Western Wall plaza general view 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One hears a great deal these days – especially in this season of Tisha Be’av –
about the restoration of the Temple. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to
contemplate some facts concerning the building of the Temple in the
The construction of a permanent building to replace the Mishkan,
the tent that had been erected in the wilderness and was moved from place to
place as the Israelites wandered, was a radical act that aroused God’s
displeasure at the beginning. When David told Nathan the prophet that he wanted
to build a house for God, the reply was, “Are you the one to build a house for
Me to dwell in?... As I moved about wherever the Israelites went, did I ever
reproach any of the tribal leaders: Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?”
(II Samuel 7:5-7).
David wanted to erect a permanent temple in Jerusalem
to further consolidate Jerusalem’s status as the center of the tribes of Israel
and the seat of his kingship. A building rather than a tent would make it clear
that it would move no more, that Jerusalem was the dwelling place of the
He was, of course, terribly disappointed when this request was
Most interesting is the fact that although God agreed that a
building would be constructed, David was not to build it – rather this would be
done by his son, Solomon (I Chronicles 17:12). The reason given was that David
was a warrior with bloodstained hands. “You have shed much blood and fought
great battles; you shall not build a House for My name for you have shed much
blood on the earth in My sight” (I Chronicles 22:8).
Solomon was not a
warrior. His very name meant “peace.” Even if Solomon was not as great as his
father David, he had the advantage of not being a military man, no matter how
just the cause of his fighting.
“Solomon will be his name and I shall
confer peace and quiet on Israel in his time. He will build a house for My
name.” (I Chronicles 22:9-10).
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The meaning and the symbolism of this is
clear. The Temple is a place dedicated to peace: peace between humans and God
and peace among peoples. Centuries after the Temple was built, the prophet Micah
taught that in the future, the nations would come to the Lord’s House and “they
shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war”
There is something ironic, therefore, in the fact that the
great and glorious Temple whose ruins we see today was built not by a Solomon –
a man of peace – but by Herod, who was the very antithesis of all the moral
values of Judaism, a man whose hands were stained with blood, including that of
members of his own family! Had he asked God for permission to build the Temple,
it is unlikely that it would have been granted.
To rebuild the Temple
today would require an act of bloodshed that would negate the very principles
for which the Temple stood. If David was not permitted to build it due to his
being a warrior, no matter how justified his deeds, what does that say about us
today? Rabbi Yohanan Ben-Zakkai, who correctly cautioned that the revolt against
the Romans would result in the destruction of the Temple, also taught, “Do not
destroy their altars, lest you have to rebuild them with your own hands. Do not
destroy those of brick, lest they tell you to rebuild them with stone. If
youngsters tell you, ‘Come let us build the Temple,’ do not listen to them. If
elders tell you, ‘Come let us destroy the Temple,’ listen to them.” (Avot
d’Rebbi Natan B 31). Obviously, Rabbi Yohanan never thought that we would
purposely destroy the Temple, but he was cautioning in the most extreme way
against listening to the radical advice of those who did not have the good
judgment that elders, sages, possess.
Such caution would be as well
advised today as it was in his time.
The writer, former president of the
International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Book
Award. His latest book is The Torah Revolution (Jewish Lights).
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