Rambling on the Trail of the Temple of God

Shulchan Aruch rules that it is prohibited to tear down a Bais HaKnesses in order to build a new Bais HaKnesses. The reason is out of concern that they will tear down the old Bais HaKnesses and then something will happen that will prevent them from constructing the new Bais HaKnesses. Rather, they must first construct the new Bais HaKnesses and only then may they tear down the old Bais HaKnesses. Mishnah Berurah…presents a disagreement between Magen Avrohom and Taz whether it is permitted to tear down an old Bais HaKnesses if there is a Bais HaKnesses in town that is large enough for everyone to daven so that even if the new Bais HaKnesses is not built they will not be left without a Bais HaKnesses for davening. Taz permits tearing down the old Bais HaKnesses in these circumstances whereas Magen Avrohom prohibits the practice. Biur Halacha…notes that many later authorities cite Taz’s position as halacha and he adds that since tearing down a Bais HaKnesses to build another one is only Rabbinically prohibited one may follow Taz’s lenient position.

Rema rules that it is even prohibited to tear down a single wall in order to make the Bais HaKnesses larger; rather they must first build the new wall and then it is permitted to tear down the old wall. Sefer Tzedaka U’Mishpat…contends that Rema’s ruling is limited to where the construction would make it impossible to daven in the Bais HaKnesses. If, however, they would be able to continue to daven there while the construction
is going on it is permitted to tear down a wall to expand the Bais HaKnesses even before building the new wall. The rationale is that this is no different than having another Bais HaKnesses where they can daven.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Tearing down a Bais HaKnesses”
Siman 152 Seif 1 (a)

Disclaimer: Everything you’re about to read is provocative and possibly won’t make a lot of sense. I’m engaging in more than a bit of “stream of consciousness” for this morning meditation. Try not to get too offended if I stumble across one of your theologies and describe it differently than you understand it. I’m just chronicling my spiritual journey for today, not telling you what to think or feel. End of disclaimer. Carry on.

I know what I quoted above is applied to the tearing down and building synagogues and not the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but the “Stories to Share” for the Siman 152 indicates that the ruling for one can be applied to the other.

Shortly after they washed, the rebbe asked, “Chazal tells us that it is forbidden for one to tear down a shul until the replacement has been built. Now, how could Hashem have destroyed the beis hamikdash without building a replacement? This seems to contradict this gemara, which is the basis of the halachah in Shulchan Aruch siman 152!”

I suppose that’s why, when studying this commentary this morning, I was reminded of the following prophecy by the Master:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. –John 2:18-22 (ESV)

In spite of the rather detailed prophesy we find in Book of Ezekiel, starting at Chapter 40, describing the Third Temple that is to be built by God and descend to Earth from Heaven, most Christians (OK, probably all Christians) don’t believe another physical Temple will ever be built. They believe that any mention of a Temple in the New Testament is strictly a spiritual reference, rather than describing an actual structure. One of the proof texts they cite for this belief is John 2 while another is this:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. –1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV)

The logic is that God caused Herod’s Temple to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. never to be rebuilt as a physical structure, both because Jesus declared his body to be raised as a Temple three days after his death, and because the bodies of all Christians are to be considered “Holy Temples”. There’s no need for a Third Temple, because the Temple has been shifted from a physical to a spiritual structure. It’s a simple matter of substitution: the physical for the spiritual; the flesh vs. the spirit.

But if you have been following my blog for any amount of time, you know that it’s not all that simple to me.

On the other hand, if Jesus was to be the substitution for Herod’s Temple, then he was “built” (that is, resurrected) prior to the destruction of that Temple, as required by halacha, so that requirement would seem have been satisfied. In fact, if there is supposed to be a physical Third Temple, according to halacha, the construction should have been started before Herod’s Temple was destroyed. Of course, it’s not like the Jews had a lot of choice in the matter, but if you consider that it was God who allowed the Second Temple’s destruction, then He had all of the choice in the matter. We saw that this question had already been asked in a previous quote. Here’s the answer, according to the Gerrer Rebbe:

The rebbe then answered his own rhetorical question. “This is the meaning of the verse, ‘Hashem has planned to destroy the wall of the daughter of Tzion; He has stretched out a line.’ (Eichah 2:8) This means that from the moment that Hashem decided to destroy the beis hamikdash, He had already laid down the infrastructure of the new beis hamikdash. The beis hamikdash is only waiting for the correct time to descend—it is already built!”

Keeping that in mind, I’ve often interpreted the following as God delivering the Third Temple from Heaven to a mankind desperate to dwell again with their Creator:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. –Revelation 21:2

I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of arguments (and maybe some hate mail) about my interpretations here, since I’m stringing together Rabbinic commentary and Christian theology with not much more than imagination and tiny strands of sewing thread, but I’m not trying to create a proof. I’m only trying to start people thinking and asking questions. Could this all be possible? Is Ezekiel’s Temple seen descending from Heaven in Revelation 21 “as a bride adorned for her husband?” Did God “build” it for humanity before Herod’s Temple was destroyed? What’s the relationship between the “temple” of Christ’s body and the Temple from Heaven? For that matter, what is the relationship between all of that and the “temples” of our Christian bodies?

I don’t know.

I realize that’s probably disappointing, but I don’t have some secret, mystical, spiritual connection or explanation to give you. All I have are the little bits and pieces of my understanding of the Bible and this “stream of consciousness” I call a blog to try and express my feelings and experiences. I have Ezekiel telling me there will be a Third Temple, I have Jewish commentary telling me God will build it and deliver it to humanity, and I have Revelation saying (possibly) that John saw the actual “delivery” in his vision. Maybe all that hangs together and maybe not, but it is certainly compelling.

But if all that is true, what about us being Temples with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, much like the Divine Presence dwelt within the Mishkan in the desert and within Solomon’s Temple? Christianity assumes that, except for specific prophets of old, the Holy Spirit dwelt in no one until Pentecost in Acts 2. Now we believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in every Christian starting at the moment when we declare Jesus as Christ and Lord. But is that really true?

Admittedly, you don’t see a mass indwelling event with the Spirit entering each and every Hebrew at the foot of Mount Sinai the moment the Torah is given, but the idea isn’t unheard of in Judaism:

In 1759, about a year before the Baal Shem Tov passed away, there was an incident that illustrated his immense love for his fellow Jew. At that time there was a heretical sect led by a man named Jacob Frank. These Frankists had begun agitating amongst the Christian authorities against the Jews with specific emphasis against the Talmud. (In a previous “debate” in 1757, the Frankists had succeeded in causing the Talmud to be burnt in Lvov.) The bishop of Lemberg decreed that a debate should be held between the Jews and the Frankists. The Baal Shem Tov was a member of the three man delegation that represented the Jews. They were successful in averting this evil decree, and the Talmud was not burnt. At the same time however, the defeated Frankists were then forced to convert to Christianity. While most of the Jewish leaders were happy at the downfall of these evil men, the Baal Shem Tov was not. He said. “The Divine Presence wails and says, ‘So long as a limb is attached to the body there is still a hope that there can be a cure, but once the limb is cut off there is no cure forever.’ And every Jew is a limb of the Divine Presence.”

-from the Biography of
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (1698 – 1760)
Jewish Virtual Library

Philip Bimbaun in A Book of Jewish Concepts says, “Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidim, is reported to have said: Every Jew is an organ of the Shekkinah [the Divine Presence]. As long as the organ is joined to the body, however tenuously, there is hope; once it is cut off, all hope is long” (609, 610).

-quoted from
Romans (Randall House Bible Commentary) (pg 47)
Randall House Publications (December 19, 1987)
by F. Leroy Forlines

The use of the term ‘them’ rather than ‘it’ has been interpreted as a message that the purpose of the Mishkan sanctuary was to facilitate the dwelling of the Divine Presence within the heart of every Jew. The role of the Mishkan in the wilderness and during the first four centuries of a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael was perpetuated by the first and second Beit Hamikdash Temples which spanned a period of nine centuries. All of this is today but a memory to which a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) gives a special dimension. This does not mean, however, that a Jew cannot build a mini-sanctuary in his heart even today. The Divine Presence is waiting to dwell within the hearts of all Jews if only they will let it enter!

-Rabbi Mendel Weinbach
‘The “Holy Sites”‘
For the week ending 8 February 2003 / 6 Adar I 5763
Ohr Somayach

The obvious objection that a Christian could bring up here, is that these commentaries and interpretations were constructed well after the beginning of the Christian church and could have been “borrowed” from Christianity by the Jews. I can’t say that you’re wrong, if this is your assumption, since I have no way of knowing. I really don’t know if the concept of every Jew being a limb or organ of the Divine Presence predated the birth of Jesus. It would be exciting if it did, and that each Jew at Sinai were a human receptacle for the Divine Presence, but I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the images of His Spirit, the Divine Presence (which probably isn’t an equivalent concept to the Holy Spirit), the Mishkan, the physical Temples, the Temple of the body of Christ, and the temples of our own bodies as disciples of the Master, are all somehow interwoven in a mysterious and mystical message that has been in the process of being created and developed and expanded for thousands and thousands of years.

I’ve said before that I don’t think of the Bible as this static document containing unchanging, eternal truths. Of course, there are eternal truths to be found between its covers, but it is so much more. There’s a living, breathing experience to be had in the Bible and it changes for each age and each people. Some words, phrases, and books may be more relevant and meaningful now than they were before, while others may not apply in the same way, if at all, as in the time when they were written. Human beings have a tendency to read the Bible, apply a theological meaning to its various parts, and disregard (or completely “spiritualize”) the other bits and pieces that don’t seem to fit. We impose our personalities onto the Word of God and call it the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Far be it from me to deny the Holy Spirit, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that whatever occurs to us in our imagination must be from God. It could be our imagination trying to make the Bible fit the theology we’ve heard from the pulpit, just as a person tries to create a coherent story from the disjointed, hallucinogenic images they experienced in last night’s dreams.

This is very much putting the cart before the horse. We need to try and allow the Bible to tell us its story in its own words and using its own context. This is an enormously difficult task and in fact, it may well be impossible, even with the guidance of the Spirit, if for no other reason, than because of the limitations of the human mind. Add to that our own prejudices and biases, and we even further inhibit the Spirit and our own understanding. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person and I’m just as likely to turn to various commentaries and studies to try and receive an insight into the words God gave to humanity, along with “the Word who became flesh” that God gave to humanity.

By these ramblings, I’m sure you’ve concluded that I’ve been far from successful in acquiring a meaningful insight into the Bible, and you’re probably right. But it’s not the destination that I’m focused upon but rather, it’s the journey. God has scattered these tantalizing little jewels along the path. What do they mean? How can we apply them to our travels? How did those who came before us on the trail understand these shards of treasure? All these questions are like splinters in my mind and if I don’t ask them out loud, they will surely drive me mad. Like Icarus, I must risk destruction by flying too near the Sun in order to find illumination. Like Peter, who utterly failed the Master by denying him on the eve of his execution, I cannot simply tuck my tail between my legs and scurry off into oblivion when confronted with a Holy mystery. I must drag myself back into his presence, humbled and humiliated, begging his forgiveness, seeking his love, and asking to him to appeal to God to give me the strength to do the impossible.

And what seems so impossible? To live in a world with so many questions and so few answers. But God knows what He’s doing. It’s the questions that drive me. If I only had answers, my journey would be done, I would be at peace, and I would “know God” (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:11). We are not to “know God” until the Messianic age and beyond. Until then, we are the Temple, and we are disciples of the Temple, and indeed, we also long for the days when the Temple built by God alone, will descend from Heaven to Earth. How is this all possible? The questions are the journey. Someday, God will be the answer, as surely He already is.

15 thoughts on “Rambling on the Trail of the Temple of God”

  1. A thought-provoking post! Let me throw another variable into the mix.

    1. Torah is given to Israel, which is broken down into various statuses and their associated halakhah: male, female, king, priest, etc. Since God is not a Jew (or Gentile, for that matter), God is not under obligation to keep the mitzvot.(God’s status within Torah is as the object of worship and obedience.)

    2. But, since Torah is consistent with God’s holiness in every way, God will not act in a way that is inconsistent with Torah.

    3. There is a clear hierarchy within Torah: A Jew may violate all the mitzvot in rather than commit sexual immorality, adultery, or murder. Such a Jew is still considered Torah-observant.

    4. Like Jews, God is free to violate Torah in order to establish Torah, though he will not do anything that is inconsistent with his holiness.

    Therefore, we must consider the possibility that God permitted the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (and the death of many) is order to establish Torah.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Carl. I have to admit, I’m always a little nervous when I try to write about the Jewish texts because I know so little. I suppose that’s why I included so many disclaimers in this particular blog post.

    “Therefore, we must consider the possibility that God permitted the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (and the death of many) is order to establish Torah.”

    This is an intriguing statement and worthy of a commentary all its own. If you don’t mind, could you expand on what you said a bit? In what manner does the destruction of the Temple establish Torah?

    1. “In what manner does the destruction of the Temple establish Torah?”

      You’ve heard that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred among Jews? (I presume this refers to the division into sects.) In Eichah (Lamentations) Rabbah, there are several more reasons given. In sum, they amount to significant, ongoing violations of Torah. I can only speculate, in simplistic terms, that destroying the Second Bayit was “tough love” in order to end sectarianism and bring about a situation where Israel would have the opportunity ultimately to keep Torah and all Israel would care for one another; then the Third Bayit could be built. This was an opportunity, not a done deal.

      Of course, this begs the question, “How does Yeshua fit into all this?” I have some thoughts about that, but not anything I’m ready to share right now.

  3. Another wonderful post…
    The allegory used, that the Temple is Jesus’ body, is incontrovertible. However, it is clear that it is an allegory and not a reality. We must remember that 90% of the Temple service has nothing to do with a sin sacrifice. There are the daily offerings, the incense offerings, the offerings for God’s designated times, the wave offerings, etc. None of these has anything to do with sin. Even if one argues that Jesus’ sacrifice replaced the sacrifice for individual sin, and even guilt, it seems that when Messiah returns, all these other offerings will need to take place. Consequently, we will need the Temple to be rebuilt or descend from the Heavens.

  4. “Of course, this begs the question, “How does Yeshua fit into all this?” I have some thoughts about that, but not anything I’m ready to share right now.”

    I look forward to when you are ready to share. Thanks.

  5. As others have said, a very thought-provoking blog. I have thought and read quite a bit about the Ezekiel temple but I have not (until now) associated it with the temple in Revelation. I always thought the former would be built at the beginning of the Messianic age and the later would descend from Heaven at the end of the age (beginning of the new heaven and earth) to be the dwelling place of the Father. Also, I’m not sure the dimensions of the two temples match up according to what is described in Scripture.

    I really enjoyed R. Bernstein’s comments explaining the need for a new temple in spite of the argument that Yeshua’s sacrificial death (sin offering) eliminated the need for a temple.

    The 1 Corinthians text shows more of the typical Christian thinking that something in the “New Testament” replaces the “Old”. I believe Paul is just using an illustration of us being the temple of God but not in the same sense as in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. After all, according to Romans 8:23 (and other places I think) we only have the first-fruits of the Spirit which is not the same as the presence of God in the Temple and doesn’t replace the need for it.

  6. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Mel. Please keep in mind the disclaimers I put in the blog, particularly in my comparison of the Ezekiel temple to “New Jerusalem” coming out of Heaven. I have no idea that they have anything to do with one another. It’s just a nice way to link the two events with the midrash of God building the Third Temple Himself and delivering it to mankind. I’m definitely not saying that it *must* be as I describe and it probably won’t be.

  7. Carl, we end up in a chicken-or-the-egg discussion as far as the timing of the return of Messiah is concerned. But, one thing we know for sure, we cannot keep Torah without The Temple. “All nations will say, “come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,””

  8. @Steven @ Steven “But, one thing we know for sure, we cannot keep Torah without The Temple.”

    I agreed 100% but I responded too quickly.In the absence of the Temple, Jews have prayer and Torah study as its surrogates. God does not require me to keep Torah that cannot be kept in the absence of the Temple, only to keep Torah as it exists in my time.

  9. Carl, that’s a lesson I wish a lot of Christians would learn. They tend to look at the current absence of the Temple as “proof” that God doesn’t intend for the Jews to obey Torah anymore.

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