Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 10 August 2019 / 9 Av 5779

The Essence of the Beit Hamikdash

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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In this generation it is very hard to even relate to the concept of the Beit Hamikdash on a simple level, let alone to mourn its loss. Since one reason for the inability to mourn the loss of the Beit Hamikdash is that we do not know what it is that we are missing, it is fitting for us to begin by intellectually understanding the function of the Beit Hamikdash, and use that as a stepping-stone to help us emotionally feel and mourn its loss.

Neck of the World

During the emotional meeting between Yosef and his brothers in Egypt, Yosef finally removed his façade and revealed himself as not the viceroy of the most powerful country as they believed him to be, but indeed — he was their long-lost brother. The Torah recounts that after doing so: “He [Yosef] fell on Binyamin, his brother’s neck and cried and Binyamin cried on his [Yosef’s] neck as well.” The Gemara explains that Yosef was crying over the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash that would be in Binyamin’s portion of Eretz Yisrael in the future, and Binyamin was crying over the destruction of the Mishkan in Shiloh that would be in Yosef’s portion in the future (Megillah 16b). The obvious question is: How did Chazal learn from the verses that Yosef and Binyamin were crying over the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash?

The Shem M’Shmuel suggests that the answer lies in the fact that the verses mention Yosef and Binyamin’s necks. This, says the Shem M’Shmuel, is a reference to the Beit Hamikdash. In fact, we see precedence for this idea in Shir Hashirim where Shlomo Hamelech hints allegorically to the Beit Hamikdash as the neck. As it says in Shir Hashirim: "Your neck is like the tower of David, built with turrets…," and also "Your neck is like a tower of ivory…" We are now left with a new question: What does the neck have to do with the Beit Hamikdash?

The commentaries explain that even though G-d fills the entire world, there are still places that enable us to experience G-d's providence more directly (Sefer Haikrim 2:17, Kad Hakemach “avel”, Daat Tevunot 160). It was at Har Sinai during the giving of the Torah that G-d's presence was most intensely felt. All doubt disappeared once the Jewish people heard G-d speak directly to them. The Ramban explains that the Mishkan [and later on the Beit Hamikdash] was meant to be a structure that held within it the revelation at Har Sinai. Like Har Sinai, the Beit Hamikdash was a place that enabled a glimpse into the spiritual world. Anyone who visited the Beit Hamikdash was able to see firsthand that there is more to the physical world than meets the eye. From the ten miracles that constantly took place in the Beit Hamikdash to the spiritual high that filled the air, a casual visit to the Beit Hamikdash was a rejuvenation of emunah, a renewal of faith. This was the place where G-d's presence became a reality (see Ramban on Shemot 25:1).

Chazal teach us that man is an olam katan (a small world) (Tanchuma Pikudei 3). Every part of man can symbolically be found in the world at large and visa versa. Through studying the body, one is able to use the art of metaphor to learn things about the spiritual nature of the world. Based on this idea, the Shem M’Shmuel says that the neck is the body part that connects the higher parts of man, i.e. his head and mind, to his lower parts, i.e. the rest of his physical body. So too, the Beit Hamikdash, which served as a continuation of the revelations of Har Sinai, served as the bond between the higher spiritual world and our lower physical world (Shem M’Shmuel, Vayigash 5673 and Chatam Sofer al HaTorah, parshat Vayigash).

Three Functions

The Shem M’Shmuel further quotes the Arizal who explains that the neck has three primary organs: the gullet, the windpipe and the jugulars. Each of these three organs has a physical function that hints at parallel functions present in the Beit Hamikdash as well. How is this so?

The windpipe in the neck through which our voices travel corresponds to the prayers and the songs sung by the Leviim. The jugulars correspond to the confession and teshuva that accompanied the bringing of an offering. Just like the jugulars connect the heart to the brain, so too when one does teshuva one subjugates his emotions and physical drives to the conscious thought-out decisions of the intellect.

Finally, the intake of the food that is done through the gullet corresponds to the intake of the offerings by the mizbe’ach (altar). Let's analyze this function of the Beit Hamikdash more deeply. The body and the soul are two entities that are not naturally connected, due to the fact that they are mere opposites — the body is physical while the soul is spiritual. Food is the glue that keeps these two entities together (See

Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 6:4 in the name of the Arizal and Machatzit Hashekel there). The verse says: Command the children of Israel and tell them: My sacrifice, My food for My fires, a satisfying aroma;safeguard in bringing it in its appointed time (Bamidbar 28:2). Obviously G-d does not need food or a satisfying aroma. The reason why the Torah refers to it as food is to tell us the sacrifices resemble food, and, in one aspect, just like food keeps the soul in the body, the offerings kept the Shechina (the tangibly-felt providence of G-d) in the world.

Based on this, the offerings were the “food of the world.” In this way the sacrifices served as the food that brought together the physical and spiritual worlds. In fact the Hebrew word for the sacrifices, korban, hints at this idea. The root of the word korban is karov (close). The sacrifices caused the physical and spiritual worlds to come close to each other (See Nefesh HaChaim 2:9 and 2:14 and the hagaha there).

A Dwelling Within

The verse in the Torah says: You shall build for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them (Shemot 25:8). The Alshich points out that the verse does not say "I will dwell in it" but rather "I will dwell in them" — to teach us that through the Mishkan [and later on the Beit Hamikdash] G-d would dwell in the hearts of the Jewish People. In this sense the Beit Hamikdash not only revealed the providence of G-d in its structure but was also a conduit through which the providence of G-d could be felt more directly in every place in the world. Though G-d is everywhere and He guides everything in the world, without the Beit Hamikdash it is much harder for each and every one of us to see that. As the Gemara says: From the day the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, a wall of iron separates Yisrael and their Father in the Heavens (Berachot 32b). Perhaps through contemplating this idea we can use the mourning period as inspiration to do teshuva and thereby bring about the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our days.

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