Haftarat Tetzaveh: The Third Temple

[Yechezkel 43:10-27]

"You, Son of Man, tell the House of Israel about the Temple, and let them be ashamed of their transgressions, and figure out its (The Temple’s) outline.  And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the shape of the Temple and its design, its exits and entrances…" (Yechezkel 43:10-11).  How is the building of the Temple connected to the Nation of Israel’s shame for their sins?  Isn't knowledge of art and architecture enough to succeed in building such a structure?


The Temple was not built to express architectural beauty, but rather to express the beauty of our souls, which is, in turn, expressed through the beauty of the structure.  Therefore, when the souls are stained, the Temple crumbles.  For this reason, only serious repentance is able to bring about the building of the Temple.  The solution to the problem of rebuilding the Temple is not a technical one.


There is a major difference, by the way, between building the Temple and building the Land of Israel.  At the beginning of the Zionist awakening, some Rabbis immediately invalidated the movement because of the low religious and ethical level of the Nation.  In their opinion, the return to Zion is not merely a population transfer, but a messianic, prophetic fulfillment and the establishment of a "Kingdom of priests and a holy Nation" (Shemot 19:6) in our Land.  And if the Nation has not reached this required level, then it is better to remain in the Exile until we reach spiritual heights.  Only after the Nation fully and truly repents will it be time to return to the Holy Land, to become a Holy Nation and establish a holy State.


The majority of our Rabbis do not agree with this opinion. They hold that we should make aliyah immediately in order to establish a State, even if we have yet to reach this spiritual level.  Just as it is impossible to expect a new-born baby to have sterling behavior, so too is it unrealistic to demand immediate perfection from a young state.  Our Rabbis therefore took into account the need to climb from the profane to the holy.  Furthermore, there was pressure to save the Nation of Israel, which was constantly exposed to the threat of assimilation – something which, to our great distress, still exists in our time.  There was therefore an obligation to begin the process of the return to Zion and the building of our Land immediately, before the repentance, which would come sooner or later.


With regard to building the Temple, however, the exact opposite is true.  The prophet Yechezkel describes at length that the people, faced with the holiness of the Temple, should be ashamed of their transgressions.  If the Nation of Israel shows signs of regret, then the prophet can continue his speech.  If not, he has nothing to add, as  Nation is not ready.  It is still entrenched in the idea that the Temple is a sort of amulet that protects it from its enemies and shields its eyes from the corruption.  This outlook is a very mistaken one.


It is nonetheless quite surprising that the prophet's message was delivered in the Exile, where he spent the majority of his life.  Wouldn't it have been more useful to dedicate his efforts to admonishing the Nation about its behavior than providing a lengthy description – four chapters in all! - of the future Temple?


But the prophecy of Hashem which reached Yechezkel was essentially concerned with the long-term elevation of the Nation of Israel in its Land, and not its past or present behavior.  His book ends with an incomparable climax: the Divine promise of the future return of the Nation of Israel to our Land, the renewed sovereignty within our borders and the Third Temple in Jerusalem as the center of the State.


We must learn to look at the far-off horizon, which is full of Divine promises, even if it seems blurry at first glance.  This sight can fill our daily lives with the spirituality and courage necessary for us to develop in the proper direction.  It helps us to elevate us above our concern about our personal existence, and magnifies our concern for the communal well-being, which is immeasurably greater.


The Temple described by Yechezkel is not the Second Temple, which could be rebuilt in a short time, but the Third Temple.  He does not provide us with the detailed blueprint of the Second Temple, which, when it was built during the time of Ezra – as the Rambam says – was similar to King Shlomo's Temple and influenced by Yechezkel's Temple (Hilchot Beit Ha-Bechirah 1:4).  The Second Temple is a stage between the First and Third Temple.  So why provide the plan for the Third Temple and not the Second?


In one of his books dedicated to the uniqueness of the Temple, "Mishkenei Elyon," the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, explained that the Third Temple is the ideal, the final Temple.  It is a "Temple of Above," not just a "Temple of Below."  This is the Temple we are waiting for.  It is not enough to build a "Temple of Below" with the aid of building material. It also requires the highest form of spirituality.  The first two Temples were destroyed; the same fate will not mark the Third.  Unlike the two earlier ones, which were spiritually incomplete, the future Temple will not be lacking anything.  The spiritual state of the Nation did not allow the Divine Presence to continue dwelling in the Temple.  The Third Temple, however, is an eternal and indestructible structure, built upon the integrated spirituality of the Nation of Israel.


It is for this reason that Rabbi Akiva began to laugh when he saw a fox run out on the spot of the Holy of Holies.  The Sages were puzzled by his strange pleasure.  He explained that because we have seen the prophecy of the Temple's destruction realized in all of its details, including the verse "foxes prowl over it" (Eichah 5:18), we can now be sure that the Third Temple will be built. All of the prophecies of the revival of the Nation will be brought about in all of its details (Makot 24a).


The Third Temple is not a grandiose version of the Second Temple.  During the time of Ezra, it was known that the Second Temple would be destroyed to make room for the Third (Ra'avad, Hilchot Beit Ha-Bechirah 6:14), which will be built on the level in which we "Make His (Hashem's) will, your will" (Pirkei Avot 2:4).  Man's desires will be identical to that of Hashem's.  Not only will man perform goodness, he will become the essence of goodness.


On the one hand, the Third Temple will descend with fire from the Heavens (Tosafot on Rosh Hashanah 30a).  On the other hand, we are commanded to build the Temple (Rambam, Hilchot Beit Ha-Bechirah 1:1).  There is no contradiction.  It will be completely Divine, pure like fire, free of human weakness.  It will be the highest form of unity between Israel and the Divine Presence.


Yechezkel arrived to give us hope, and to declare that the Exile will end, and that at the time of the Redemption there will be greater spiritual and material joy.  The Exile is similar to surgery which is painful but saves one's life.  Its purpose is to remove the evil from within our midst in order to bring the Nation of Israel to its Divine role.  We raise our eyes towards this supreme purpose and the more we aspire to it, the more we will understand to repent from our sins and build our future through integrity and light.