Building Through Study

The Rambam introduces every one of the fourteen books of the Mishneh Torah with a verse from the Prophets or the Sacred Writings. For Sefer Avodah, “the Book of Divine Service,” which contains a description of the Beis HaMikdash and the sacrifices offered there, he employs the verse:1 “Seek out the welfare of Jerusalem, those who love you shall prosper.”

Most of the other verses the Rambam chooses merely indi­cate a point of connection to the subject under discussion. The selection of this verse, by contrast, is intrinsically related to the purpose of studying the laws that follow. For it implies that there is an obligation to “Seek out the welfare of Jerusalem,” to concern oneself with the structure and functions of the Beis HaMikdash although we are, at present, incapable of actually building it.2

To explain: One of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah is the commandment to build a Sanctuary,3 and the fulfillment of this commandment is incumbent upon every Jewish man and woman.4 The desired manner of fulfilling this commandment is to participate in the actual construction of the Beis HaMikdash. Nevertheless, in an era when this is not possible, G‑d has offered us an alternative.

To cite an example from history: G‑d revealed the details of the structure of the Beis HaMikdash of the Era of the Redemp­tion to the prophet Yechezkel, and told him:5 “Tell the people of Israel of the House... and measure the design.”

Our Sages relate:6

Yechezkel replied to Him: “Master of the Earth, why are You telling me to go and tell Israel the form of the House... They are now in exile in the land of our ene­mies. Is there anything they can do [about it]? Let them be until they return from the exile. Then, I will go and inform them.”

G‑d answered: “Should the construction of My House be ignored because My children are in exile?”

G‑d declared: “The study of the Torah’s [design of the Beis HaMikdash] can be equated to its [actual] construc­tion. Go, tell them to study the form of the Beis HaMik­dash. As a reward for their study and their occupation with it, I will consider it as if they actually built the Beis HaMikdash.”

Implicit in the wording used in this passage is that the study of the laws of the Beis HaMikdash, has ramifications that extend far beyond the ordinary sphere of intellectual activity. From the description of this study as “the building of My House,” we can infer that through such study, a person fulfills his obligation to build the Beis HaMikdash.

Fulfilling Mitzvos on Two Planes

The concept that there are two levels at which the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMikdash can be observed is reflected in other halachic contexts. For ex­ample, atonement for a sin per­formed dduac (without a con­scious intent to transgress) is achieved through three different activities: a) teshuvah, one’s inner feelings of remorse and regret, b) vidui, confession, and c) korban, offering a sacrifice.7 At pre­sent, however, when we are unable to offer sacrifices, a com­plete measure of atonement is achieved through teshuvah and vidui alone. There is no further obligation whatsoever.8

A similar concept applies in regard to conversion: For a convert to be accepted within the Jewish faith, he must accept the observance of the mitzvos, become circumcised, and im­merse himself in a mikveh.9 After the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, converts — even those who have converted in the pre­sent era — will also be required to bring a sacrifice.10 Neverthe­less, the fact that a convert is unable to bring this sacrifice at present does not detract at all from his status as a member of the Jewish people.11

Why Study About Past History?

Additional light can be shed on the above concepts through the explanation of an apparent paradox in the Rambam’s teach­ings. In his Commen­tary on the Mishnah,12 the Rambam explains the advantage of studying the description of the Second Beis HaMikdash:

When, speedily in our days, [the Beis HaMikdash] is re­built, it will be necessary to preserve and emulate that structure... for it originates in the spirit of prophecy, as it is written,13 “All of this is put in writing inspired by the hand of G‑d who instructed me.”

This statement raises a problem when compared to a related passage in his Mishneh Torah, where the Rambam writes:14

The structure which Shlomo built is already described in [the Book of] Melachim. Similarly the structure which will be constructed in the future era [is described in the Book of] Yechezkel. Nevertheless, the description there is not explained or elucidated.

[Therefore,] the people who constructed the Second [Beis HaMikdash] in the time of Ezra, built it according to the [basic] design [employed by] Shlomo, incorporat­ing the elements which were explicitly detailed by Yechezkel.

Thus from the passage in his Commentary on the Mishnah, it would appear that the construction of the Beis HaMikdash in the Era of the Redemption will follow the fundamental pattern of the First and Second Batei HaMikdash, for the plan for their structure was “inspired by the hand of G‑d who instructed me.” Therefore, studying the design of these previous structures will enable us to prepare for the construction of the Beis HaMikdash in that future era.

From the Mishneh Torah, by contrast, it is clear that the structure of the Third Beis HaMikdash has its source in the prophecies of Yechezkel and differs radically from that of the First and Second Batei HaMikdash. Indeed, the people building the Second Beis HaMikdash understood that they were departing from Yechezkel’s vision. They, however, had no alternative, for they could not comprehend the meaning of his prophecies. Ac­cording to this explanation, one might well wonder about the value of studying the design of the First and Second Basei HaMikdash in the present age. Surely, this study is not intended as merely an excursion into past history.

The Tosafos Yom Tov15 attempts to resolve this difficulty, explaining that even in the Era of the Redemption when G‑d reveals the meaning of the passages in Yechezkel that could not be comprehended, the fundamental elements of the structure of the Beis HaMikdash will follow David’s vision which served as the basis for the First and Second Batei HaMikdash.

This explanation is, however, somewhat difficult. For since the structure of the Third Beis HaMikdash will be so radically different from the previous structures that it will require G‑d to explain its design, the contribution to the comprehension of its design made by the study of the structure of the previous Batei HaMikdash appears questionable.

Based on the concept that the study of the structure of the Beis HaMikdash is equivalent to its actual construction, we can, however, comprehend the value of the study of the design of the previous Batei HaMikdash in the present age. Independent of the details which will be revealed when the Beis HaMikdash is actu­ally constructed in the Era of the Redemption, our study of the laws is significant, for it fulfills the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMikdash in the only way possible in the present age.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, Bein HaMetzarim

How the Third Beis HaMikdashWill Be Built

There is another context in which the above concepts are relevant: there are two con­ceptions of how the Third Beis HaMikdash will be constructed.16 The Rambam states17 that the Beis HaMikdash will be built by man and that its construction will be one of the signs of Mashiach’s advent. Another view18 explains that this will be “the Sanctuary of G‑d, established by Your hands,”19 i.e., that the Beis HaMikdash has already been constructed by G‑d and exists in the heavenly realms, waiting for the time when it will be able to descend to the earth.

It can be explained that there is no contradiction between these two views: Mashiach will lead the people in the construc­tion of those dimensions of the Beis HaMikdash which can be grasped by human intellect at present. Afterwards, the dimen­sions which we cannot comprehend at present will be revealed from heaven by G‑d.20

A Matter of Present Concern

Although the above con­cepts were applicable in the previous generations as well, they are of much greater relevance at pre­sent. For there is a difference between the manner a person studies the laws per­taining to a mitzvah that he is about to per­form, and the man­ner in which he studies subjects which are merely abstract or theoretical. Similarly, in regard to the matter at hand, our study of the laws of the Beis HaMikdash has to be permeated by the awareness that in the very near future, we will actually partici­pate in building the structure about which we are studying.

Moreover, not only is our study of the Beis HaMikdash equivalent to its construction, it serves as a catalyst, hastening the coming of the time when we will fulfill this mitzvah in an actual material way. And then we will merit fulfillment of the prayer,21 “Rebuild Your House as in former times and establish Your Sanctuary on its site. Let us behold its building, and make us rejoice in its completion.” May this take place in the immedi­ate future.