Does Israel need a Beit Hamikdash if we reclaimed Jerusalem? - opinion

The Beit Hamikdash, as yet still an elusive dream and a work in progress, can serve as a great influencer.

 DOING IT for the ’Gram (Instagram): ‘Influencers’ are nothing new. (photo credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash)
DOING IT for the ’Gram (Instagram): ‘Influencers’ are nothing new.
(photo credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash)

So here we are smack-dab in the middle of the Three Weeks – Bein Ha-M’tzarim – the annual commemoration of the destruction of both the first and second Beit Hamikdash

Actually, this remembrance began six months ago, on the 10th of Tevet, the date when the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians began. But these weeks, when the walls of the Old City were breached and the Temple burnt to the ground, carry the most intensity, reaching a crescendo on the 9th of Av, the “Black Fast.”

Quite remarkably, for 2,000 years the Jewish people has maintained a constant, almost daily effort to keep the Beit Hamikdash ever-present in our hearts and minds. Our daily prayers are loosely fashioned after the Temple offerings, which we specifically delineate on the holidays. Our synagogues have the status of a Mikdash M’at, a miniature Temple that mimics the original with its ark of the Torah, curtain, and eternal light, among other ritual objects. Many homes have a portion of a wall left unfinished, to mark the Temple’s demise, and we are all familiar with the popular custom of breaking a glass at a wedding while reciting the prophet Jeremiah’s lament from Psalm 137, so as to temper our joy with the knowledge that our spiritual task is still unfinished.

If Israel reclaimed Jerusalem, do we really need a Beit Hamikdash?

Yet with all of these reminders, we still might ask, “Do we really need a Beit Hamikdash?” Is this something that is truly a priority for a nation that has reclaimed Jerusalem in all its glory, or are we just paying lip service? Does the lack of a Temple affect many – or any – of us in a tangible, practical way? True, there is an ongoing battle royale over the Temple Mount, and we still tingle at the Six Day War announcement that this holiest of places is in our hands, but that may be as far as it goes. The haredi community largely does not visit there, out of halachic considerations, while the secular citizens of Israel have little, if any, interest in it.

Once, while sitting in Dizengoff Square on a Shabbat afternoon, I overheard a father say to his young son, “The religious have the Kotel as their holiest spot, and we have this!”

 The menorah from the Second Temple is depicted being carried by Romans on the Arch of Titus. (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
The menorah from the Second Temple is depicted being carried by Romans on the Arch of Titus. (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

In short, I am asking, “What does the Beit Hamikdash represent; what does it stand for? Until it is rebuilt, what message is it meant to convey to us? What inspiration can it instill in us?”

Let me put this thought on hold for a bit and take up another subject. In this politically correct world we live in, we have created a whole new language. We have to be oh so careful that we don’t say anything that might trample on another’s sensibilities or insult their status. Mental care patients are “cerebrally challenged”; waiters are “servers”; and bartenders are “barristas.” Truck drivers are “transportation personnel,” and janitors are “custodial supervisors.” You can only imagine who “facilitators in the intimacy care field” are.

And there is another buzz word that is all over the place: “influencers.” Some of these people actually do have a vocation and skill, but a lot of the others do nothing but spread information – or gossip – on social media, and they become quite celebrated. The implication is that this is something new, something that never existed pre-Meta, Google, or Twitter. But “influencers,” I suggest, have been around for a long, long time.

I maintain that anyone who has a positive effect on someone else is an “influencer.” It might be a teacher, a colleague, a favorite author, or a sports figure that motivated you to go beyond your own expectations, to be better than even you thought possible. And it hopefully will be one or both of your parents or other family members. In my own case, I was heavily influenced as a youngster by two celebrated teachers, Rebbetzin Well and Mrs. Saffir, who instilled in me a love of Judaism that I carry with me until today. And Mr. Keane, our geometry teacher, who challenged us to first try to solve our problems on our own before seeking others’ help. And my beloved Rebbe, Rav Herzl Kaplan, who had an encyclopedic mastery of Talmud and a joke for every occasion. These were true influencers who, more often than not, taught by example and led lives that set the bar high.

They were paradigms of hope, not hype.

And now to return to our initial discussion. The Beit Hamikdash, as yet still an elusive dream and a work in progress, can serve as a great influencer. It was a unifying force – the unifying force – in ancient Israel, the spiritual focal point that brought the nation together. Three times a year at least, the people – rich and poor, farmer and skilled worker – would come from near and far to recharge their souls in Jerusalem. The Beit Hamikdash was a place where everyone could find common ground, sharing a purpose – connecting to God on one’s own level – that every person could relate to; and that unity of spirit is something we are in dire need of today.

The Beit Hamikdash offered an opportunity to seek forgiveness, to say “I’m sorry, I messed up, but I want to be better.” Influenced to confess our faults and then pledge to redress them, we would emerge “cleaner” than we were before, with our self-esteem restored. In a society where it is so difficult, almost painful, to accept blame and look inward at our own shortcomings, the Beit Hamikdash, an icon of self-examination, offers a welcome alternative.

And the Beit Hamikdash also influenced us to give thanks, to recognize just how fortunate we are to have what we have and be where we are at this place in time. In that holy place of priests and psalms, we put aside all our groans and gripes and acknowledged the innumerable gifts showered upon us at every moment. In humbly bringing the Toda offering, we lived up to our collective name “Yehudim,” from the word for “thanks,” and were influenced to count not our bad breaks but our blessings.

It’s true, the Beit Hamikdash does not physically exist – yet. But in our psyche, in our collective imagination and historical memory, the concept of this unique house of God can still uplift us, encourage us, and influence us. And it can remind us that God – who is all-knowing and everywhere – is right there by our side.

Sheh’yibaneh Beit HaMikdash bim’hera v’yameinu; May the Temple be built speedily, and in our day. 

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.