Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creating the Sanctity of the Temple

My comments at a recent shul dinner:

I. Moving a Synagogue

The Gemara (Megillah 29a) makes a fantastic statement that is difficult to take literally. It says that all the synagogues in Bavel will be transplanted to the land of Israel. Commentators explain it to mean that at the time of the final redemption, the synagogues in exile will become a part of the Temple in Jerusalem. Due obvious problems of logistics, it seems difficult to take it as a literal prediction. I'd like to, instead, propose the following.

Halakhah allows for a synagogues to be sold. While there are various rules about who can sell one and when, there are circumstances when can be done. In such a situation, the synagogues, sanctity is immediately extinguished. The holiness of the site disappears. What would happen if, at the time of the final redemption, all Jews move to the land of Israel and permanently abandon their synagogues? The synagogues would lose their sanctity. The world would experience a great diminishing of holiness.

II. Replacing Sanctity

When a person dies, the world loses something. A person who dedicated his life to performing mitzvos, to sanctifying God's name and creating holiness in the world, is now gone. R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski explained that we try to replace this loss of holiness to the world by reciting the Mourners' Kaddish -- "Yisgadel ve-yiskadesh shmeih rabba - May God's name be glorified and sanctified." Similarly, were a large number of synagogues in the world to simultaneously lose their sanctity, it would be a great loss to the world.

The Gemara is telling us that this will not happen. When the final redemption occurs and the exiles are gathered into Israel, the sanctity of their synagogues will also be gathered in. Instead of the extinction of their holiness, it will be transferred to the great communal Temple that will be rebuilt in Jerusalem.

III. Rebuilding the Temple

Medieval commentaries offer different descriptions of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rambam explains the purpose of the tractate of Mishnah called Middos (in his introduction the that tractate), which describes the dimensions of the Temple, as enabling us to build the Temple when the time arrives. Evidently, according to him (and the Tosefos Yom Tov that quotes this approvingly), we Jews are expected to rebuild the Temple. However, Rashi and Tosafos (Sukkah 41a) state that God will build the Temple. Later scholars (e.g. Arukh La-Ner, Sukkah ad loc.) generally reconcile these two approaches and state that first people will build certain parts or aspects of the Temple and then God will complete it.

What emerges from the above explanation is that the same applies to the sanctity of the Temple. People will create some of it through their synagogues and God will create the rest.

What is this sanctity of synagogues that will be transferred to the Temple? There are different views but Ramban believes that it is created by people. As Jews recite the holiest prayers in a synagogue, its sanctity grows. In other words, the creation and maintenance of a synagogue, ensuring that prayers are regularly recited there, create a sanctity for the future Temple. By attending minyan regularly, you are doing your part in building the sanctity of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More