Tag Archives: Shekhinah

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.

Plain Clothes Sukkah

Plain clothes angelIsrael here below is balanced by the angels on high, of whom it says: ‘Who makest thy angels into winds’ (Psalm 104:4). For the angels in descending on earth put on themselves earthly garments, as otherwise they could not stay in this world, nor could the world endure them. Now if thus it is with the angels, how much more so must it be with the Torah – the Torah that created them, that created all the worlds and is the means by which these are sustained. Thus had the Torah not clothed herself in garments of this world, the world could not endure it. The stories of the Torah are thus only her outer garments and whoever looks upon that garment as being the Torah itself, woe to that man – such a one will have no portion in the next world. David thus said: ‘Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy Torah’ (Psalms 119:18); to wit, the things that are beneath the garment.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism (p. 267)

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. Exodus 25:1-9

If you’ve spent any time studying the book of Exodus and particularly the instructions God gives Moses for making the materials and components to be used in constructing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, you probably noticed the exquisite level of detail and craftsmanship required. In fact, it required God to endow special skills to specific people (Exodus 31:1-11) in order to accomplish all that was needed. Of the Levites, different families and clans were assigned individual tasks over building and taking down the many and various parts of the Mishkan and its contents, and carrying them from place to place across the span of the forty years of the wandering of the Children of Israel. It would have been an enormous, pain-staking undertaking to set up the Mishkan to perfect specifications each time the Israelites stopped, and to take it down and move it each time the Israelites journeyed onward.

Now compare that to how you built your sukkah a few days ago. My family has a rather modest sukkah that came in a kit. It measures a scant four feet by six feet and can hold just a few people at a time. It’s fairly easy to put the framework together and to attach the necessary straps, but the cloth that makes up the walls (with a built-in doorway and window) is rather cumbersome to manage single-handed. It attaches to the frame using Velcro which is and isn’t easy to work with. I used a makeshift crossbeam to hold up the “ceiling” and put up the string of lights with tape. It’s not the most beautiful sukkah in the world I’m sure, but I can manage to put it up by myself and, when the time comes, I’ll be able to take it down and pack it away alone.

On the other hand, it can’t possibly be anywhere as arduous a task as when Moses (according to Rabbinic interpretation) constructed the Mishkan for the first time by himself (Exodus 40).

Why am I comparing the Mishkan with my own humble sukkah? Technically, Sukkot isn’t about the Mishkan but rather, it’s about the tents the Israelites lived in during their time in the desert. We celebrate God’s provision in our lives in remembrance of how He provided everything the Children of Israel needed for their forty year trek through the Sinai. However, something Rabbi Heschel said in his aforementioned book (p. 287) made me compare the two.

Just as man is not alone in what he is, he is not alone in what he does. A mitsvah is an act which God and man have in common. We say “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His mitsvot.” They obligate Him as well as us. Their fulfillment is in not valued as an act performed in spite of “the evil drive,” but as an act of communion with Him. The spirit of mitsvah is togetherness. We know, He is a partner to our act.

When I read that passage, I recalled the effort of putting up my own small sukkah and realized I really wasn’t alone in constructing it. God was there with me. Although, as a Gentile, I’m not obligated to obey the commandments associated with Sukkot, my wife and children are Jewish and as  husband and father, the responsibility to build the sukkah is mine. I also have a number of reasons to associate Jesus Christ with Sukkot as living water (John 7:37-41) and as a living sukkah.

The word was made flesh and dwelled in our midst. We have beheld his glory, like the glory of the father’s only son, great in kindness and truth. –John 1:14 (DHE Gospels)

My earlier quotes from Heschel compared the Torah we have on earth and the “heavenly Torah”. This comparison is a “cautionary tale” of how we risk greatly misunderstanding God’s Word by treating as if it were only the inspired writings of men. In Jewish mystic belief, there is a Torah that we cannot possibly access; the Torah that was used by God to speak the universe into existence, the Torah that had to be reduced and “clothed” in “commonplace garments” just to exist in the world of human beings.

Shekinah and the MishkanWhile this is midrash as much as believing that angels must somehow “transmogrify” in order to come to earth from heaven, it illustrates what I see as the relationship between one small sukkah and the Mishkan that amazingly contained God’s Shekhinah, the reduced and “humbled” essence of the Creator that can be expressed physically in our reality. I mentioned in my previous blog post that the “intent is to fill our sukkah, not only with heavenly guests, but with earthly ones as well, creating a meeting point and a joining between heaven and earth in joy and peace, in anticipation of the days of the Moshiach.”

Today, based on what I’m learning, I could say that God was my “partner” in building my sukkah, even as He “partnered” with Moses in building the Mishkan. After Moses (and God) finished building the Mishkan, something amazing happened.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. –Exodus 40:34-35

In my previous blog, I suggested that we might “bend the rules” of the Ushpizin just a bit, to include an invitation for the Master to enter the sukkah, but if God helped Moses construct the Mishkan and then inhabited it, maybe I can dare hope that after God helped me build my sukkah, some part of Him rested, not just over it, but inside of it.

Until I read Heschel, I always thought of commandments as something God gave people so that people could obey God. Now I realize that the mitzvot belong to Him and well as us and that when we obey God, we are also working with God. I hesitate to say that God is “obligated” to obey His own mitzvot, but I can accept that for our sake, He voluntarily cooperates with us to do most of the “heavy lifting”. In retrospect, this is probably absolutely necessary not only to enable us to obey Him, but for us to even have the awareness of a relationship with God.

The little sukkah sitting in my backyard is dressed in plain and commonplace garments, made out of the ordinary materials of the world. By appearances, it’s nothing special and there’s nothing about it to attract the eye (Isaiah 53:2). But as the prophet Isaiah teaches, appearances can be deceiving and what is dressed in rags on earth is adorned in shimmering gold and bright linen in heaven.

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. –Matthew 27:28-31

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. –Revelation 1:12-16

Chag Sameach Sukkot!


Read more about the inspiration of Sukkot at Torah.org.

And as much as I hate to get “political” here, because it’s relevant, there seems to be a Sukkot sub-theme running in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement called Occupy Judaism. Not the most joyous of news, but it’s part of the “plain clothes” world that we live in.