Tag Archives: Temple

Vayeitzei: Entering the Sacred Space

Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing beside him and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.” Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He named that site Bethel; but previously the name of the city had been Luz.

Genesis 28:10-19 (JPS Tanakh)

Jacob leaves his hometown of Beersheba and journeys to Charan. On the way, he encounters “the place” and sleeps there, dreaming of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels climbing and descending on it; G‑d appears and promises that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. In the morning, Jacob raises the stone on which he laid his head as an altar and monument, pledging that it will be made the house of G‑d.

“Vayeitzei in a Nutshell”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeitzei
Genesis 28:10-32:3
Chabad.org

According to Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 28:11:

“The place” is Mount Moriah (the “Temple Mount” in Jerusalem, where Abraham had bound Isaac upon the altar and where King Solomon would erect the Holy Temple).

Whether that is literally true that Jacob chose to spend that night on the Temple Mount or not, there’s no way to know, but it is correct according to Jewish tradition. It’s also fitting that my commentary for this week’s Torah portion should be on the site of the Temple, given the sermon I heard at church last week. I’m not so certain that Christians can grasp what the Temple (and its current lack of existence) means to the Jewish people, since the center of our religious lives is the Messiah and not Jerusalem.

Why do we call G-d Hamakom, “The Place”? Said Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta: We do not know whether G-d is the place of His world or whether His world is His place. But when the verse (Exodus 33:21) states, “Behold, there is a place with Me,” it follows that G-d is the place of His world, but His world is not His place.

-Midrash Rabbah

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007While Christianity too has its own rich mystic tradition, Protestantism tends to shy away from any such thing, so how Jews, and particularly the Chassidic tradition tends to view God, Moses, the Torah, and the Temple, seem not just mysterious, but almost completely silly. It’s probably why one fellow in the last Sunday’s Bible study class referred to Orthodox Jews adopting a certain manner of dress and Jewish dedication to praying at the Kotel as “putting God in a box.” Tradition, ritual, and looking outside the literal (English) language of the Bible (ironically) seem to Christians as if Jews are restricting God rather than letting “God be God.”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman wrote a commentary on Vayeitzei and the Temple called The Temple Mount as Sacred Space. Sacred space? Not a “sacred place?”

Torah generally talks in terms of dual systems: Heaven and Earth; G-d and Man; Creator and created; Nothingness and something. So if we want to get into fascinating territory, we can ask: Where do they meet and what happens there?

The first description of such a place was given by Jacob, the third of the three fathers of the Jewish people. On his way leaving the land of Canaan he slept at a place and dreamt of a ladder with messengers of G-d ascending and descending. When he awoke, he exclaimed, “Y-H-V-H (–we pronounce that ‘Havayeh,’ as the Torah instructs us not to pronounce the four letter name of G-d the way it is written; more about this name later–) is in this place, and I didn’t realize!” Once this realization had hit him, he trembled and said, “This place is awesome!” (The classic Aramaic translation reads, “This is not a normal place.”) And then, “This could only be the house of Elokim, and this is the gateway of heaven!”

According to the sermon I heard last Sunday, “Israel’s history has been characterized by limiting worship to a sacred place, rather than a sacred person.” This is worded as if Israel had made a mistake and venerated the Temple as an act of faithlessness somehow, but that ignores how some religious Jews view the Temple Mount as “sacred space.” Even a plain-text reading of  Genesis 28:10-19 seems to suggest that God wasn’t there with Jacob just because God is everywhere, but because the place where Jacob slept was somehow special, as if the geographic location held some sort of supernatural and mystic significance. Small wonder that Jerusalem has been the object of strife and envy for thousands of years.

There’s a portion of Nehemiah that directs the Israelites to march around the boundaries of Jerusalem, and during his sermon, Pastor Randy said that when he takes his tour group to Israel next spring and they visit Jerusalem, the group will obey this “commandment” and literally walk around the Holy City. But in Nehemiah 12:27-47, it records that Nehemiah divided his choirs of Levites to march around the city to dedicate the wall of Jerusalem.

Maybe I’m thinking of a different part of the Tanakh.

It’s traditional during Sukkot for Jews and Christians to march around Jerusalem’s walls. Jews also march around Jerusalem to commemorate many Jewish tragedies on the 9th day of Av (Tisha B’Av).

While there are some Christians who have the drive and passion to position themselves to better understand Jews and Judaism, for most of us, it’s a bit of a stretch. That’s not because we can’t understand, but because we choose not to, or worse, because we choose to employ a totally maladaptive way of “understanding” Judaism that completely misses the point.

“Messianic Judaism”, or, “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay” is simply another attempt at awkward, text-based reconstructionism, except this awkward, text-based reconstructionism also poorly co-opts living Rabbinic Jewish traditions, creating a Frankenstein LARP that mocks both Jews and Christians.

If we, as Christians, cannot or will not enter “the sacred space” (and perhaps this is a space that only a Jew may enter) or even try to comprehend that it may well exist in our world, we shouldn’t deny the right of the Jews to enter there, nor should we denigrate them for wanting to enter with all of their hearts.

Although the world is generally a binary place, there is a third factor, that which binds and unites all opposites together–even space and non-space. And that, too, is the revelation exemplified by the Third Temple, may it be built very soon, sooner than we can imagine.

Good Shabbos.

41 Days: Still Processing Sunday

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’”

Acts 7:44-50 (ESV)

Conclusions from Pastor Randy’s sermon on Acts 7:44-53:

  1. Israel’s history is one long story of their stubborn, rebellious tendency to reject God’s gracious dealings with them.
  2. Israel’s history has been characterized by limiting worship to a sacred placed, rather than a sacred person.
  3. We must take great care that we are not guilty of the same things!
  4. We should faithfully imitate Stephen’s bold witness, rather than have undue concern for our own safety or protection.

I don’t know. For the most part, what Pastor Randy said about this portion of Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin was supportive of the Tabernacle and the later Temples, including the idea that Ezekiel’s temple is literal and not figurative, and will someday exist in Jerusalem.

On the other hand, I’m bothered by the “either/or” concept of “Israel’s history has been characterized by limiting worship to a sacred placed, rather than a sacred person.” I think it would be valid to say that there were times in Israel’s history when they were faithless and even when offering sacrifices in the Temple, did so only to pay “lip service” to the commandments, while their hearts were far from God. But I don’t think that Israel’s temple service was always without value. Point 2 above seems to imply that rather than the Temple, the Jewish people should always have been focused on the Messiah, but didn’t God command Israel to build the Tabernacle? Didn’t the Shekhinah inhabit first the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38) and later Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10-12)?

Did Jesus replace the Temple? But then Pastor believes Ezekiel’s Temple will be built, so can he believe that?

The title of the sermon was something like “Putting God in a Box.” I think the idea was that it’s a bad thing to put limits on God in any sense, but I never really got the impression that throughout the history of the Jewish people, anyone actually thought God was confined to the interior of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) or Temple. The Divine Presence, what most Christian Bibles translate as “the Glory of God,” was understood as a manifestation of God’s Presence without being perceived as anything like His totality. This is where understanding a little bit about Jewish mysticism and concepts such as the Ein Sof and Shekhinah would be helpful.

In Sunday school class, I did hear one gentlemen using examples of the specific type of clothing worn by Orthodox Jews and praying at the “wailing wall” (Kotel) as illustrations of Jews “putting God in a box.” It was one of the few times during class that I didn’t speak up, mainly because it would have taken too long to try to explain why those practices aren’t necessarily bad things (for Jews, anyway).

I was also a little disturbed about where I would lead such conversation if I allowed it to go down the predictable path. At the beginning of services, Pastor Randy reminded everyone that he would be leading a tour of Israel this coming spring and that “affordable prices” for airline tickets needed to be purchased by the end of this month. He was extremely supportive of Israel’s efforts in defending itself during the current crisis, and said that we should not let ourselves be put off in planning to visit in the spring because of what is happening right now.

As he went through the slide show of where the tour group would be visiting, the last place is to be Jerusalem, including stopping at the Kotel. How was I supposed to tell this fellow in Sunday school that when I saw the slides of the old city, that I have always desired to offer prayers to God at the Kotel? What would he say? How much more trouble would I stir up than I already had?

I know I don’t fit in to a Jewish community. I’m not Jewish and I’m not going act in such a way that pretends otherwise. But while I say that I’m a Christian because it’s the closest approximation of an accurate description of my faith, I don’t believe a Jewish devotion to the House of Prayer that God Himself requested and required of the Jewish people is a vain and empty effort, even relative to the person and power of the Jewish Messiah King.

And I don’t believe that Jews who choose to observe the mitzvot by a certain way of dress, or who honor their Creator by praying at the Kotel is “putting God in a box.”

Am I just looking for excuses for not going back to church? Maybe. I’ve already concluded that this particular church is about the closest I’ll ever come to finding what I’m looking for within the Christian world. If I blow it here, I’ve blown it completely. I knew I’d never find perfection, but then, what did I expect?

I just don’t know if I can agree with how Stephen’s defense is being interpreted. More from last Sunday’s study notes:

  1. They had accused him of reviling the Holy Place; He accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit. (vs 51)
  2. They had accused him of belittling the Law; He accused them of breaking the Law. (vs. 52a)
  3. They had accused him of making light of Moses, the man of God; He accused them of murdering Jesus, the Messiah of God. (vs. 52a-53)

Granted, Stephen was limiting his accusation to the Sanhedrin (as opposed to leveling it toward all Jews everywhere) in turning the accusations around to apply them to his accusers, but did he not defend the Temple, the Law, and Moses as well as the Messiah?

What am I doing here?

For the most part they were willing to support the state and to partake of the cultural bounty of the Hellenistic world, but they were unwilling to surrender their identity. They wished to “belong” but at the same time to remain distinct. Support for the state was not to be confused with the abnegation of nationalist dreams. Hellenization was not to be confused with assimilation. This tension is also evident in the social relations between Jews and gentiles.

-Shane J.D. Cohen
Chapter 2: Jews and Gentiles
Social: Jews and Gentiles, pg 37
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition

That’s not really describing me, but when I read this paragraph from Cohen’s book, I couldn’t help but think of my attempts at “belonging” in my current church context. However, at the same time do I want to remain distinct? Distinct as what?

I’ve described both Judaism and Christianity as cultures in addition to “faiths” (for lack of a better word). Judaism is notoriously difficult to define since it is a nation, a people, a faith, a culture, and an ethnicity, all rolled into one thing. Worse than that, Judaism encompasses multiple cultural and ethnic elements as well as variations on religious practices, but at its core, Jews will always be part of a single nation; Israel, because God has so ordained it.

By comparison, what is Christianity? It is primarily a religion, but it encompasses many “Christianities” and it has many different cultural and theological expressions. In the middle of all that, what identity do I have among them, and of what they teach, how much can I believe?

Standing Insecurely at the Threshold

Hashem, God, Master of Legions, hear my prayer; listen, O God of Jacob, Selah. Look upon our shield, O God, and gaze at Your anointed one’s face. For one day in Your courtyards is better than a thousand [elsewhere]; I prefer to stand exposed at the threshold of my God’s house than to dwell securely in the tents of wickedness.

Psalm 84:9-11 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a “meditation” called A Christian at the Gates of the Temple of God. Not much has changed since I composed that last part of my “meaningful life” series. I always imagine that I’ve progressed in my life of faith more than I really have. Reviewing year old (and even older) blog posts shows me that I’m asking the same questions now that I’ve been asking for a long time.

The classic question is, “Where do I go from here?”

The generic answer is always “forward” but I sometimes wonder if instead of actually moving along the trail, I’m simply standing still, or to use a water-based metaphor, am I just treading water?

If so, then I don’t think I’m alone. I could state the obvious and say that many people in churches and synagogues are probably making no more spiritual progress than I am, but they have plenty of company to do it with, so I guess that means it’s “OK.” When you are a “free agent” or “unaffiliated,” the dynamic feels a bit different. When you’re alone, it gives the impression that lack of progress is somehow tied to lack of fellowship.

I suppose fingers could be wagged at me for the choices that I’ve made, but so be it.

I had coffee with a fellow the other day who reminded me a lot of myself. He too seems to be spinning his wheels in his life of faith. He too is unaffiliated. I realize that there are a number of people I’ve been acquainted with over the years who, for one reason or another, do not attend a congregation or faith group. Many have been “burned” by organized religion or some aspect of it and feel that they are safer when worshiping alone or just with their families.

I realize that a significant portion of this population is classified as “fringe,” “oddball,” or worse, and many of them really are rather “unusual” in their theological conceptualizations.

I don’t think I’m one of that crowd, but I’m sure a lot of Christians and Jews would disagree with me. I don’t think my coffee companion belongs to that group either, but again, when you don’t follow some denomination’s pre-programmed doctrine and dogma, it’s bound to look a little odd to an outside observer.

What spawned this particular “meditation” was my reading of Psalm 84 and particularly verse 11:

I prefer to stand exposed at the threshold of my God’s house than to dwell securely in the tents of wickedness.

According to the psalmist, his options were standing exposed at the threshold of God’s house or dwelling securely in the tents of wickedness. I don’t see my two choices as exactly those, but they come close. In writing A Christian at the Gates of the Temple of God, I envisioned myself at the threshold of the Temple of God; the actual Temple as it stood in Holy Jerusalem thousands of years ago. It might surprise you to hear that I sometimes imagine myself praying silently in the court of the Gentiles, off to one corner, in the back, in the shadows, beseeching Hashem, God of Jacob, “have mercy on an unworthy Gentile.”

OK, I’m a Christian, which means I have a relationship with Hashem under the Messianic covenant, but nothing about that removes the necessity for humility and submission when standing in the House of God. I read verse 11 and the image I just described came rushing back to me, along with my “Christian at the Gates” blog post. Then, I remembered this:

It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.” –Isaiah 2:2-3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Actually, I find that vision rather intimidating. It’s one thing to imagine being a first century God-fearer standing alone and isolated in the court of the Gentiles in Herod’s Temple, and another thing entirely to be among a crowd of tens or even hundreds of thousands, making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, climbing up to the restored Temple, actually anticipating the presence, no matter how distant, of the King of Kings, physically, majestically, in glory, standing before his people.

Who am I to stand in the presence of the Messiah King?

And imagining all that, I feel very small.

Only yesterday, I posted yet another illustration of Jesus as the Jewish King rather than the “warm and fuzzy,” blue-eyed, Christian “goy” Savior. Not that he isn’t the Savior, he just isn’t that cute and cuddly guy of uncertain European lineage (such as the image I’ve provided below) who we often see in the photos and paintings reproduced in some of our Bibles.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning and so it’s easy to picture the hundreds, the thousands, the millions of people, in my own little corner of the world and all over the world, sitting in church pews, listening to the sermon, listening to the “praise and worship team,” getting coffee, eating donuts, going to adult Sunday school, listening to a pre-programmed Bible study, everybody agreeing with everybody else.

OK, I’m being cynical. I’m also remembering my former church experience. Among many other states, it produced a state of security. Everybody (as long as they agreed with the program) belonged. But do I belong there or am I the guy standing at the threshold of some place where he probably doesn’t belong (at least not yet)? Am I the Christian standing exposed at the gates of the Jewish Temple, when I could be dwelling securely in the “tents” of the church?

No, I’m not comparing the church to the “tents of wickedness” but I am drawing a comparison of sorts. I really would rather stand, a mass of insecurity, isolated and alone, trembling with fear at the threshold of the Temple of God than seated comfortably in a pew or a folding chair at my neighborhood Christian church.

I’m not much of an adventurer or risk taker. I like adventure stories, but living out that kind of life would actually scare the daylights out of me.

On the other hand, that’s what I’m doing in my walk of faith, and that’s why I’m scared to death every day that I walk the path. I can’t dwell in the secure and safe and rather boring and unchallenging churches. Many, many true disciples of the Master find God within those walls, in the sermons, in the songs, in the Bible studies. But not me.

But for me, I find him within the Temple in Jerusalem, though it has yet to be restored, and I stand every morning, in the world of my imagination, in the court of the Gentiles, pleading before the God of Abraham, to look upon me and not turn away, invoking the name of my Master as his disciple.

Standing exposed at the threshold. May God grant me the courage to one day take the next step and to enter His House of Prayer.

Rebuilding the Broken Wall

Rema rules that it is prohibited to destroy part of a Bais HaKnesses unless the intent is to build in that spot. The Mishnah Berurah explains that in such an instance it is not considered destroying; rather it is considered building. He then mentions that many authorities permit drilling a hole in the wall of a Bais HaKnesses in order to attach a shtender even though Taz is stringent about this matter.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Breaking part of the wall of a Bais HaKnesses”
Rema Siman 152 Seif 1 (b)

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)

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.John 19:34 (ESV)

I suppose you could say that today’s “meditation” is an extension of what I wrote yesterday. But when studying this topic, I can’t avoid the connection between the tearing down and building up of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the “tearing down and building up” of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. We see that, as Rema rules, you are not to destroy any part of the Temple or a synagogue unless you intend to also build on that very spot. How much more do we understand that the Master was “destroyed” with the intention of building up.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. –Matthew 16:21

On yesterday’s blog, Rabbi Carl Kinbar stated:

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.

The Master also said that difficult things had to occur so that all righteousness may be established. This included his own, shameful, agonizing death and surrendering to a sentence he did not deserve. And yet, if he didn’t submit to the will of the Father, even in this, what hope would there have been for the world? We have a parable that, on the surface, seems mysterious, but that I believe can be applied to this point.

Today’s amud discusses when a shul must be torn down. A certain community shul was slated to be destroyed and then rebuilt. As the repairs were in the final stages, the members wondered whether they needed to make a blessing of hatov v’hameitiv. It was really a compound question though: is one required to make such a blessing on the construction of a new shul, and if so, does a rebuilt shul have the same status as one that is new outright?

They posed these questions to the Halachos Ketanos who replied, “A community that has built a new shul definitely needs to make such a blessing on it. The shaliach tzibur should stand up in front of everyone and make the blessing out loud. The same certainly holds true regarding a shul that was destroyed or demolished and then rebuilt from scratch. The proof is from the Ran in Nedarim who writes that if one vowed never to enter a certain house and it subsequently collapsed and was rebuilt he may enter the rebuilt house. This is because it is considered like an entirely new structure.

He continued, “The source for this is the midrash in Koheles Rabbah: This could be compared…to a king whose son had angered him. The king was so infuriated that he drove the boy out and swore that he would never again be allowed entry into the royal palace. What did the king do when he finally calmed down? He ordered the palace demolished and rebuilt. In this manner he was able to have his son rejoin him in the palace without violating his oath!”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Rebuilt Palace”
Rema Siman 152 Seif 1 (b)

Like a King who swore he would never see his son again in the palace, something had to be torn down and rebuilt so that we among the nations could enter into the presence of our Sovereign. In some way, what had to be destroyed and rebuilt was the Son of the King, through whom the veil between a non-covenant people and God could be torn away, so that we could relate to God through the covenant of the Messiah. This also reminds me of the mikvah, where a person and his sins enter into the water and the realm of “death” and when the man emerges, he is clean and his sins are no more. Perhaps this is how we may think of ourselves as having shared in the death and new life of Jesus.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:16-17 (ESV)

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. –Philippians 3:10-11 (ESV)

We only understand all this and have hope due to our faith in the promises. Even when it seems like everything holy is being torn down in the world, and nothing that is righteous is being built up, we must continue to realize that he is coming and we have not been abandoned in a battered and broken world.

On Erev Tisha B’av, the rebbe approached him and asked if he had a siyum prepared for a seudas mitzvah after the fast. This is customary among many chassidim; it is meant to demonstrate a belief that Moshiach will certainly come and redeem us soon despite our lengthy exile.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“He Has Stretched out a Line”
Shulchan Aruch Siman 152 Seif 1 (a)

PrayingAs I review the state of the world of faith, including some of its representatives who comment in the religious blogosphere, I often despair and think that nothing I say or do really matters. I often wonder if anyone really seeks the Holiness of God or if they instead, choose to worship at the altar of their own self-righteous opinions. I know I have “worshiped” there on occasion, which makes me feel all the more disgusted. But when I read and study and pray and reflect within myself and between me and the heart of God, I am momentarily encouraged. Man is flawed and the world is splintered, but that’s what tikkun olam is all about. Like the Chassidim, we must have “a siyum prepared for a seudas mitzvah”, so to speak, because we too, among the non-Jewish disciples of the Master, also believe the Moshiach will most certainly come, no matter how long we may have to wait.

If only God will strengthen us against the times of doubt, and sorrow, and grief.

You have to begin with the knowledge
that there is nothing perfect in this world.

Our job is not to hunt down perfection and live within it.
It is to take whatever broken pieces we have found
and sew them together as best we can.

—the Rebbe’s response to a girl who wanted to leave her school for what she thought to be a better one.
as related by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Chabad.org

Perhaps we can do better than just putting together broken pieces of the fallen wall. Perhaps we will see something new and wonderful being raised up.

I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless, every day I will wait for him to come.

-from the Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith

May he come soon and in our days, and may we see the fallen booth of David being rebuilt with our own eyes.

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.

The Torah of Fellowship and Peace

The Ten Commandments (Shemos 22:2-17, Devarim 5:6-21) as spoken by G-d to the Jewish nation at Sinai were engraved upon the Shnei Luchos Habris, Two Tablets of the Covenant. The first Five Commandments belong to the category of laws between “man and his Creator” while the remaining Five Commandments are precepts between “man and man”.

The Ten Commandments engraved upon the tablets of stone and brought down by Moshe from G-d to the Jewish people are accorded a special distinction over all the other 613 precepts.

The Ten Commandments written upon the Two Tablets are comparable to the Kesubah, “marriage contract” drawn up as the essential contractual terms under which a Jewish man and woman enter into Jewish matrimony. Herein the parties pledge their allegiance and the principle obligations to each other thereafter. (The Avos deRabbi Nosson 2:3 fascinatingly explains this is why Moshe smashed the Two Tablets, tearing up the marriage contract, when the Children of Israel were disloyal by worshipping the Golden Calf and had to provide a substitute upon their national repentance).

The Ten Commandments forge this eternal relationship.

The covenant struck between “two” parties, affirming the relationship between G-d as the “Source” and Israel as the “product”, is mirrored in the Ten Commandments inscribed upon the Shnei Luchos HaBris, “Two” Tablets of the “Covenant”. The emphasis is on how this relates to the eternal bris, “covenant” of Torah that unites man and his Creator.

How this bond is intrinsic to the national Jewish psyche is magnificently captured in the Ten Commandments engraved through the thickness of the Tablets – such that the letters and stone were inseparably one.

Herein is included the symmetrical record of the laws pertaining both to man’s relationship to “G-d” and to “man”. The first grouping, those of “man-G-d laws”, relate to G-d the “Source” while the second grouping, those of “interpersonal laws”, relates to man, the “product”.

Side-by-side, the Ten Commandments are the microcosm to all 613 Commandments (See Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15). They embrace the acceptance of G- d’s Sovereignty at Sinai as the essential platform for strict adherence to all the other 613 laws in the Torah, which serve to polish and perfect man to become more G-dly.

Through its symbolism of the “eternal covenant” between man and G-d, of two parties inextricably bound in their mutual relationship…

-Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene
from his commentary on Torah Portion Yitro
“Two Tablets: Prescription for Jewish Observance”
Torah.org

When the Prushim heard that he had shut the mouth of the Tzaddukim, they conferred together. A certain sage among them asked him a question to test him, saying, “Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Torah?” Yeshua said to him,

“Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.Matthew 22:34-40 (DHE Gospels)

In one of my recent morning meditations, I commented how the Torah functioned as a ketubah or “wedding contract” between God, the groom, and national Israel, the bride. For Christianity, this is a puzzle (unless you wholly substitute “the Church” for “Israel” in this event), since how can God be eternally married to the Jewish people, the inheritors of the Mosaic covenant, and at the same time, have the Christian church be “the bride of Christ? I asked this question on the aforementioned “meditation,” but no one was willing or able to respond to my query.

In studying the Torah portion for last Shabbat, I noticed an interesting parallel between the Rabbinic commentary and the teachings of the Master:

Side-by-side, the Ten Commandments are the microcosm to all 613 Commandments… -Rabbi Levene

The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot. –Matthew 22:40 (DHE Gospels)

Traditional Judaism, at least as Rabbi Levene describes it, compresses the entire 613 commandments into the ten mitzvot we see on the two tablets that Moses brought down from his personal encounter with God, while Jesus tells us that they are represented, along with all of the writings of the Prophets, by the two greatest commandments, which he cites from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Neither source is saying that all we need are only the ten commandments or the two greatest commandments, but they are the foundation and representation upon which we formally base our obedience to God, for Jew and Christian.

Am I saying that both Jews and Christians have identical responsibilities to God relative to the Torah? Absolutely not. There have been plenty of debates, both among scholars and on the various religious blogospheres on this topic, and my personal opinion is that we non-Jewish disciples of the Master are not obligated to take upon ourselves the full yoke of Sinai. The Master himself tells us that “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30) while we find Peter, who walked with the Master, saying, “why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10), referring to the non-Jewish disciples (and a comparison of these two verses is a study all its own).

So are we to say that God has two brides, that there are two paths to salvation, and that there are two laws? Is this the veil of separation that I’m rebuilding between Jew and Gentile that was supposedly torn down? (Ephesians 2:14)

Heaven forbid.

Yet, if I am not describing two brides separated by a veil, must I say that the only resolution to this conflict is to adopt a supersessionist viewpoint and to declare that the Church has replaced Judaism in all of the covenant promises, creating a new “spiritual Israel” out of the non-Jewish Christians? Must I say that the Jews become “one new man” with the Church only be renouncing their Judaism in totality and converting mind, body, and soul into Gentile Christians, trading in the Jewish Messiah for the “Greek” Jesus?

No, I’m not saying that, either.

According to Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann in his blog post Inconvenient Truths: The One New Man:

Rather than superseding the Jewish people, the Church from among the nations joins with them as part of the Commonwealth of Israel. Only in this way can the “dividing wall of hostility” – which supersessionism maintains – be removed. Gentiles are no longer categorically outsiders to the community of God’s people, but neither do they supplant Israel. However if Gentiles were required to obey Torah and live as Jews, one would be perpetuating their categorical exclusion as Gentiles. And it is a major component of the good news as proclaimed by Paul that this former categorical exclusion is over and done with through the work of Messiah!

The balance of unity and diversity in the One New Man is further highlighted in Ephesians 3:6, where Paul says “Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The terms “fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers” require another communal reality with whom the Gentiles are joined, and that other partner is the community of Messianic Jews living in solidarity with wider Israel. It is only as Messianic Jews embrace this calling that their communities become the communal joining point whereby the Church from among the nations is joined to the Commonwealth of Israel.

Admittedly, this is a set of points that most traditional Christians and Jews will find difficult to absorb into their current understanding of how God relates to each of our religious groups. This also gives us something new to think about in terms of how Jews and Christians are supposed to relate to each other. But in giving the Torah at Sinai and the blood of the Son at Calvary, God provided the means by which the Jews could become a special, unique and “peculiar people” to God in a way no other people or nation had ever or has ever become to Him, and has also opened the door for the rest of the world, through the Messianic covenant, to allow the larger body of humanity to draw close to God, alongside the descendants of Jacob.

This isn’t a realization that all Jews and all non-Jews have, even though this open door is available to everyone. Secular Jews are just as much a part of Sinai as their religious brothers, whether they choose to acknowledge that fact or not. Every non-Jewish person on earth is equally invited to stand before the throne of the King by the mercy of God who sent the Messiah to both Jewish and Gentile humanity, if only we will accept that gracious offer. Jesus presents the Jews with the continual and perpetual fulfillment of the prophesy of the Messiah and a life lived in obedience to Torah as God intended from the beginning, and brings close a “grafted in” humanity together with the Jews in one Kingdom as we too respond to the Torah as proceeds from Jerusalem and as it is meant for us to comprehend and obey.

There is one Torah but two intents. Torah is the ketubah of Sinai for the Jews and at the same time, it is a light unto the nations. How Jews are forever “married” to God and we Christians are the “bride” of Messiah, I do not know, but of all the different mitzvot among the 613, many are selected to identify Jews as Jews forever, and other portions are indeed universal truths applied to all, for no man made in the image of the Creator should murder his fellow, or steal from him, or covet his property, or blaspheme the name of God or worship idols of stone or wood or paper.

Jew and Gentile, where do we start? Where do we start establishing a relationship with God and an understanding of each other? We start with studying the mitzvot of the tablets and the commandments of the Messiah. Most of all, we start with this one, new commandment that I believe Moshiach gave to each and every one of us, if only we have ears to hear.

I am giving you a new mitzvah: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. –John 13:34 (DHE Gospels)

and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. –Isaiah 2:3

The Torah has gone forth from Zion, carried on the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, and we among the nations have heard the words of the Messiah and the “Word made flesh”. If we who are Christians can learn those lessons and the Jewish people can turn their hearts toward the Torah given by Moses and Jesus, then we will someday truly love one another in obedience to that Torah, and sit and eat together at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11) in fellowship and peace.

The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise; the orders of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart; the command of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever; the judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous. They are more desirable than gold, than even much fine gold; and sweeter than honey, and the drippings from its combs. –Psalm 19:8-11 (Stone Edition Tanakh)