Zohar and the Third Temple
By Chaim Clorfene
Adapted from the Zohar, Parshat Pinchas 221a
One time a gentile sage threw down a challenge to Rebbe Eliezer, saying, "You say that in the future another Holy Temple will be built for you. But there is no promise to build the Temple except twice - the First Temple and the Second Temple. There is no mention anywhere in the Torah of a Third Temple. Therefore, everything that is supposed to be built was already built. And there will never be another, for none is written. Only two Jewish Temples are written about, and as a proof, it says in the Book of Haggai (2:9) concerning the Second Temple, "The glory of this last House will be greater than the First. And in this place I will grant peace, says the L-rd of Hosts."
Here, we have to digress a bit from the text in the Zohar to gain a full understanding of the situation. Who was this gentile sage? And who was Rebbe Eliezer?
The gentile sage could not have been a Muslim because there were no Muslims yet and there wouldn't be for another 500 years. In those days, Arabs were virtually all idol worshippers, and they had no sages. Nor could he have been one of the early Christians, for at that time in history, the Christians were a Jewish sect, and there were no gentile sages among them. Moreover, an early Christian would not have addressed Rebbe Eliezer so rudely. In all likelihood, this gentile sage was a Greek scholar. The Athenians of the period were noted for intellectual brilliance, but also for arrogance and insatiable egotism. They prided themselves on their Torah knowledge, of which they had pathetically little compared to Rebbe Eliezer.
Now who was Rebbe Eliezer? This is Eliezer ben Hyrcanus who lived during the last years of the Second Temple and into the first century after its destruction. He knew what it was to have the Temple, and he knew what it was to lose it. It was said of him (Avoth 2:9) that if all the sages were put on one side of the scales and Rebbe Eliezer were put on the other side, he would outweigh them all. He was reputed to be one of only three men who understood the secret of the red heifer; the other two are Moses and the Messiah. So, to confront Rebbe Eliezer with such chutzpah was not exactly wise, as we will soon see.
Also, let us examine the verse from Haggai that the gentile sage offered as a proof that there will be only two Temples. The verse states, "The glory of this last House will be greater than the First. And in this place I will grant peace, says the L-rd of Hosts." Could this be referring to the Second Temple? Was the glory of the Second Temple greater than that of Solomon's Temple, and did G-d grant peace in that place? The answer to both questions is a resounding, "No." Solomon's Temple was larger, more beautiful, and far more glorious than the Second Temple. It says in the Book of Ezra (Ezra 3:13) that when the Second Temple was completed, some of the people shouted for joy while others wept. Rashi explains that the young people who had not seen the First Temple shouted for joy, but the elderly ones who had seen Solomon's Temple wept because they remembered Solomon's Temple, and it was far more glorious than the new Temple. And did G-d grant peace to Israel during the Second Temple period? It turns out that of the 420 years that the Second Temple stood, only 17 years could be considered years of true peace, for during all the other years, Israel was subjugated by Persia, then Greece, the tyrannical Hasmonean kings, and finally Rome. By no stretch of the imagination could the Second Temple be called a place in which peace was granted by G-d. Therefore, when the verse in Haggai says that this "last House" is to be greater than the first, what is it talking about? Rabbi Yitzhak Arbarbanel and other authorities maintain that it refers prophetically to the future Third Temple, not to the Second Temple at all.
Although the returning exiles from Babylon did not build the Second Temple according to Ezekiel's visionary design of the future (Messianic) Temple, they did employ four design elements from it - the size of the Great Sacrificial Altar, the four roofless chambers in the Outer Courtyard, the low eastern wall of the Temple Mount, and the small side gates (pishpashim) that lead into the Sanctuary.
Since the Second Temple had several design elements from the Third Temple, it is called the beginning of the Third Temple, and the verse in the Book of Haggai refers only to the Third Temple, which will be more glorious than Solomon's Temple and will stand as the great symbol of universal peace.
Now, let's return to the text in the Zohar. The gentile sage continued scolding Rebbe Eliezer, saying, "Grandpa, Grandpa, don't try to answer me because I will not listen to anything you say. And I will not accept an answer from you."
Rebbe Eliezer was silent for a moment, then he raised his eyes and looked at him and reduced him to a pile of bones - basically, he vaporized him.
After he cooled down, Rebbe Eliezer began to cry. He then recited a verse from Psalms (Psalms 8:2), "O L-rd, our Master, how mighty is Your Name throughout the earth. You who have placed Your majesty above the heavens." And how precious are the words of Your Torah for there is nothing in the world that does not find its source in it, and there is not even the least thing in the Torah that did not go forth from the mouth of the G-d of Israel, the Holy One, blessed be He. And the question that this wicked person asked so scornfully, I myself once asked of Elijah the Prophet. And I learned that the answer had already been given in the yeshiva shel maaleh, the study hall in heaven. And here is the answer:
When Israel went out of Egypt, G-d wanted to take them into the Land and make them entirely spiritual like the holy angels above. And He intended to build for them a Holy Temple in Heaven, and then bring it down from the heavenly firmament and plant it in Israel in the same form as above, and this is what is written (Exodus 15:17), "You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance, in the Dwelling Place that You alone made, O L-rd, the Holy Temple that Your hands have established."
Let us analyze this verse. The verse appears in Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea, just after the Red Sea split and the Egyptian forces drowned, before the Children of Israel came to Mount Sinai.
The first part of the verse says, "You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance." This refers to bringing the Children of Israel into the land and planting them [as spiritual beings] on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Abraham brought his son Isaac as an offering. The Temple Mount is the mountain of G-d's inheritance.
The second part of the verse is, "In the Dwelling Place that You alone made O L-rd." This is the Temple made by G-d in Heaven. The third and final part of the verse is, "the Holy Temple that Your hands, O L-rd, have established." This is the heavenly Temple brought down to earth. The verse uses the metaphor of "Your hands, O L-rd" to indicate that this earthly Temple is also made by G-d alone. It is completely spiritual and constructed exactly the same as the Temple in heaven. These two spiritual Temples were to be the original First and Second Temples, one in heaven and the other on earth. Both were to be built by G-d and not by man. This is the true meaning of this verse in the Song of the Sea, the only verse in the Torah explicitly referring to the Holy Temple.
The Temples referred to in that verse are not the physical First and Second Temples at all, but the two spiritual Temples that originally were to be built by G-d and not by human beings.
After the Red Sea had split and the Egyptians had drowned, prophecy fell on Moses and the entire nation of Israel and they sang this song. It should be noted that the Song of the Sea, is the oldest written song still extant, and it is still sung as it was more than 3300 years ago.
Returning to the text of the Zohar: when Israel angered G-d in the wilderness with the sins of the golden calf and the spies, all the people who went out of Egypt [above the age of 20] died, and G-d brought only their children into the Holy Land. 480 years later, when the Holy Temple was finally erected, it was not built by God as originally intended, but by man; that is, by King Solomon, the Jewish people, and 150,000 righteous gentiles. During the First Temple period, there were vast numbers of ger toshavim, righteous gentiles living in the land, and they also participated in the construction of Temple (II Chronicles 2:16). Yet, because the Temple was built by human hands, King Solomon knew that it would not last. Concerning this, it says (Psalm 127:1), "If the L-rd does not build the House, its builders work in vain," meaning, it will not endure permanently.
Then, in the days of Ezra, when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile and built the Second Temple, the majority of the people, including Ezra himself, remained in Babylon where life was comfortable and secure (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b). This was considered a great sin. As a result, the returning exiles built a physical Temple with less glory than the First Temple, for the Shechina (Divine Presence) did not dwell in the Second Temple. This Temple was also built by human hands; therefore, it could not be permanent.
As a result of the sins of Israel, the spiritual Temples that G-d originally intended to build - the one in heaven and the one on earth - never came into existence. Human beings, and not G-d Himself, built both the First and Second Temples.
In the future, however, it will be different. G-d alone will build the Holy Temple, and it is for this Temple we are waiting. It will not be built by humans, for if it were, it could not be everlasting. And it is written in the Book of Ezekiel 37:26, "Then the nations will know that I am the L-rd Who sanctifies Israel when My sanctuary will be among them forever."
The two spiritual Temples will be brought down from Heaven by G-d Himself. The First Temple, the one built in Heaven, will be concealed for it corresponds to the Sephirah of Binah (Understanding), a spiritual level that transcends the world and is therefore concealed. The Second Temple, the earthly Temple built by the hands of the L-rd, will be revealed in its place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, for it corresponds to the Sephirah of Malchut (Kingdom) which is revealed. The entire world will see that this Holy Temple is made by G-d Himself and there will be limitless joy and the fulfillment of every heart's desire in all its permanence, for this Temple will never be destroyed. Thus it is written in the Zohar of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai.
Chaim Clorfene is the author of The Messianic Temple, published by Menorah Books, 270 pages. The Messianic Temple explains the design and spiritual nature of the Third Temple with over 200 illustrations and diagrams. See more at www.messianic-temple.com
from the May 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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