Cohen-Levi: The Tribe, the Family Heritage

Temple Studies

Introduction to the Temple

A. The purpose of this class is to present information about the holy Temple in order to make it more real and understandable, to demystify the Temple, to help us realize it was a historical fact and an integral part of Jewish life and religion.

The aim is to encourage knowledge and appreciation for the role of the Temple, to appreciate its greatness, to feel its loss, and to promote its return through raising the awareness and consciousness of the past and the future and to bridge these in the present.

B. The Temple and the Temple services are an integral part of our daily lives as Jews even today:

1. In prayer: in the shmone esre we pray for the return of the Temple and its service. In the Yom Kippur service we vicariously relive the Kohen Gadol's service to attain atonement for Am Yisrael. Every Shabbat and Holiday we recall the offerings brought for the community at the Temple.

2. Holidays: Chanukah is based on the rededication of the Temple and the miracle of the Menorah. Succot we celebrate at the Simchat Beit HaShoeva and the Arava as a remembrance of the Temple Service. On Pesach we eat the Matza and Maror through lacking the Korbon Pesach lamb which was eaten with it. On the Ninth of Av we mourn and fast in commemoration of the loss of the Temple and in longing for its rebuilding.

3. Other: At weddings we break a glass to recall that our joy is not complete while the Temple is still unbuilt. The Kotel, the Western Wall is the focus of our attention, the place where we aim all our payers, the remaining remnant of the Temple.

C. The study of the Temple and the Temple service

A major portion of the written Torah deals exclusively with the Temple service. The book of Vayikra and the second half of the book of Shemot deal almost exclusively with the vessels, participants and procedure of the service. A complete order of the Mishna and Talmud Seder Kodshim is concerned with the details of the Service. Our Sages tell us that the study of the Temple service is equivalent to its actual performance. In the learning about the Temple, we demonstrate a longing for its restoration and the final redemption of our people.

The Importance of the Temple

1. The importance of the Temple to the Jewish People and the world cannot be overestimated. The Temple Service served as the focus of Jewish life from the time of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai until the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a period of approximately 1,500 years.

2. The Temple was the national judicial, social and religious center of the Jewish People. The Temple complex on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem served as the seat of the great Sanhedrin which was the supreme court and source of Torah decisions (It was under the supervision of the Nasi and Av Beit Din, the elders of the court). The Temple Service itself was under the authority of the Kohen Gadol, the high priest. He headed an elaborate hierarchy of officials charged with the proper carrying out of the Temple service.

3. If the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it (Midrash B'midbar).

4. The Holy Temple was part of the blueprint of creation. As it was described in the vision of Ya'akov Avinu, the Patriarch Jacob, who saw a ladder joining the earth to the heavens, the Temple serves as a gateway to the heavenly realm.

5. The Temple mystically confirmed to the image of a man. The Holy of Holiness - containing the Holy Ark, the source of Torah wisdom - corresponds to the human mind. The Menorah, a source of light, symbolizing enlightenment, corresponds to the right eye. The Shulchan, the table which held the showbread representing material sustenance, corresponds to the left eye.

The Golden Altar, upon which incense was offered, representing pleasantness in relationships, corresponds to the nose. The entrance way to the Heichel, where the Kohanim stood to give the blessing, represents the mouth. And it might be added that the outer Mizbayach, the Altar upon which offerings were burnt, corresponds to the stomach of a man.

6. The Temple and service accomplished four general purposes: one, to purify man from sin and achieve atonement; two, to bring him closer to his Creator; three, to elevate him to a level of inspiration and even prophesy; four, to be a source of Divine Blessing for all those involved in the Service and for the world at large.

7. The Temple - Mikdash was a spiritual entity in the physical world. Through the Temple service, an individual could attain forgiveness and atonement through the process of bringing an offering. Now, when we do not have the Temple service, we can attain atonement through t'shuva combined with prayer and Torah study. The bringing of sacrifices, was a direct and more certain means of achieving atonement and immediate relationship to the Creator.

8. The Temple was the House of God, where God's presence was readily available to all those who sought Him. There was daily manifestation of the Divine Presence through miracles - the suspension of the "laws of nature" for all to see. Throughout the First Temple era, a lamp of the menorah stayed lit continually and the altar fire had the actual form of a crouching lion. Even in the Second Temple, when the supernatural level was less, even then ten miracles were seen constantly. The Temple was the terrestrial place of the Almighty, with His presence more concentrated there than anywhere in the world. It was in essence the embassy of Heaven on Earth.

9. Without the Temple, life is fundamentally different. With its destruction, even physical nature changed. The Sages of the Talmud, some of whom lived during both the time of the Temple and after its destruction, relate that the fruits now lack their full taste, the sky is not its true colour, and the full beauty of music and song have been lost. Most tragically, the spiritual levels of the Jewish People - and mankind as a whole - have been greatly diminished.

10. Even today the Temple and its service form an essential focus of our daily Jewish religious life. Our prayers, holidays and Torah learning are deeply imbued with the remembrance of the Temple and our longing for its restoration. For example, in the Amidah prayer, we pray for the return of the Temple and its service. The holidays of Pesach, Succot, Chanukah and the Ninth of Av are all closely related to the Temple. Of the five books of the Torah, Vayikra and half of the book of Shemot (Leviticus and Exodus) deal primarily with the Temple service.

11. Our prophets have related God's promise that the Temple will once again be restored, thus returning the service to its proper central position in Jewish life. Study and concern with the Temple service is therefore not only a meaningful study of the past, it is a necessary preparation for the future.

"Build for Me a Mikdash..." - Sources

A. "Make for Me a Mikdash and I will dwell among you." Shemot 25:8

1. This Mitzvah included the construction of the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle in the desert, the three places it dwelt temporarily in the Land of Israel, and its final dwelling place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

2. 410, the duration of the First Temple; "and the second (Temple) 420 (years)"

B. "And it shall be the place which the Lord your God shall choose therein to dwell, there you shall bring all which I command to you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and your first fruits, and all vows which you shall make to the Lord." (Devorim 12:11)

C. Three times each year all of the nation came to celebrate together at the Temple in Jerusalem: Pesach, Shevuot and Succot.

Aspects of the Mikdash

A. Mikdash - The place of God's most concentrated presence

1. Literally meaning the "holy house" or the "house which makes holy"; that is, it elevates the material level to a spiritual level.

2. Metaphysical, supernatural, above nature. A place above nature, above time and space

3. The connecting point between the upper and lower worlds.

4. The place of the Holy Ark, the Menorah, the Golden Table, the Incense Altar. Heavenly music, Beautiful Fragrance, Holy Light, Divine Fire.

B. The Outer Altar used in the service of Korban , animal offerings

1. Definition of Korban : means attaining closeness to the Creator. Not sacrifice which entails personal loss. Not offering which entails open personal choice.

2. Mitzvah: very precise Divine instructions which had to be followed exactly as commanded.

3. The meaning of attaining atonement for individuals and for the nation.

4. Unification of all elements of creation: animal, vegetable and mineral.

5. Pleasing fragrance: supreme satisfaction of Hashem from His people doing His will. God does not need the service. We do.

History of the Temple and the Temple Services

A. From the beginning, the Temple Mount was recognized as the center of the universe.

1. Berashit: Bara Sheet, the foundation stone from which the creation began.

2. Adam HaRishon created from the matter of the place where he himself offered to God at the place.

3. Cain and Avel: Avel brought from the best of his flock as an offering whereas Cain brought poorer quality vegetation.

4. Noah, after the flood, offered thanksgiving from the extra kosher animals which he brought with him on the ark.

5. Shem ben Noah, also known as Malki-Tzedek, was a Cohen of God in Jerusalem

B. The fathers of the Jewish people.

1. Avraham
  a) The tent of Avraham and Sara was a model for the Temple to come. A cloud of glory which represented the Shechina's presence over the Holy Ark. Their candles stayed lit all week, similar to the Menorah in the Temple. The bread which Sara baked stayed fresh all week like the showbread on the table of the Temple.
b) Avraham was commanded by God to bring up his son Yitzchak to the place which God revealed to him, which was the Temple Mount, Har Moriah. Having fulfilled the command of God to bring Yitzhak up and having shown his willingness even to take his life, if that would be God's will, Avraham was them told to take Yitzhak down from the Altar. A ram was offered in his place.
c) When Avraham was chosen by God to be the father of the Godly nation, a covenant was made. The procedure through which the covenant was made was that Avraham was required to sacrifice animals and pass through their parts. This procedure established the importance of animal offerings.

2. Yitzhak
  a) He allowed himself to be bound to the Altar and though he was not slaughtered, the Midrash relates, that symbolically, the ashes of Yitzhak remain on the altar forever.

3. Ya'akov
  a) While sleeping on the Temple Mount, he had the dream of the ladder, reaching into the heavens symbolic of the Temple Service. He saw in his vision the destroyed Holy Temple being restored to its full protection.
  b) The stones of the place gathered around Ya'akov and these were to be the foundation of the Altar.

C. Sinai

1. The Midrash relates that Har Moriah was transferred to Mt. Sinai for the revelation of the Torah.

2. The people camped at Mt. Sinai in three divisions. In the center was the presence of the Shechinah. Around that was the camp of the families of the tribe of Levi and around that was the camp of the tribes of Israel. This arrangement was the model for the traveling in the desert, camped around the Mishkan. It also is the model for the Temple complex: within the walls of Jerusalem is the equivalent to the camp of the tribes of Israel. The Temple Mount is equivalent to the camp of the Levites, and the Temple building and inner courtyard is equivalent to the camp of the Shechinah.

D. The Mishkan - Tabernacle

1. The building of the Mishkan, the portable Temple, was commanded in the first year after the Exodus. It was inaugurated on the first of Nissan of the second year after the Exodus.

2. A detailed description of the construction and the functioning of the service of the Mishkan are found in the books of Shemot and Vayikra.

3. Aharon, the brother of Moshe, and his sons were appointed Kohanim to serve in the Mishkan.

4. For 40 years, the Jewish people traveled in the desert with the Mishkan in their center.

E. Into Eretz Yisrael

1. 440 years before the Temple was built in Jerusalem the settling of the Land occurred by tribes and the rulership of the judges.

2. Gilgal 14, Shilo 369, Nov 13, Gibon 44 years.

F. The First Temple

1. King David purchased the site of Mount Moriah after being informed by prophecy as to the location of the Temple. He prepared materials for the construction of the Temple and laid and sanctified its foundations.

2. King Solomon, David's son, gathered materials and constructed the First Temple.

3. The First Temple lasted 410 years. It was inaugurated and became one of he wonders of the ancient world.

4. Near the end of the Temple, under threat of destruction, the Holy Ark and other Temple vessels were hidden below the Temple Mount.

5. The Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia for 70 years.

G. The Second Temple

1. The Second Temple was built with permission of the Persian rulers under the leadership of Nechemia and Ezra.

2. The level of Presence of God was lower in the Second Temple than in the first.

3. Midway through the 420 year history of the Second Temple, the Macabbees, the family of the Hashmonaim, led a revolt to free the Temple from Greek influence and re-established the Temple Service and resanctified the area which had become defiled.

4. Approximately 100 years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Herod rebuilt and refurbished the Temple and the Temple Mount. It is the Herodian walls which surround the Temple Mount which we see today.

5. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans and plowed over in fulfillment of the fateful prophesy.

6. Since the destruction, the Romans, the Byzantine Christians, the early Muslims, the Christian Crusaders. and once again, the Muslims have occupied the Temple Mount.

H. The Third Temple

1. The prophecy of Ezekiel contains a detailed description of the future Temple.

2. The command to build a Temple is still in effect. If it is not built before then, it will be the task of Mashiach to rebuild the Temple.

3. Presently we lack prophesy to determine the exact place of the altar which is necessary for the restoration of the Temple service.

4. We are promised, however, that the Temple service will be restored, that the glory of God will once again be clear to all, and the Temple will stand once again in its place.

I. Now

1. Now we are nearly 2,000 without the Temple, Jewish existence is an unnatural one. The exile has been long and bitter. Without the Temple we are lacking unity as a nation as well as the clear Presence of God. Without the Temple, we have no peace, no security, and reduced prosperity.

2. The Temple Mount is presently occupied by strangers. In 1967, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were liberated by the Jewish people. However, jurisdiction was given back to the Muslims and the opportunity to re-establish the Temple was temporarily lost.

3. The re-establishment of the Temple and the service therein depends on the uplifting of the spiritual level of the Jewish people and the world.

4. Presently, we must feel the loss of the Temple as a personal loss, as the Talmud relates, "one who mourns the loss of the Temple will rejoice in its restoration". Our sages teach that the learning of the Temple and its service accomplish a degree of atonement that was accomplished by the services itself and brings closer the days of its restoration

Temple Studies