Honoring G‑d’s Eternal Dwelling Place

The Rambam states1 that the mitzvah of guarding the Beis HaMikdash is not for the purpose of protection, but is solely an expression of respect.2 This concept leads to an interesting question. The respect for the Beis HaMikdash is not motivated by the actual building, but by the Divine Presence which rests within. As the Rambam writes (in regard to the mitzvah to hold the Beis HaMikdash in awe):3 “You should not be in awe of the [Beis Ha]Mikdash, but rather, [in awe] of He who commanded that it be held in awe.”

The Divine Presence has never departed from the site of the Beis HaMikdash, as the Rambam writes:4

Why do I say that the original consecration sanctified the [Beis Ha]Mikdash and Jerusalem until the future era?...

Because the sanctity of the [Beis Ha]Mikdash and of Jeru­salem stems from the Divine Presence, and the Divine Presence can never be nullified.

Accordingly, as an expression of respect to the Divine Pres­ence which rests there,5 it would appear proper for a watch to placed around the site of the Beis HaMikdash even in the present era. Indeed, in regard to the mitzvah to hold the Beis HaMikdash in awe, the Rambam writes:6

Even though the [Beis Ha]Mikdash is now in ruin be­cause of our sins, a person must hold it in awe, as he would regard it when it was standing. He should only enter a place [on Mount Moriah] which he could have entered [while the Beis HaMikdash was standing]....

The reverence for the Sanctuary must be eternal. Even though it is in ruin, it remains sanctified.

If such concepts apply regarding the awe of the Beis HaMik­dash which is a positive commandment,7 surely, similar concepts should apply8 in regard to the guarding of the Beis HaMikdash which enhances this reverence and fulfills both a positive and negative commandment.9 Nevertheless, throughout the genera­tions, our Rabbis have never made an effort to have Levites and priests guard the site of the Beis HaMikdash after its destruc­tion.10

Even during the time directly after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, when the Jews would still come to Jerusalem for the Pilgrimage Festivals, they did not attempt to guard its site. Similarly, in the generations that followed, we find virtually no record that the sages and Rabbis sought to perform this mitzvah.

[One cannot say that the mitzvah was fulfilled by keeping secret watches around the Beis HaMikdash and only a select few knew of this activity. For since the intent of guarding the Beis HaMikdash is to cause people to regard it with reverence, this purpose would not be accomplished through a watch which was not public knowledge.]

An Obligation Left Unfulfilled

One text, Mishcanos L’avir Ya’akov, is dedicated to this sub­ject and explains in detail that this mitzvah must be fulfilled at present. (Indeed, the author of this text attempted to fulfill this mitzvah himself.) Nevertheless, throughout the generations, this remained a mi­nority opinion that was not accepted by other Torah sages.11

The question also applies to the Lubavitcher Rebbeim who undertook great efforts to help the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, raising funds for the support of its inhabitants despite the diffi­cult financial conditions in Russia. The Rebbeim demanded self-sacrifice to support the Jews in Eretz Yisrael to the point where they advised people to borrow money to give for this purpose.12 Nevertheless, in none of their letters or scholarly works do the Rebbeim mention the obligation to guard the site of the Beis HaMikdash.

Furthermore, we do not even find any attempts to com­memorate this mitzvah. Although our Rabbis have ordained that certain practices be carried out in commemoration of other as­pects of the service of the Beis HaMikdash, no such commemo­ration was undertaken in regard to this mitzvah.

The importance of paying proper attention to the site of the Beis HaMikdash is particularly significant in light of the fact that at each and every moment, we are awaiting Mashiach’s coming. Surely, this applies in the present age, when according to all the omens given by our Sages, Mashiach’s coming is imminent. In these last moments of exile, when we have already experienced foretastes of the Redemption, is it not appropriate that we be concerned with preparing guards to watch the site of the Beis HaMikdash?”

A Threat to a Jew’s Life Supersedes the Observance of the Entire Torah

It is possible to explain this difficulty as follows. Practical considerations have prevented this mitzvah from being ful­filled. In many eras, the gentile authorities which governed Eretz Yis­rael would not permit such activities. Surely, this applied directly after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and in many of the subsequent eras when the ruling authorities in Eretz Yis­rael were not favorably dis­posed towards the Jews.

Even when it was possible that the ruling authorities them­selves would have allowed such practices — or when the Jews were themselves the ruling authorities — the possibility existed (and exists today) that individuals or groups of gentiles would seek to harm the guards.13 Hence, rather than expose the guards to danger — for guarding against the danger14 to a Jew’s life su­persedes any Torah obligation — the mitzvah was (is) not ful­filled.15

Guarding Our Own Sanctuaries in Microcosm

In actual practice, because of the danger involved, we should not endeavor to guard the site of the Beis HaMikdash. There is, however, an aspect of the above discussion which is applicable within every individ­ual’s Divine service. Every Jew’s house is “a sanctuary in micro­cosm,” a dwelling place for G‑d. When G‑d commanded the Jews to build Him a Sanctuary, He stated:16 “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within,” using the plural term for the word “within,” thus, indi­cating that G‑d dwells within each and every Jew.17

The above discussion teaches that each person should also guard “his sanctuary in microcosm,” not because it is being threatened, but rather, as an expression of our appreciation of its importance. And the appreciation of the importance of the Sanctuaries in microcosm that the Jews have established throughout the exile, will herald the time when these structures, together with each and every Jew, will be brought to Jerusalem and positioned next to the Beis HaMikdash.18 May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shemini, 5750