The Essence of the Beit Hamikdash
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
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).
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
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]