The second half of the portion of Tetzaveh is devoted to the inaugural services (“milu’im”) of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The Torah describes in detail the various offerings and services that were to be done during this inaugural period, which lasted seven days. The haftarah picks up on this theme, with G‑d instructing the prophet Ezekiel to teach the Jews all the specifications and laws of the future Temple and of the inauguration service that would take place at its dedication.

Ezekiel’s prophecies of comfort, including this one, were delivered after the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jews to Babylonia. As with many other prophecies of the bright Jewish future after the Babylonian exile, these were only partially (if at all) fulfilled in the building of the Second Temple and the return of the Jews to Israel at that time. In our case, many of the details foreseen by Ezekiel were not incorporated into the plan of the Second Temple. Our sages tell us that “the second entry into the Land, in the days of Ezra, could have been as miraculous and strong-handed as the first entry, in the days of Joshua,” and the same was true for the Temple itself. Ezekiel had prophesied of a great future Temple in a time to come. This could have come to be with the Second Temple, but it did not; it awaits the building of the Third Temple.

Why was this?

Although the Jews had done teshuvah for the wrongdoings that caused the initial exile,1 this teshuvah was not done with a resolve strong enough to stop them from collectively sinning again. Furthermore, intermarriage with non-Jewish women was rife, thus demonstrating the people’s weak spiritual nature.

Whatever the case, the people were not ready for the full and final redemption, nor were they deserving of it. They did return to the Land and they did build the Temple, but this was made possible only with the permission of King Cyrus, and it was built without the visible and revealed hand of G‑d.2


G‑d appeared to Ezekiel and instructed him to teach his Jewish brethren the details and laws of the Temple. One purpose was so that they should regret the sins they committed, which had brought about the destruction in the first place. Another was for them to know that G‑d had not forsaken them, and would yet allow the rebuilding of the Temple to in all its glory.

Ezekiel is also further instructed to “write all this down before their eyes, so that they may safeguard its entire form and all its rules, and fulfill them.” Indeed, for close to two and a half thousand years we, the Jewish people, have lovingly preserved and studied the laws of the Temple building and all the services therein, down to the most minute detail. As the commentaries point out, the verse alludes to the fact that by “safeguarding its entire form” the Jews would eventually merit the resurrection of the dead at the time of Moshiach, and will be able to actually “fulfill” the very laws they preserved.

The beginning of our haftarah is actually the last segment of a detailed description of the Temple blueprint. Here the prophet deals with the measurements of the mizbe’ach, the large altar in the Temple courtyard.

One interesting fact to note in this description is that the common amah (cubit) measurement had different lengths for different parts of the altar. For most of the structure the amah was a “large” one, consisting of six handbreadths, whereas other parts were measured in a regular amah of five handbreadths.

After laying out the design and measurements of the altar, the verses begin describing the details of its inauguration service. Upon its completion, a bull is to be brought as a sin-offering. Its blood is to be put on all the four corners of the altar and of the Temple courtyard, and then burned outside the Temple precincts. (This service is quite similar to the annual sin-offering brought each Yom Kippur by the high priest.) For seven days after this, a bull, a he-goat and a ram are also to brought as sin-offerings.

Reflecting the points mentioned above, there is controversy among the early commentators of the Talmud as to whether the inaugural sacrifices brought by Ezra in the Second Temple were the sacrifices referred to in these verses. Many are of the opinion that the description here will be fulfilled only in the Third Temple, with Moshiach.3

Salt on the Wounds?

Ezekiel was active at the very beginning of the Babylonian exile, decades before the opportunity for building the Second Temple would arise. The prophet therefore was hesitant: why should he teach his people all about the Temple, when it had just been destroyed and there was no way of rebuilding it? Would this not just be adding insult to injury?

The Midrash relates:

Come and see: when the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Ezekiel the form of the Temple, He said, “Describe the Temple to the House of Israel; let them be ashamed of their sins, and measure the plan.” Ezekiel responded, “Sovereign of the Universe! We are now in exile in the land of our enemies, and You say to me to go and inform Israel about the form of the Temple, and to ‘write it before their eyes, that they should preserve its form and all of its statutes and do them’? Are they able to do them? Let them be until they emerge from the exile, and then I will go and tell them!”

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Ezekiel, “Just because My children are in exile, should the building of My Temple be left idle? Reading about it in the Torah is as great as building it. Go and tell it to them, and they will occupy themselves with reading from the Torah about the form of the Temple. In reward for reading it—occupying themselves with reading about it—I will count it for them as if they were occupied with the actual building of the Temple.”4

The language of the Midrash is powerful indeed. Ezekiel’s problem was that the study of the Temple structure and its service could not be implemented practically, and therefore would only cause pain to the people. G‑d, in turn, rhetorically asked, “Just because My children are in exile, should the building of My Temple be left idle?”—meaning to say that the Jews did have a way of “building” the Temple: studying the laws of the Temple is the part of building the Temple that we can do today. Thus, when we do it, it is not a mere memory, or even a preparation for the fulfilment of a future mitzvah, but an element of fulfilling the mitzvah itself. In the words of G‑d to Ezekiel, “the building of My Temple” will then not be “left idle.”

This demonstrates the importance of studying the laws of the Temple and of its service: in this way we are able to take part in the actual mitzvah of building the House of G‑d.5

In our day and age, on the threshold of the final redemption, the study of the laws of the Third Temple is real and practical as never before.

May we see it speedily in our days.