21.6. The Temple’s Two Roles in Israel’s History

In this portion we will endeavor to outline just a number of general ideas, whose detailed elaboration, however, is beyond the scope of a Torah commentary such as this.

The idea of the Temple as “the Temple of Atonement” has persisted for many centuries. And conversely, the aspect of “the Temple of Revelation” was, after Moses, at first only partially manifested. Although the High Priest would at times hear a voice emanating from the Holy of Holies, and the role of revelation in the Temple was further expressed by the Urim and Thummim on the clothes of the High Priest, that aspect still remained mostly dormant for several centuries (see 28:30). That is, until the era of the kings of Israel, when a compelling realization of this aspect of revelation in the Temple can be discerned.

It is a well-known fact of Jewish history that three great kings – Saul, David, and Solomon – ruled the united Jewish kingdom in the early days of the commonwealth; that is, when all twelve tribes comprised a united kingdom. These three kings are important not only as historical figures for their times, but also as models of Jewish advancement for all time, including, of course, the future that for us is yet to come. For that future epoch, these kings are seen as Messianic archetypes, representing two different Messiahs – Mashiach ben Yosef, and Mashiach ben David. And this means that the relationship between those two Messiahs is essential for us today for understanding the developmental paths of the State of Israel.

Each of the three kings saw the Temple in a completely different light. Saul had no interest in a Temple whatsoever, while David yearned to build the Temple, but by God’s decision could not. Only his son Solomon was able to accomplish it.

These different attitudes toward the Temple directly corresponded to the national-political orientations of each of the three kings, i.e., their respective views on the essential purpose of the Jewish state’s operations and the meaning of its existence.

From Saul’s point of view, the goal of the state was to provide safety from external threat – to guarantee Jewish independence and security. At this level, there is no need for a Temple.

But as David saw it, the goal was a national and religious revival. Because this is a higher level than Saul’s, David was able to relocate the Ark to Jerusalem[1] and to prepare a site for the future Temple. However, he could not himself build it, because, seemingly, even at that stage of national-religious revival, the Temple was still not needed.

Solomon, however, had a third approach to the meaning of the state’s existence. The primary objective of his kingdom was to disseminate knowledge of the Almighty, the God of the Torah, among the rest of mankind. The kings of other nations, attracted by the novel ideas of monotheism, came to visit Solomon in order to learn, and for this he needed a Temple. Thus, when the Jewish state had finally attained the level of King Solomon’s view of Judaism – the level of disseminating monotheistic principles – the Temple, now promoting Divine revelation, was now the Temple of Moses.

Maimonides further notes that when the Jewish people came to the Land of Israel they could not begin immediately to build the Temple, because they needed first to appoint a king (i.e., to build a state), and then to fight Amalek; the building of the Temple could only begin after those foundations had been laid.

When the wars had finally ended, when the problems of national security had been satisfactorily addressed, and when the primary remaining task of Jewish life was the dissemination of Jewish monotheism and the Divine teachings among mankind – only then and at that level could the Temple be built.

Only in such a Temple – built for the purpose of spreading the Divine message, and not only for atonement of sins – are the approaches of Moses and Aaron equally manifest.

If we believe, as was commonly held for many centuries, that the main goal of Temple was the cleansing of sins – that is, if we perceive it as the Temple of Aaron – then we have a very one-sided view of the Temple, and we feel no need even to have one, because the idea of cleansing sin through sacrifice is so far removed from our thinking and our orientation.

So long as the Jewish people feel no need for the Temple, it is clear that it cannot be restored. If, however, we are imbued with Moses’ perspective, and we feel the Divine revelation, then we will come to understand what the true meaning of the Temple is for us. And then we can, and will, rebuild it.

[1] Until this time, for many decades after the capture of the ark by the Philistines and the destruction of Shiloh, the ark, not much “in demand,” was located at Kiriath-jearim (see 1 Sam. 7:2).


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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