Ezra's Temple, Herod's Temple and Ezekiel's vision of the Third Temple


Ezra's Temple, Herod's Temple and Ezekiel's vision of the Third Temple


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The Third Temple: Israel's Missing Link.

By Chaim Clorfene

In the introduction to his book Ohr Hamikdash (Light of the Temple), Rabbi Moshe Luria, explains that the Torah, the Sabbath, and the Holy Temple are respectively the essence of Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge (Chachmah, Binah, and Daath). These three are called a rope of three strands that binds the Jewish people (and arguably all the other people of the world, as well) to the God of Israel.

Torah is familiar to us on a daily basis, "for it is our life and the length of our days and we meditate on it day and night." The Sabbath comes to us once a week without fail. But what about the Holy Temple? As of this date, it has been missing for 1936 years. For nearly 100 generations no one has seen or experienced the Holy Temple. Yet, the Temple does more than stand alongside Torah and Sabbath in importance. It is the link that binds them together, for the true nature of Knowledge (Daath) is its power to unify. This is the meaning of (Gen. 4:1), "And Adam knew his wife, Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain." Conjugal union between husband and wife is called knowledge "in the Biblical sense," and it is this power that binds all things as one. The essence of this Knowledge is the Temple.

We can appreciate how the Temple unifies Torah and the Sabbath from the 39 work activities (melachoth) that the Torah prohibits on the Sabbath. They are derived from the 39 creative activities by which the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was built by Moses at Mount Sinai. The Mishkan was the Temple in a portable form, having the same status as the Temple in Jerusalem.

But the Temple unifies more than Torah and Sabbath. It unifies everything else as well. The Holy Temple unifies the Jewish people and serves as the center of government, culture, and communal life. Like blood flows to the heart and is revitalized and pumped back to the body, the people of Israel came to the Temple three times a year to receive God's blessings and return home refreshed and invigorated.

When the Temple is standing, the Divine Presence (Shechina) is fully revealed. Then, God, Israel, and all the nations of the world are unified. This is the true source of world peace, healing and brotherhood. And it happens only in the Temple, as it (Isaiah 2:3), "And many peoples will say, Come, let us ascend to the Mountain of the Lord and He will teach us His ways and we will walk in His paths."

To be sure, the Temple is the missing link. And it has been missing so long, that the world has largely lost interest in it, or worse, regards it in a negative light. Orthodox Jews, evangelical Christians, and archeologists are the last bastions to maintain an active concern for the Temple. And even here, the connection to the Temple is clouded by confusion and misinformation.

Archeological scholarship is almost always a romantic blend of true research and self-willed fantasy. Christians have little or no tradition about the workings of the Temple. They just know it is supposed be rebuilt and it will be a good thing. The real issue is with Orthodox Jews, who pray at least three times every day for the Temple to be rebuilt, and who diligently study the Talmud which is jam-packed with lore and laws about the Temple.

Despite this, nearly all sects and branches of Orthodox Judaism treat the Temple with apathy and neglect. The Chofetz Chaim in the introduction to Avodat HaKorbanot wrote that matters pertaining to the Temple are comparable to finding an unattended corpse (meth mitzvah). When finds an unattended corpse, it is an obligation to get involved to preserve the dignity of the deceased. Even the High Priest, who is forbidden to contaminate himself by contact with the dead, is commanded to bury an unattended corpse, though he will defile himself spiritually. Such is the dignity of the Temple. All who come in contact with teachings about it are enjoined to get involved.

It must remembered that the Mishna, the basic body of Halacha (Jewish Law) was compiled and redacted approximately 110 years after the Second Temple was destroyed. The father of the Mishna, Judah the Prince (Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi) never saw the Temple, never smelled the Holy Incense or heard the singing of the Levites (the real Lost Chord). His teacher, Rabbi Meir, never saw the Temple, and his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, never saw the Temple. The oral tradition of Judaism was codified in the darkness of the Temple in ruins. In fact, that is why it was codified, to guide the Jewish people through the exile.

All our systems, processes, and institutions were born in the shadow of the destruction of the Second Temple. So many rabbis and millions of other Jews had been slain in their prime by Rome, that knowledge of the Second Temple was lost and had to be recovered by deductive reasoning and homiletic interpretation of scriptural verses, resulting in disagreement about most Temple related matters. This has led to great confusion about the Temple, even among some of the greatest scholars.

To set the record straight: there were two Second Temples. The first one was built 70 years after the destruction of Solomon's original Temple. This second Temple stood for 332 years, then was removed and rebuilt by Herod. Herod's Temple took eight years to build and stood for 80 years, then was destroyed by Rome. So different from each other were these two Temples that the Medrash (Numbers Rabba 14) assigns a different sacrifice as their essence. The original Second Temple, built by Zerubavel, governor of Judea, under the direction of Ezra and King Darius of Persia, is represented by a ram as a burnt offering. The rebuilt Second Temple, erected by Herod, is represented by a goat as a sin offering.

For the most part, the Talmud treats the two Temples as one, and we often think we are learning about Ezra's Temple, when in reality we are almost always learning about Herod's Temple.

Few people realize that the miracle of Chanukah took place in Ezra's Temple, not Herod's. The Maccabees vanquished the Greeks and rededicated Ezra's Temple in 3597 (163 B.C.E), fully 145 years before Herod's Temple was built.

The Mishna and the Rambam describe only Herod's Temple. Even the great Rambam confuses the two, stating explicitly in the Mishneh Torah (Laws of the Temple) that the height of Ezra's Temple was 100 cubits, but in truth only Herod's Temple was 100 cubits high. Ezra's Temple was 60 cubits high as reported in Ezra 6:3. In Herod's speech to the Jews, recorded by Josephus (Antiquities, book XV), Herod proclaims that the original builders of the Second Temple were limited by the Persian king to a Temple only 60 cubits high, while he, Herod, promised to raise it to a the appropriate height of 100 cubits.

This Temple of Herod was no simple beautification project. Herod removed Ezra's Temple, stone by stone, right down to the ground, and then removed the foundations and built an entirely new Temple of his own. Herod enlarged the Azora (Inner Courtyard) which was forbidden by Halacha without a Sanhedrin of 71 judges, a Jewish King, and the Urim and Tumim (the oracle of the High Priests Breastplate). Herod, who was not Jewish, had murdered all the members of the Sanhedrin; the Urim and Tumim had not existed since the destruction of the First Temple. In effect, the Second Temple described in the Mishna and the Rambam was an illegal structure, doomed to destruction from the very day it was built.

After Herod's Temple stood for 30 years, the red string that miraculously turned white on Yom Kippur to show that God had forgiven the Jewish people, stopped turning white. Around the same time, the Kohanim (priests) stopped blessing the congregation with God's Four-Letter Name pronounced as spelled. Then havoc began to sweep through the Temple. The High Priest's office became a political job, sold by the Roman overseers to whoever would pay the price. Fifty High Priests in a row failed to make it through Yom Kippur. Some say they died one after another in the Holy of Holies because they were unworthy to enter. Others say each one was simply replaced by another who was willing to pay more for the job.

A few years later, bands of thieves and gangsters began warring against each other in Jerusalem. One of the gangs made its headquarters in the Holy Temple, and bloody battles were fought in the hallowed Sanctuary. This is described in fine detail in Josephus' Jewish Wars. Finally, the Roman legions broke down the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exterminated virtually every Jew living there.

There is another salient difference between the original Second Temple and Herod's Temple. The builders of the original were saintly sages and prophets. They included Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Daniel, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi, Zerubavel, Joshua the High Priest, and Shimon HaTzadik (Simon the Just) among many others. Herod, on the other hand, was a Jew-hating tyrant, one of the most contemptible villains the world has ever known. He did whatever he wanted and did it exactly the way he wanted. No one could say no to him and live to tell about it.

There is a common misconception that Herod rebuilt the Temple as restitution for having murdered several hundred rabbis, including all the members of the Sanhedrin. This error comes from a misreading of the Talmud (Baba Basra 3a). Herod rebuilt the Second Temple for his own glory and no other reason. The proof of this is that he continued murdering sages till the very day of his death when he had two great sages and forty of their disciples burnt at the stake for removing from the Temple Sanctuary a golden statue of an eagle glorifying Rome.

As he lay dying, Herod instructed his sister to kill one member of every prominent Jewish family in Jerusalem so his death should not be celebrated by the Jews as a day of joy, but a day of mourning. She did not obey his instructions.

Herod's evil reached far beyond the grave. Herod's Temple remains the Temple of the Jewish psyche. It is his Temple that we see pictured in storybooks and posters. It is his Temple for which we weep and fast, and break a glass under the wedding canopy. We remember Herod's Temple with fondness because we do not distinguish it from Ezra's Temple. Yet, Herod's Temple was the essence of corruption, alienation and destruction. Herod's Temple is the root of much confusion, apathy and neglect about the Temple and related matters.

The confusion that emanates from Herod's Temple is explained mystically by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal), in Mishkanay Elyon, his discourse about the prophesied Third Temple. This is a bit intricate, but well worth the effort to get it.

The Ramchal explains that the Sanctuary (Heichal) in the Temple is 32 cubits wide (approx. 64 feet or 19.2 meters). These 32 cubits, states the Ramchal, correspond to the 32 paths of Divine Wisdom known as Daath Elyon, the Supernal Knowledge, looking from above to below, from God's perspective so to speak. In front of the Sanctuary stands the Great Sacrificial Altar (Mizbeyach). Its base is also 32 cubits wide. This is Daath Tachton, the lower knowledge or man's perspective, looking from below to above. The correct place of the Mizbeyach is precisely in front of the Sanctuary so that the 32 paths of higher and lower wisdom are in alignment. Then heaven and earth are aligned and the Shechina dwells in the Holy Temple. But for a technical reason explained in the Talmud, the Mizbeyach of the Second Temple was drawn to the south of the Sanctuary, clearly out of alignment with the Sanctuary. This indicated that God's Knowledge and man's knowledge were out of alignment and the Shechina did not dwell in the Second Temple. This resulted in endless disputes (machloketh) and confusion.

But in the Third Temple, the Mizbeyach will stand precisely before the Sanctuary, as it says (Ezekiel 40:47), "The Altar stands before the House." According to the Ramchal and virtually all other authorities, this verse indicates that in the Third Temple, the Mizbeyach must stand directly in front of the Sanctuary in perfect alignment.

From this we can find the elixir that will heal so many confused hearts, transform apathy into vitality, and replace the missing link. If we would simply shift our primary focus from the Temple of the past, Herod's Temple, to the Temple of the future which is described in the last chapters of the Book of Ezekiel, the confusion would begin to dissolve. We perpetually beat ourselves up over a 2000 year old tragedy while ignoring a bright hope for a future that could take place tomorrow, even today.

Ezekiel's prophecy of an everlasting Third Temple is 2400 years old. In Talmudic times, there was little cognizance of it, other than Bible commentator and teacher Yonathan ben Uzziel's interpretative translation of Ezekiel into Aramaic. But beginning with the classic Bible and Talmudic commentator Rashi early in the eleventh century C.E., rabbinic scholars have produced literally dozens of commentaries explaining Ezekiel's cryptic design. And in this generation, a new field of study has begun to emerge around Ezekiel's vision of the Third Temple.

In his introduction to Ohr HaMikdash, Rabbi Luria writes in the name of the Raavad that we will not see the Third Temple until every last vestige of the Second Temple is removed. So the point is that we need closure on the Second Temple. By shifting from Second Temple consciousness to a Third Temple world view, we can forge a new link to replace the missing link of the Temple. This new link will be far more glorious than the old one and absolutely unbreakable. May it happen speedily in our days.

* * * *

Chaim Clorfene has recently published a book on the Third Temple, called THE MESSIANIC TEMPLE (Understanding Ezekiel's Prophecy), Menorah Books, 260 pages with over 200 color diagrams and illustrations. Those interested in purchasing the book online or seeing more perspectives on the Third Temple, go to www.thirdtempleworld.com


from the Febuary 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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