,
those whom you shall dispossess;
[whether they worship] their gods
on the high mountains
or on the hills,
or under every leafy tree;
you shall tear down their altars
and smash their pillars
and their Asherah [trees]
you shall burn with fire
their engraved gods you shall cut
and obliterate their name
from that place.”
| Abed te’abdun et-kol-hamekomot
| asher avdu-sham hagoyim
| asher atem yorshim otam
| al-heharim haramim
| vetachat kol-etz ra’anan.
| Venitatztem et-mizbechotam
| veshibartem et-matzevotam
| tisrefun ba’esh
| ufsilei eloheihem tegade’un
| ve’ibadetem et-shmam
| min-hamakom hahu
So here Rashi is pushing us back to the beginning of the text, forcing us to recognize that this verse of Deut. 12:8 means that they were not to do all the things that were spoken of herein once we have settled. It may seem strange to us, but this is the definitive answer on the subject according to the most accepted of Jewish commentary. Does Rashi really have a point or is this mere circular logic for the sake of harmonization?
If we look at what is commanded we see that the charge of G-d is to purge the land of idolatry. This is the call of iconoclasm par-excellence. All the places of Canaanite pagan worship are to be destroyed. The sacred altars and obelisks are to be smashed to the ground, their sacred groves are to be chopped down for firewoods, engravings and sculptures of their deities are to be cut up, and the names of their gods are to be obliterated.
As pointed out a couple weeks ago, the only other religion that holds iconoclasm this close to their core is Islam (see Parshat Ve’etchanan 2012); the only classical religion that Judaism does not define as polytheistic or pagan. Honestly, culturally us religious Jews have more in common with Muslims that can be said concerning us and any other religious group. Is is true there is a historic disparaging of non-Muslims on their part that has tried relations at times, a typical chauvinism held by a larger group upon on a historically humbled group in their midst. And certainly the current political clash between Islamicists and the State of Israel has created a displaced attitude of anger towards all Jews. Still that does not shake the fact we are very similar and when placed together are better in relation (when not instigated) than outsiders appreciate. We understand each other’s ways, the cultural and religious gap is not that great. And at the heart of the values that we endear about each other is the purity of our religions in abhorring idolatry and iconography; that is so rare in this world that it puts us in a small club. In this respect, the Muslims are our brothers.
However we do vary in a certain respects, we are not permitted to have idolatry in our midst; within our homes and dwelling places. But it is not generally our way to campaign in order to destroy all forms of iconographical art in all places; only in places of our own possession and dwelling. What people do in their own communities and homes is their own business and doesn’t concern us. This also applies to the mosque upon Temple Mount. Our indifference to the mosque’s presence is because there is no form of actual idolatry; no sacred odalisques to encircle, no sacred trees to worship, no sculptures to adore, and nor offensive name therein. Our command is to destroy such things, but they do not offend the site in such a way.
Furthermore there is a direct prohibition against us making such a provocative move as dismantling that house upon Har haBayit. We are not permitted to destroy any authentic forms of religion. We are not permitted to desecrate the holy. This is explicitly laid out for in the next verse of our parsha:
“You shall not do likewise
to Hashem your G-d.”
| Lo ta’asun ken
| l’Hashem Eloheichem.
And herein lies a remarkable mitzvah, an astonishing commandment. One so notorious that even the commentary of Rashi doesn’t seem like it needs to point out the presence of the powerful mitzvah derived from this text. But this is the actual point that Rashi is getting at, being a master it seems to slip his mind to have to do the setup for this directive (as you see from my feeble explanation, it takes a lot of background thinking). But herein we are commanded that we are not to destroy, in any way as described above, any sacred object to the true G-d. We cannot deface true religion, or it is as though we are defacing G-d Himself. Even to the most conservative in our midst Islam is considered misguided at times, but surely not idolatry and we cannot claim so because they have no presence of any of these offending objects. To deface items, especially at this site specifically as we will come to see, would be considered a desecration of the Name of G-d.
We take this seriously, so seriously that based upon this our sages lay down the command that we are not permitted to destroy any ritual object used to worship G-d with (Sifre Devarim) or item that bares the Name of G-d. (Talmud Bavli Makkot 22a); we cannot destroy the sacred. So careful are we to not show disprespect that religious Jews do not destroy any item that was used in a ritual or even bares a reference to G-d. It is the reason religious Jews are of the custom to not even spell out the name of G-d completely unless necessary, so that we are not prone to show contempt for the sacred name if the item were to be trashed. So obsessive are us religious Jews that we don’t throw the most inconsequential items away that are associated with religion, we keep them so that they are buried intact as part of a communal cache of sacred objects to be disposed of respectfully; many times on the periphery of a Jewish cemetery. (we dealt with this in length also in Parshat Nasso 2011)
Now notice when this goes into effect, it happens once they cross over into the Land. And furthermore only after one thing happens: after G-d chooses a permanent place for them to come to. Our text states this as it continues:
“But only to the place
which Hashem your G-d shall choose
from all your tribes,
to set His Name there;
there you shall inquire after His dwelling
and come there.”
| Ki im-el-hamakom
| asher yivchar Hashem Eloheichem
| lasum et-shemo
| sham leshichno tidreshu
| uvata shamah.
It may sound like the text is stuttering, but its merely emphasizing a point through explicit repetition. Once G-d chooses a spot you shall come there, to one place that G-d will choose; and only there. Interestingly Rashi does not identify this site, as most religionists would, as the Temple. He is true to the context of the text and it’s simple meaning, he points to something more immediate that pertains to the Israelites at hand. His commentary thus reads:
“To his dwelling shall you inquire:
this is the Mishkan [Tabernacle]
לשכנו תדרשו: |
זה משכן |
Rashi to Deuteronomy 12:5
Now one might wonder why Rashi feels the need to point this far back; what moral lesson is there and how yet does this play into his seemingly odd commentary to our starting verse?
Verse 6 begins to bridge the gap. Once G-d has chosen a permanent place they are to begin to bring all their burnt offerings there. Everything from obligatory burn offerings, all the way down to the donations and tithes. Everything is to be brought there, the obligatory and the free-will offering. Things that were mandatory, and even things that they optionally took upon themselves could be brought there. (v.6) There they will rejoice in all their endeavors, and for every blessing they receive they will worship together as a family at that chosen place. (v.7)
Now it took us a long time, and I apologize for that. But we must consider the fact our rabbis wrote in amazing shorthand and with assumption we keep certain underlying thoughts in mind. But this gets us back to the commentary at hand. Lets jump back to the commentary of our central verse; Deuteronomy 12:8:
“You shall not do
all that we do [here today…]:
referring to that above
‘For you are crossing the Jordan…’
[What this means is] when you pass over
you are immediately allowed to sacrifice
on a Bamah [Heb. stage, platform]
all the 14 years of conquest and division.
But on the Bamah you shall not sacrifice
all that you sacrifice here today
in the Mishkan [Tabernacle]
which is with you and has been anointed
and is [therefore] fit to sacrifice therein
Whereas on a Bamah
you may not draw close [to the Most Holy]
rather [this is for] what is vowed or donated.
And this is [the meaning of]
‘every man [doing] what he deems fit’
vows and donations
that you donate
because you deem fit to bring them,
not because of any
obligation [imposed upon you];
only these may you offer up
on a Bamah. [Sifrei; Zev. 117b]”
לא תעשון |
ככל אשר אנחנו עשים וגו‘: |
מוסב למעלה |
“על כי אתם עוברים את הירדן וגו‘: |
(דברים יא, לא) |
כשתעברו את |
מיד מותרים אתם להקריב |
כל ארבע עשרה שנה של כבוש וחלוק, |
ובבמה לא תקריבו |
כל מה שאתם מקריבים פה היום |
שהוא עמכם ונמשח |
והוא כשר להקריב בו |
אבל בבמה |
אין קרב |
אלא הנידר והנידב. |
איש כל הישר בעיניו, |
נדרים ונדבות |
שאתם מתנדבים |
על ידי שישר בעיניכם |
להביאם ולא על |
ידי חובה, |
אותם תקריבו |
Rashi on Deuteronomy 12:8; 11th century CE
If we skip forward in to our parsha we see that there are a bunch of sacrifices and offerings laid out. Ones that are obligatory, and ones that are optional. Among the optional ones can be anything from just a general donation of an item, to ritually fulfilling a religious vow of a personal nature; they didn’t have to, but they are taking this pious act upon themselves. Any of them can be offered at the tabernacle, and this is stressed. But only the optional ones can be offered elsewhere. For 14 years they are going to be raging war in order to conquer the Promised Land. During those years there is not going to be a set place to establish the Mishkan. During that time they will be permitted to establish Bamas; stages, and platforms. Here they may offer up their optional forms of ritual giving; but only the optional ones. It is not exactly like the situation that the children of Israel currently know (ha-yom; today). They currently have a tabernacle, that is taken up and down as they move around. When they settle it is erected and they offer there but they are permitted to eat from it anywhere within the confines of the encampment. But in the days to come the tabernacle would be dismantled. They people are not going to be able go about business as usual in a state of war. It is understandable that the people will still want to worship in the interim, and for this there is presented the option to offer up on a Bamah in their communities.
Now the Bamah sounds unusual to some readers, but its not exotic at all. We see it all the time if we go to shul; just usually pronounced with an Ashkenazi tinge, the bimah. What the word Bamah actually means is a stage or platform. We are referencing the elevated place; in olden days people placed altars upon them, today we place tables instead. Over time people have begun to call the gracious table the bimah; the table upon which we perform our highest mitzvah – the reading of the Torah – but in actually the real bimah is the elevated platform itself.
Thus we see that the origins of congregational worship outside of a central, national Temple being presented. People are allowed to congregate throughout their lands as they begin to settle, setting up bimahs were they are able to worship for free will. But the karbannot, the atoning sacrifices, we do not allow to be offered until that Most Holy Place is established. This is a precedent, that will be a model going forward for the people of Israel in a state of partial exile.
I cannot stress it enough, as this parsha continuously stresses that what we are and are not allowed to do. It warns us explicitly to not offer burnt offerings just any place we might set our eyes (if we look forward to verse 13). Instead we are to wait. In Rashi’s commentary he acknowledges that there is coming a day that the people are going to dwell in the Land and therefore feel obligated to do certain things, but until the establishment of that sanctuary comes they are to use this model.
Moses going forward in this parsha is going to warn that they have not yet found their resting place (v.9) that will not start to happen until they begin to go into the land, and will not be completed until they dwell security and they are given tranquility from their surrounding enemies in that Land. (v.10)
After that happens he says what will take place in order to establish a permanent place of worship; G-d will intervene Himself and choose to establish a sanctuary for His Name. Thus text reads as follows:
“And it will be, that the place
Hashem, your G-d, will choose
in which to establish His Name there
you shall bring all that
I am commanding you:
Your burnt offerings,
and your sacrifices,
and the separation by your hand,
and the choice of vows
which you will vow to Hashem.”
| Vehayah hamakom
| asher-yivchar Hashem Eloheichem
| bo leshaken shmo sham
| shamah tavi’u et kol-asher
| anochi metzaveh etchem
| utrumat yedchem
| vechol mivchar nidreichem
| asher tidru l’Hashem.
This verse here, this is the actual core verse of this parsha. It is going to drive the message of the rest of the parsha. Everything is going to be defined by this drawing line, this is what changes it all. When G-d decides to establish His Name at one spot, they would need to bring out of mothballs all the things they were previously commanded. Everything will be offered there, both optional and obligatory. At a place where He will choose to set His Name.
But what we need to remember is that from the moment they stepped over the river, they were at war. Things would not be business as usual again and there would be no going back to the desert cult of the Mishkan. And this would be noted by Rashi. You see our starting text serves as a good jumping-off point, being about showing reverence for the sacred. Because this would be played out literally in a unique way as they would show reverence for even the Mishkan too from that point on, only erecting it and moving it after times of destruction. Both times the Mishkan was erected within the Land of Israel it was destroyed by evil men, both at Shiloh and at Nob. Only then was it broken down and moved. Rashi points this out that next it’s instruments came to Gibion but there they choose instead to offer on a Bamah, until it’s instruments finally came to the rest in Jerusalem – the ultimate place that G-d has chosen to establish His Name.
When we imagine the ultimate symbol of Jewish freedom, we see that culminating with free and unfeathered access for Jews and the entire world to a House of Prayer for all the Nations in the age to come (see Isaiah 67:7). We cannot help but imagine and long for that day when we can look to Har haBayit – the Mount of the Holy House – and actually see the future house in all it’s glory and splendor. But because we cannot show disrespect to the sacred site without removing the honored building that is already there we hold this hope close to our heart. We take no actions of hostility, the truly pious will not lift their hand against the Holy Hill.
In our hearts when we set our prayers towards Jerusalem we may see the beauty of Solomon’s Temple rebuilt in our minds. We may long and yearn for it. Some of us even talk obsessively about it. But remarkably to date there has not been anyone of true religious clout to attempt or even suggest the seizing of Temple Mount and the demolition of its sites. At best people can claim that among us there is a fanatical attempt to preserve the site as much as possible for archaeological and historical reasons; and the seemingly eccentric occupation of some with readying themselves for the day that a Temple is established by the King Messiah.
Rashi in his commentary also makes mention to the holy Temple in Jerusalem. As he draws the connection he makes mention to King David, not to Solomon his son who actually built it. He makes mention to David because it was him who in his great love for G-d and as a sign of his accomplishment of settling a kingdom decided to build a permanent house for G-d to be worshiped in, within the walls of his capital in Jerusalem. He had come to dwell in a fine home, therefore it was only right that their G-d should dwell in a fine house. However, zealous and romantic we must feel about this we most certainly couldn’t feel more strongly than King David felt. However he is like us in that he found himself in a precarious situation. One that prevented him for being able to accomplish this task. Solomon, the actual builder of the Temple in Jerusalem would reference back to his father and solemnly reverence David’s unactualized hopes for that Holy House as he inaugurated it:
“Now it was in the heart of David my father
to build a House for the Name of Hashem,
the G-d of Israel.
But Hashem said to David my father:
Whereas it was in thy heart
to build a house for My name,
you did well that it was in your heart;”
וַיְהִי, עִם–לְבַב דָּוִד אָבִי |
לִבְנוֹת בַּיִת, לְשֵׁם יְיָ |
אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. |
יֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל–דָּוִד אָבִי, |
יַעַן אֲשֶׁר הָיָה עִם–לְבָבְךָ, |
לִבְנוֹת בַּיִת לִשְׁמִי — |
הֱטִיבֹתָ, כִּי הָיָה עִם–לְבָבֶךָ. |
I Kings 8:17-18
When David conquers his territory and settles his land he wishes to build the Temple in. This is his original idea. G-d says that the sentiment is nice, and its a good idea. G-d will surely allow it to happen, but it will not be him to do it. Solomon honors his father as his dream is actualized.
What was the reason that kept David from building the Temple? We all know this answer, every student of Torah does. We know it because David explicitly told his son Solomon the reason:
“But the word of Hashem
came to me, saying: You have shed blood abundantly,
and have made great wars;
you shall not build a house unto My name,
because you have shed much blood
upon the earth in My sight.
Behold, a son shall be born to you,
who shall be a man of rest;
and I will give him rest
from all his enemies round about;
for his name shall be Solomon,
and I will give peace and quietness
unto Israel in his days.
[Then] he shall build a house for My name.”
וַיְהִי עָלַי דְּבַר–יְיָ, |
לֵאמֹר, דָּם לָרֹב שָׁפַכְתָּ, |
וּמִלְחָמוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת עָשִׂיתָ: |
לֹא–תִבְנֶה בַיִת, לִשְׁמִי |
כִּי דָּמִים רַבִּים, |
שָׁפַכְתָּ אַרְצָה לְפָנָי. |
הִנֵּה–בֵן נוֹלָד לָךְ, |
הוּא יִהְיֶה אִישׁ מְנוּחָה, |
וַהֲנִיחוֹתִי לוֹ |
מִכָּל–אוֹיְבָיו, מִסָּבִיב: |
כִּי שְׁלֹמֹה יִהְיֶה שְׁמוֹ, |
וְשָׁלוֹם וָשֶׁקֶט |
אֶתֵּן עַל–יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּיָמָיו. |
הוּא–יִבְנֶה בַיִת, לִשְׁמִי |
1 Chronicles 22:8-10a
There are those such as myself that do have hopes and aspirations for the future Temple, may it be rebuilt quickly in our days. But like King David we find ourselves in a precarious situation. The conquest of our country was not miraculous. The Jewish people used warfare, just like every other people under hostility and tyranny to establish themselves a home. Not just any wars, some of the most notorious wars of the modern age. We like David did not acquire our land with clean hands, in ways sanctified by religious rhetoric. We fought a secular fight; one that soiled our hands with the blood of war, and even yet we are not completely secure within our true boarders.
Our hands are not clean. Like David, it is good and well that we have these hopes and sentiments, but it is best that we keep them in our heart and not put them to action. This is our sentiment, even that of the most modern Religious Zionist. There are those of us who feel like we should have the right of any person to go and pray at the site. But we are not trying to destroy the site and establish a new presence. We have no religious pretext for such a move. We await the coming of a new generation of peace, that can accomplish this task of reestablishing this House of Prayer for all the Nations without violence and bloodshed.
- Parshat Re’eh (2011) (hardcoremesorah.wordpress.com)