A Difference of Opinion between the Rambam and the Ramban

In Hilchos Beis HaBechirah, after stating the mitzvah to con­struct a Sanctuary, the Rambam writes:1

We must make utensils for the Sanctuary: an altar for... the sacrifices, a ramp to ascend the altars..., a washbasin with a pedestal, an altar for the incense offering, a menorah, and a table [for the showbread].

By mentioning the utensils in this manner, the Rambam underscores a theme which he mentions in Sefer HaMitzvos2 — that the mitzvah to construct a Sanctuary also includes fashion­ing all the utensils necessary to perform the various different elements of sacrificial worship required in the Beis HaMikdash. There is no separate mitzvah to fashion any of these utensils.

In his Hasagos to Sefer HaMitzvos,3 the Ramban differs and explains that the construction of the Beis HaMikdash should be considered as one mitzvah, and the fashioning of the utensils as separate mitzvos. To quote:

The utensils are not part of the structures. Rather, they are two mitzvos, which are not dependent on each other. We may offer sacrifices in the Beis [HaMikdash] although it is lacking utensils.4

What is the Purpose of the Beis HaMikdash: Sacrificial Worship or Revealing G‑d’s Presence

The difference of opinion between these two authorities is, conceivably, representative of a divergence of approach regard­ing a matter of greater scope. In Sefer HaMitzvos,5 the Rambam describes the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMikdash as a command to “make a house for service where sacrifices will be offered;” i.e., he places an emphasis on the Beis HaMikdash as being the center for the sacrificial worship of G‑d. Without the utensils necessary for this service, the sacrifices could not be offered. Therefore, the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMik­dash also includes fashioning the utensils necessary for this wor­ship.

This concept is also reflected in the Mishneh Torah,6 where the Rambam begins his discussion of the mitzvah of construct­ing the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “It is a positive command­ment to construct a house for G‑d, prepared for sacrifices to be offered within.” The mitzvah of building the Sanctuary is complete when it is “prepared for sacrifices to be offered within.”7

The Ramban, by contrast, sees the construction of the Beis HaMikdash as a commandment with a self-contained goal — building a sanctuary for the manifestation of G‑d’s Presence. Thus in his Commentary to the Torah,8 he writes: “[G‑d’s] essential purpose in the Sanctuary was [the construction of] a resting place for the Divine Presence.”

In this conception, sacrificial worship represents an addi­tional service that is not intrinsically related to the existence of the Beis HaMikdash. Accordingly, it is appropriate that the fashioning of the different utensils necessary for sacrificial wor­ship be considered as mitzvos in their own right.

A Resolution of the Differences: The Purpose of the Beis HaMikdash in Man’s Eyes and Its Purpose in the Eyes of G‑d

This conception of the differences between the Rambam and the Ramban cannot, however, be accepted without further explanation. For the manifestation of G‑d’s Pres­ence as a goal of the Beis HaMikdash is alluded to in the very verse9 which the Rambam cites10 as the prooftext for the commandment to build the Beis HaMikdash: “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within.” Moreover, the Rambam describes the mitz­vah of building the Beis HaMik­dash11 in Hilchos Beis HaBechirah,12 as constructing “a house for G‑d,” indicating that preparing a structure in which G‑d’s Presence is manifest is the primary purpose of the construction of the Beis HaMikdash.

Conversely, we are forced to say that the Ramban appreci­ated the establishment of a centralized place of worship as a fundamental goal which is fulfilled by the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. For there are passages from the Torah which clearly indicate this connection, emphasizing that G‑d’s choice of “a place for His name to dwell” is associated with the com­mand — “there you will bring... your burnt offerings, your sacrifices....”13

Therefore, it must be explained that the purposes empha­sized by the Rambam and the Ramban are not to the exclusion of the other. The difference between their perspectives stems from the choice of the dimension which they choose to stress. The Rambam speaks of the Beis HaMikdash in terms of the mitzvos to be fulfilled by man in relating to G‑d. Hence, he emphasizes the dimension of sacrificial worship. The Ramban, by contrast, focuses on “[G‑d’s] essential purpose in the Sanctu­ary.” Therefore, he places the emphasis on the manifestation of G‑d’s Presence.

In the Era of the Redemption

Both these purposes, the manifestation of G‑d’s Pres­ence and man’s sacrificial wor­ship, will reach their utmost level of fulfillment in the Third Beis HaMikdash in the Era of the Redemption. For this will be “the Sanctuary of G‑d, estab­lished by Your hands,”14 and “there, we will offer to You our obligatory sacrifices... with love, in accord with the command of Your will.”15

May our study of the different elements of the Beis HaMik­dash herald the time when we will rejoice in its construction. And may this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1346-1347; Vol. XI, Terumah