Tradition Today: Rebuilding the Temple

To rebuild the Temple today would require an act of bloodshed that would negate the very principles for which the Temple stood.

Western Wall plaza general view 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 past.
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 Lord.
He was, of course, terribly disappointed when this request was denied.
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).
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” (Micah 4:3).
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).