The Temple is Not Magic


[Melachim 1 5:26-6:13]


"It was four hundred and eighty years after Israel left the Land of Israel, in the fourth year – in the month of Ziv, which is the second month of Shlomo's kingship over Israel, when he built the Temple for Hashem" (Melachim 1 6:1).  After waiting for such a long time, the Nation of Israel was finally brought to a higher level of unity with the Master of the Universe by building the Temple!

 

In the Song of the Sea, Moshe Rabbenu revealed to the young Nation of Israel that a miraculous redemption was not a goal in and of itself - our relationship with Hashem would develop over time, on different levels, which would unfold throughout the generations.  A lengthy wandering in the desert was followed by the conquering of the Land. But possession of Jerusalem – our Holy City – was yet to come.  When that event finally occurred, the glory of the Temple quickly burst forth through its hills.  Our Sages teach that Hashem loves His Nation so much that even before the Temple was built, he decided to give a modest advance and gave us the small, portable Mishkan which they took with them in the desert (Ketubot 62b).

 

The building which King Shlomo constructed for Hashem's honor was quite impressive: 60 amah in length, 20 amah in width, and 30 amah in height; special windows to illuminate it; side rooms built all around (ibid. v. 2-6).  The Temple possessed amazing beauty and was built from the most precious and steady material.  Anyone who entered it was immediately struck with awe and holiness.

 

We warn those who are seduced by the field of comparative religions not to search for similarities between our Temple in Jerusalem and the well-known project of the Catholics in Rome.  The latter, which took twenty years to complete, relies on all architectural and artistic “wonders” to infuse its visitors with a deep “religious” feeling.  But when one reads the verse of the Tanach, he understands that the Temple employed none of these devices: "When the Temple was being built, it was built of complete quarried stone.  Hammers, chisels and any iron utensils were not heard in the Temple, when it was being built" (ibid. 7).

 

Because the use of iron was forbidden, other methods were obviously going to be needed to construct this holy edifice.  But King Shlomo took this stricture even further.  He required that only "complete quarried stone" (ibid.) - referred to as "virgin stones" by our Sages – was to be used. The pieces were to be incorporated into the structure exactly as they were found.  But why demand such a difficult task? It is true that the Torah itself prohibits the use of iron in relation to the altar: "And when you make Me an altar of stones, do not build it of hewn stones, for you will have raised your sword over it and desecrated it" (Shemot 20:22).  Our Sages explain that the altar was built to lengthen a person's life, whereas iron, when used to make weapons, shortens it.  We are therefore not permitted to use something which shortens life on an item which lengthens it (Mechilta ibid.).  But King Shlomo was even stricter than his Rabbi. While Moshe Rabbenu applied this Halachah to the altar, which did not require such a major effort, King Shlomo applied it to the entire Temple.

 

We can conclude from this unique mitzvah that religious conviction that leads to murderous violence is very far from our worldview.  The purpose of the Torah is to purify us and lead us to love people and understand them.  The Temple is not an automatic, magical instrument which grants Divine forgiveness for our corrupt actions.  Hashem warns us: "The word of Hashem came to Shlomo, saying: 'This Temple that you are building, if you follow My decrees, perform My statues and observe all My commandments to follow them, then I will uphold My word with you, which I told your father, David.  I will dwell among the Children of Israel, and I will not forsake My Nation Israel'" (ibid. v. 11-13).

 

The strength of the Temple is not based on its external beauty, but on observing the mitzvot, on our integrity and by purifying our character traits.  The Temple must fill the Nation of Israel with the highest level spirituality, and then Hashem will dwell among us: "Make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8).  Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said that it does not say "I will dwell in it," i.e. the Temple, but rather "I will dwell among them," i.e. the Nation of Israel.  In order for us to be a suitable receptacle for the Divine Presence, we must distance ourselves from all impurity and evil.

 

When – to our great distress – the Nation of Israel does not fulfill its role as a Light unto the Nations, and is mired in corrupt behavior, the Divine Presence departs from the Temple, which is then consumed in flames.  The Temple is far from being an amulet which protects the Nation of Israel from the results of its transgression.  The Temple is a place of Divine service which demands a high ethical standard.

 

We gird ourselves with faith and hope, since Hashem concludes His words to King Shlomo with a promise: "I will dwell among the Children of Israel, and I will not forsake My Nation Israel" (ibid.).  The connection between Hashem and His Nation is eternal, and His love is unconditional, even with our rebellions against Him.  Hashem patiently waits for our response which proves our love for our Creator.  His patience also will not end.  The Song of Songs, which was not by happenstance written by King Shlomo, relates to the love between Hashem and His Nation.  Even though there may be ups and downs, this love never completely crumbles.  The Tanach describes at length the future days of our Nation's history: we will be unified in our Land, which will lead to the rebuilt Temple where we will have a supreme, ideal and eternal meeting with Hashem.