Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Matot-Masei: Between the times

0 Comments 19 July 2017

In this week’s commentary to Parashat Matot-Masei, Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg explores what we are really talking about when we are talking about rebuilding the Temple. Why is the struggle to make Israel a more just place especially relevant during this time?


View of the Temple Mount. By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

By Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg

The sages [Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1] teach that the Temple (“Beit HaMikdash“) is considered to have been destroyed in every generation in which it is not rebuilt. The Polish Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Lev from the Gur community noted in one of his famous books Sfat Emet that this concept is  difficult  to understand because there have been many generations during which great tzaddikim (righteous saints) lived, and that we should not take this teaching literally. Rather, they  are teaching us that the merits of each generation are cumulative and that each generation helps in the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.  In spiritual terms, the rebuilding of the Temple began after its destruction and continues to this day.  For this reason the following verse is in present tense, “God builds Yerushalayim …” (Tehillim 147:2).

There may have been particularly “backward” generations with poor merit that have not helped in the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.  These are the generations to which the sages are referring.  Since these generations have not helped in the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, it follows that they are considered to have destroyed it.  However, we can safely say that most generations have had sufficient merit to help.

The Sfat Emet tells us something very important here. This “building of the Beit Hamikdash”  is not done with wood and stones. It is not a physical building that happens in any particular period in history; it is rather a spiritual building that takes many generations to  create and all of us, all of the people of Israel, are participating in this building process. Not necessarily with physical tools but rather with spiritual tools. This building develops and grows through many  generations. There are generations in which their spiritual work accumulates almost to the level of a complete building, and there are generations that add nothing to the building or even reduce its stature. This is not a political concern, it is not connected to the question of whether I am a Zionist, or whether I go up to the Temple Mount to pray. It is related to the question of how I live my life in the everyday.

cc: wikipedia – Depiction of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome

cc: wikipedia – Depiction on the Arch of Titus in Rome  of the expulsion of the Jews following the Great Revolt and destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

We, the members of Rabbis For Human Rights, should be teaching this to all of the people of Israel, telling them what it really means to build a Beit Mikdash. It is connected first and foremost to the issue of how we relate to the weak and vulnerable in our society, to what I do to make this society more firmly built on the values of justice and the rights of every person living here as an individual human being, without regard to which nation or ethnic group they belong, from whence they come, or what colour their skin is. The physical building of the Temple is not what should concern us. It does not matter when or if that building will be built, how it will look, or whether animal sacrifices will be brought there. (I find it hard to believe that will happen.)  To me it is clear that if the place of the previous Temples has become a focus of conflict, hatred, and of the murder of two young policemen who were there to protect worshippers, then we are nowhere near ready for the building of a Beit Mikdash at all.

 “All her pursuers overtook her between the boundaries” (Lamentations, 1:3).   According to the simple understanding, the verse here is speaking of our enemies that defeated us during this period of “meizarim,” of narrow places and troubles (“tzar” literally means sorrow but also narrow).  It is for this reason that this three week period between the 17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av is called “Bein Hamezarim.” This is a time when the people of Israel suffered many disaster (“tzarot”).

In the book Netivot Shalom, Rabbi Shalom Noah Brazofski, the Rebbe of Slonim, brings teaching in the name of the Maggid of Mezerich: All those who pursue Hashem, and G-d’s revelation in the world can necessarily reach the Divine, especially in this mourning period.  The Rebbe explains that “days of mourning are not just memories of the past, that mourning is not about bewailing what was lost, that the significance of mourning is in the yearning and longing for the world of building, and it is this that brings about the building of the Beit Mikdash (literally the place of holiness). And so it is the special quality of these days that all those who pursue them will reach them between the mezarim (narrow places) and are then able to come closer to G-d during these days thanks to the powerful longing for the rebuilding of the Temple.”

The longing is not for a physical building — it is for a better time, a time of a better spiritual and moral situation. A time of “tikkun.” It is at such a time that we should renew our commitment to dedicating ourselves to achieve Divine revelation in the world through changing Israeli society for the better.

Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights

Special thanks to Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann for translation

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