The virtue of the former; the glory of the latter

Guest Columnist: The glory of the latter house is built on foundations of shared experiences, challenges overcome, and the deep significance of reuniting after being apart.

July 29, 2011 21:36
3 minute read.
Temple Mount Excavation

Temple Mount Excavation 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Shortly after the return to Zion following the Cyrus Declaration in 538 BCE, progress toward rebuilding the Temple all but ceased, due to a myriad of difficulties. Despite the excitement at the prospect of rebuilding Jerusalem, few returned, and the drive and enthusiasm of those who did was inhibited by the grim situation they faced upon their arrival. Among other challenges, they found local residents who hindered their building attempts, as well as a harsh drought.

The returnees viewed their bleak reality as a result of their own miscalculation: “The time has not yet come for building the house of God” (Haggai 1:2). The nation felt that the financial, political and spiritual situation was not optimal, and that under these conditions, the Temple could not be rebuilt.

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Haggai’s prophecy encouraged the nation to rebuild the Temple nonetheless: “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified” (1:8). God does not demand exotic or expensive materials; any local lumber atop any mountain will do. Moreover, he says, “the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former” (2:9). The glory of the house of God stems from God’s presence therein. God’s desire, therefore, is simply for the house to be built, regardless of the lack of ability to reach the desired standard.

The prophet’s remark, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (1:4) is reminiscent of words spoken many generations earlier, when David expresses his desire to build a house of God. David remarks to the prophet Nathan: “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent” (II Samuel, 7:2).

However, while Haggai’s words are intended to encourage the nation to build despite suboptimal conditions, David is discouraged from doing so! Moreover, the reason for God’s rejection of David’s initiative seems to negate the very foundation of Haggai’s prophecy. Nathan receives word from God that the time is not ripe for building a Temple.

Such a venture requires complete stability – defeated enemies, settled borders, and David’s heir sitting upon a throne, having established a worthy dynasty.

The opposing expectations in these two instances might be better understood when we realize that the Temple is an expression of the relationship between God and his nation. As in any relationship, the type of energy that has to be invested in optimizing an unripe relationship is far greater than that needed for a mature and established relationship.

When a couple begins the process of building their love and friendship, caution is required, along with great attention to detail. Any challenge might be a threat to a new relationship; therefore, external and superficial details can be of great significance. Thus, optimal conditions were necessary for building the First Temple. In contrast, the affection and devotion of an older couple who have been through life’s challenges together do not rely upon such external factors. Although these are necessary for establishing the foundation of a solid relationship, as the relationship evolves and a lasting bond is forged, it becomes clear that they are not the essence of the relationship.

“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former,” because this is the reunion of an old couple. The parties involved have matured through years and experience, and ache to return to one another after being parted for almost a generation. The nation desires to build a Temple worthy of God, while God is satisfied with a simple place of meeting. He cares not how old and wrinkled the face of the nation is, nor how unfashionable its clothes are. The glory of the latter house is built on foundations of shared experiences, challenges overcome, and the deep significance of reuniting after being apart.

The author is a freelance writer and translator. She teaches at Matan and is an active yoetzet Halacha in her community. She resides in Alon Shvut with her husband and four children.

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