The Miqdash – Not Yet Time?

Nearly 41 years ago, in the year 5727 (1967), for the first time since the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Jewish soldiers entered Har HaBayith (the Temple Mount). The collective dream of the Jewish people, the yearning of the ages, was realized. However, for those who appreciated the historic nature of the moment, shock and disappointment were to follow.
On the heels of this God-given victory, the then Minister of Defence, Moshe Dayan, took the keys to the Temple Mount, and in an act of madness indicative of the ideological malaise of Zionism in general, returned them to Am Yisrael’s arch-enemies. Let us be clear about this. Hashem had just returned His people to Judaism’s Holy Place– the focus of the Jewish People’s aspirations for 2000 years–and after only a few days of fighting during which we and the entire world had been witness to miracle after miracle, we threw it back in His Face!
The day the Jewish People had awaited for 2000 years was lost in the blink of an eye!
It is time to be honest with ourselves. As a nation, we have been in steady decline since the Six Day War. First came the blow of the Yom Kippur War of 5734 (1973), which due to the surprise attack and heavy loss of life, brought in its wake national crisis and despondency (despite the fact that in military terms the outcome was a victory of stunning proportions). In 5737 (1977), Israel entered Lebanon (the Litani Operation ) in order to put an end to PLO attacks on Israel’s civilian population. That goal, then as now, remained maddeningly elusive. The operation was a failure.
This was followed by the Camp David Accords in 5738 (1978), which resulted in Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula, and the infamous recognition of ‘the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination’ by Menahem Begin’s government. In a classic piece of Beginese political thinking, he later insisted that he had not recognized the existence of the Palestinians as a nation with all that that would imply, since he had insisted that the word people appear in the English and binding version of the Accords with a small p. The reference, therefore, was to Arabs living in Mandatory Palestine, but only as individuals. The rest of the world didn’t see it that way (surprise, surprise!). What is truly tragic about this inanity is that Begin was serious.
Next came the Lebanon War in 5742 (1982), which was supposed to solve Israel’s security problem on the northern border once and for all. (It is interesting to note that hostilities in Lebanon broke out within three months of Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai and the Second War in Lebanon broke out months after the Destruction of Gush Katif. Surely only the most obtuse can’t see these as hints from Heaven?).
Our next stop on the path of national humiliation was the Intifada (“Uprising” in Arabic). The Jewish People allowed itself to be intimidated by sticks and stones. Rather than respond as any nation under attack in its own land would, the ‘Jewish genius’ proceeded to invent ever-more-ingenious responses: strap-on perspex additions to windshields; followed by clip-on, wire-mesh screens; followed by the more convenient fold-down screens; followed by specially-treated look-like-the-real-thing windshields that were not supposed to shatter (but occasionally did). Despite then Minister of Defence Moshe Arens’ protestation that the Palestinians would not dare use firearms because they understood that our response would be ‘devastating’, they did of course begin using firearms in drive-by shootings and ambushes…and we, of course, did nothing, just as the Palestinians knew we would.
The ultimate in our arsenal of Jewish-genius responses was in fact a world first – the bypass road. This innovative device affords us the opportunity to force upon ourselves lengthy detours which often increase travelling time to a given destination by up to a factor of two, whilst providing the Palestinians with an improved network of roads (a prize for the Intifada?). There is also still the distinct possibility that you will be stoned or shot at whilst travelling on these ‘secure roads’. From a security point of view, these roads have achieved little.
The Intifada lead to the Oslo Accords of 1993, whereby the Rabin government resuscitated a nearly-defunct PLO, rescued Arafat from political oblivion and set the country’s auto-pilot mode for self-destruction. (No wonder the world loved it). The road from the Norwegian capital to Wye Plantation was short and slippery, and thus we found ourselves with an Israeli government dividing Hevron, the City of our Forefathers. And finally a Road Map, hudnas, memorandi and endless empty promises of peace as Israel relinquished increasing large portions of its holy patrimony that culminated with the destruction of the Jewish communities of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron.
It is a basic tenet of Judaism that there is no punishment without sin. It is related in the Talmud (TB Berakhoth 5b) that once 400 barrels of wine belonging to the great and pious R. Huna soured. Some of his fellow scholars (having heard of his misfortune) went to visit him, and said: ‘The Master ought to examine his actions.’ He said to them: ‘Am I suspect in your eyes?’. ‘Is the Holy One blessed be He suspect of punishing without just cause?’ they replied, and thereupon informed him of a certain aspect of his conduct that required improvement.
Hashem revealed to us the basic parameters of our existence long ago. ‘If you shall walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and shall do them. Then I will give you rain in due season…And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid…But if you will not hearken to Me, and will not do all these commandments. And if you shall despise My statutes, and if your soul shall abhor My judgments so that you will not do all My commandments, and shall rather break My covenant. I also will do this to you: I will appoint over you terror…they that hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when none pursue you.’ (Wayiqra 26:3-17).
The centerpiece, the focus of our national existence, is Har HaBayith, the Temple Mount. Here too, the iron-clad rule of the Torah of reward & punishment applies, of course, only more so. “And again the anger of Hashem burned against Yisrael, and He incited David against them, saying ‘Go number Yisrael and Yehuda’…So Hashem sent a pestilence against Yisrael…and there died of the people from Dan to Be’er Sheva 70,000 men. And when the angel [of Death] stretched out its hand upon Yerushalayim, to destroy it, Hashem relented and said to the angel that was decimating the people: ‘Enough – stay your hand’. And the angel was at that point by the threshing-floor of Arawna the Yevusi…And Gad came and said to David that day: ‘Go up and build an altar to Hashem on the threshing-floor of Arawna the Yevusi’“ (Shemuel II 24:1-18. See also Divre Hayamim I Chap. 21).
In this fascinating episode, we find King David of blessed memory purchasing the site of the future Temple. Yet the reason for Hashem’s initial anger is left unstated. Indeed, Rashi comments: ‘I do not know why Hashem was angry’. In the Midrash however, we find the following: “’And Gad came and said to David that day: Go up and build an altar to Hashem on the threshing-floor of Arawna’ – David, at that moment, was like a child being beaten by his father, but not knowing for what reason. Later the father said to the child ‘Know that it is for this thing that I beat you’. Similarly, all of those who died in the plague died only because they did not demand the building of Temple” (Midrash Shemuel Chap. 31). This explanation is given also by the Ramban. “I am of the opinion that the people were punished due to the delay in the building of the Temple…because the people did not rise up, of their own volition, and say ‘Let us seek out a place for Hashem to build a house to His Name’, as it says in the Tora ‘And you shall seek out His Place’ (Devarim 12:5)….and for this reason the Place chosen by Hashem for His Temple was singled out during the plague that came to punish them [to indicate that the plague was brought about for that reason]” (Commentary on the Tora, Bemidbar 16:21).
In point of fact, this elementary truth – that our negligence or lack of interest in the Miqdash carries a heavy price tag – is stated explicitly by the prophet Hagay:
“Thus speaks the Lord of Hosts – ‘This people say: The time is not yet come that Hashem’s House should be built’. Then the word of Hashem came by the prophet Hagay – ‘Is it time for you, yourselves, to dwell in your well-timbered houses, whilst this House lies desolate?’ Now therefore – thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways. You have sown much but bring in little…and he that earns wages, earns wages [only] to put them into a wallet full of holes’. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the House; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified’ says Hashem. ‘You looked for much, and lo, it came to little’…’Why?’ says Lord of hosts. ‘Because of my House that lies desolate; yet you all run to your own houses. Therefore the heaven above you is prevented from giving dew, and the earth is prevented from giving its produce. And I called a drought on the land…’“ (Hagay 1:2-11).
As soon as the foundation stone of the Miqdash was laid, however, Hagay informed the people: “But now take note of this day, and henceforth – from the 24th day of the 9th month, from the day on which the foundation of Hashem’s Temple was laid…I shall bless you” (Ibid 2:18-19).