21.2. The Creation of the Temple as Planned in Advance

As already noted, portions Terumah and Tetzaveh are a description of the Temple’s ideal character, as presented by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Portion Ki Tissa follows, with the crisis of the golden calf. And finally, Vayakhel and Pekudei recount the implementation of the Temple idea – the actual construction of the Tabernacle.

The given chronological sequence would indicate that since the instructions concerning the construction of the Tabernacle were given before the incident of the golden calf occurred, they have no immediate or obvious connection to that story.

We do however occasionally encounter the erroneous viewpoint that the Jews received the commandment to build the Tabernacle only in the aftermath of the story of the golden calf, as a concession that God had to make to human weakness and to vestiges of paganism. According to this view, God was telling the Jews, as it were: “Well, if you have to offer sacrifices, and there is no getting around that, then at least offer them to Me, the Almighty, and not to some golden calf.”

This opinion derives from a misunderstanding of certain statements of Maimonides, who does in fact say that the purpose of certain commandments and institutions of the Torah – the Temple and its sacrificial rites, in particular – was to deter Israel from the practice of idolatry that was so abundantly widespread in ancient times.

And yet, it is completely wrong to understand such statements as saying that the Temple service was instituted exclusively for preventing idolatry – as if to suggest that if idolatry no longer exists in our times, then the Temple and its service have likewise been rendered entirely obsolete.

On the contrary – the appearance of the description of the Tabernacle in the Torah before the incident of the golden calf clearly indicates that any idea of the Temple and its rites as merely a concession after the fact is untenable. Such an attempt to interpret the building of the Tabernacle as “God’s reaction to the departure of the people from the covenant” is fallacious in the extreme. For in fact, quite the opposite is true. The Temple and its service are essential components of Judaism, and not only in an historical sense, but for the future development of the Jewish people as well[1].

[1] This does not imply that the third Temple will be like the first and second in every respect. In particular, it will be a Temple not only for the Jewish nation, but for all of mankind. It is also possible that there will be no animal sacrifices, but only plant-based offerings. However, this is an expansive topic that requires separate coverage.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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