Temple Mount In Ruins
by Rabbi Dr. Israel Eldad (c. 1910-1996)
Does the Holy Temple, once the glorious symbol of everything Jewish, have a place in modern Israel?
I must confess, it now grieves me that three years ago [in 1948] I concluded a speech to the Jews of Jerusalem with a call for architects to immediately begin the designing of the Third Temple. I sinned, not by misleading my listeners into believing that the capture of the Temple Mount was at hand; no, my error was in thinking that it was time for the builders of buildings, for the movers of materials. In my naiveté I assumed that between our assembly hall and the Temple Mount lay a mere few hundred meters, a mere Ottoman wall, mere legions of Jordanian soldiers. I forgot to take into account the psychological aspect which, after all, determines true distances and the true distances and the true thickness of walls.
My mistake sprang from the heady atmosphere of those days when people suddenly felt feelings of possession and mastery over this Land, after we had conquered parts of it. We felt that the blood we had shed had blazed a trail straight to the long-buried dry bones, reviving them, and once again Hebrew soldiers were marching, soldiers feeling as the soldiers of Joshua, the soldiers of David, the soldiers of the Macabees had felt towards this Land. Soldiers who obeyed the declarations of G-d rather than the declarations of the United Nations.
Three years later it is clear: all this was an illusion. The awakening from this pleasant dream has been so rude that many are speaking of the "destruction of the Third Temple," referring not to the loss of the physical Temple (which has not even been built yet) nor to the ruin of the State itself, but to the destruction of the "Heavenly Temple," that is, the spiritual and moral Temple that seemed to hover over our heads here.
People may have seen different things in this "Temple" and heard different commandments emanating from it, different do’s and don’ts, but this Temple, or more correctly those Temples, sometimes called by us "idealism" or "pioneering," now lay in ruins. If I use the term Temples in the plural, it is because my feeling is that that the reason for the destruction lies in the fact that we saw Temples rather than the one important Temple. An old Midrashic legend states that because Jews spent their time tilling the hills and mountains of other peoples, G-d removed His presence from our two mountains, Mt. Sinai and the Temple Mount (Mount Moriah), and today both are desolate and abandoned. For those who prefer the metaphor in simpler language: because what is called "Zionism" got sidetracked with other ideologies the two basic ideas were left behind: Torah and Malchut (Majesty). As Mount Sinai and the Temple Mount remained outside our legal borders, the ideas they represent, Torah and Malchut, remained outside our lives.
I include among the causes that sidetracked us not only socialism and Marxism, but such "kosher" and honorable ideas as "in-gathering of the Exiles" and a "state of expression of the independence" and "freedom of the individual." All these and their like may be fine mountains pleasing to the eye and heart, but they are not more than false gods when compared to the one mount, the Temple Mount, which took for itself much if not all of the glory and mystery of Mount Sinai.
The Temple Mount, referred to in the Book of Deuteronomy tens of times as "The place the L-rd will choose," called the ritual center by Biblical scientists, of which was said in the beautiful mother of all prayers by Solomon, concerning the Temple (1 Kings 8):
"The L-rd said that He would dwell in the thick darkness. I have surely built You a house to dwell in, a settled place for you to abide forever." - 1 Kings 8:12-13
As if Solomon were saying to G-d that "as long as you are obscured there cannot be any contact between us. I am building you a tangible, clear, geographic home in which you can receive the prayers of your people Israel and the prayers of any who wish to pray to you," for "your eyes to be open toward this house night and day." A request for G-d to center his prayer-accepting heart around this house. "What prayer and supplication be made by any man, or by all your people Israel… and he shall spread forth his hands toward this House."
"And also the foreigner who is not of your People Israel…when he shall come and pray toward this House, and you shall hear."
"If your people go out to battle against their enemy, and they shall pray to the L-rd toward the City which you have chosen and the House I have built for your name."
And so all, individual and collective, Hebrew and non-Jew, shall find the way to G-d only through this House. Not only by entering it, for those far away too, there is no other way to the Heavens: "If they sin against you, and their captors carry them away to the land of their enemy, and pray to you toward their Land which you gave to their fathers, the City which you have chosen and the House I have built for your name, and you will hear." (What brilliant thinking! For those who come to pray he mentions only the Temple. And for those in Exile in the distant Diaspora, he includes the Land, the City and the Temple.)
The imagery and phrasing of this prayer are so concrete and concise that they make it the ultimate expression of Hebrew belief. It rises above all that philosophers and theologians and even prophets have written in all the generations that followed. The localization of the Temple, despite Solomon’s full knowledge that "not even the Heavens can contain you," and the idea is wider and more open than pantheism, yet nonetheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, there is a need for tying to this one spot a gate open to foreigners.
We are not a religious community that keeps its G-d to itself and posits places for other religions. We are liberal enough to allow other religions their belief, but not so overly liberal that we credit them with the label "truth." We do not concede the possibility of a different Gate to heaven … therefore Our Temple’s gateways to Heaven are open to all. Also note the reference in this prayer to war; let us do away with the notion of being a pacifist before the era of the Messiah, for the ideas are intertwined: G-d’s return to the Temple and a war of conquest, with revenge upon enemies.
As for the location of this spot, let artists try to explain it with their paint brushes. Let strategists expound, geopolitical thinkers and geologists and archeologists expatiate. This is not our business. What is our concern is that this spot, with no possibility of change is "the place that is chosen." No apparent "rationalism," no "enlightened" philosophy can change this, nor move even one square meter of the mount.
And especially he who believes most deeply in the oneness, the all-encompassingness, the infinity of G-d, as every believing Jew, he will be most adamant about this oneness, this unique example in time and space: the Temple Mount. No other Temple is acceptable, no matter how beautiful, if it is not on this Mount. Nor is this Mount acceptable without the "Great and Holy Temple" standing on it. Great and holy, both symbolizing the unification and synthesis of the material basis, the great foundation in the land that surrounds it, with the quality of Holiness.
A secular historian might try to evade this point by suggesting "The spot is sanctified by the blood zealots spilled in defending her." But the question remains: Why so much blood spilled over this spot? The reason for which so much blood was spilled is that which obligates the spilling of more blood to re-conquer her, if necessary. And the reason is: the objective holiness of this spot as the Kodesh Kodeshim , Holy of Holies, of our nation, and in the Days to Come, of all nations, for this is the meeting place of Heaven and earth.
The Temple allows us to recognize that G-d is above nature, beyond us, yet still within our reach. Here man takes hold of G-d, and G-d takes hold of man. Centralizing prayer here provides the strength to stand in this physical word that has no beginning and no end and therefore no actuality. It gives our eyes and hearts a focus other than pure abstraction. It is the only refuge of man between the two things that never end and never really begin; physics and metaphysics. It is the center of the universe. According to Jewish tradition the "foundation-stone" at the center of the mount (today the rock under the Dome of the Rock) is the stone that served as foundation of the world; from it G-d created our world. This stone witnessed the birth of faith as well, for on it Abraham bound his son Isaac; some say the Jewish people have been inexorably bound to this spot ever since. Certainly we have been on the altar since then. This same stone would later become the center of the Temple. And so, this mount is the spiritual and physical center of the universe. Through it man comes to life, learns to live.
Some see this clearly, others merely feel it, but both know that the power and meaning of existence are to be found here. Those who besieged Jerusalem, who conquered the Temple, found it strange as well. There are of course other instances of patriotism, of a people’s love for its capital, but never accompanied by such Holiness. People have always seen in their capital important moral and military points, but for strategic reasons they did not hesitate to retreat from the capital, even burn it, and to establish in its stead a capital behind the lines of defense.
Nor has there ever been another example of a connection simultaneously political, military and religious as with Jerusalem and the Temple; nor of the bereavement of a nation, expressed in its mourning, mourning even the date of the loss of independence of the fall of vital fortresses. Not even regarding the ultimate fall of Jerusalem! Only regarding the destruction of the Temple itself.
To compare the Temple Mount to Mount Olympus is to bring everything into focus.
The Greeks simply took the highest mountain and assumed it to be the home of the gods, that is why, they reasoned, it is the highest and perhaps the most beautiful, because the gods are there. Israel, however, lowers its G-d to a mountain that is not necessarily the highest, that is in fact surrounded by higher peaks, and raises Him to this mountaintop. This is not a matter of a chance physical or geographic occurrence, this is a spiritual choice. There we find enslavement to natural occurrences, here these are subordinate to spirit. Their philosophy, one way or another, ends in a deep freeze, whether materialistically/physically or idealistically/metaphysically, with the resulting fatalistic/amoral cycles. Here lies the fire of prophecy, flamed by historical and moral dynamics.
This is the foundation-stone of our world. On it we are bound as on the original altar. On it we are bound as on the original altar. On it we continue to exist. Anyone who thinks of the Temple as a mere matter of religious ritual has not grasped the meaning of what is called "Israel in the world." The Temple is not just another "Jeshurun Synagogue," perhaps prettier, that can be located just as easily in New York; the Temple’s tie to the geopolitical and historical physical point called the Temple Mount symbolizes the uniqueness of our outlook on the world.
The Temple - literally, "The House," the beit (house) hamikdash (of the tabernacle) - is the House that is chosen upon the Mount and is for the people who are chosen. The central and sanctified heart of a nation cannot be a glorified synagogue, as many religious people picture it, nor can it be a political "House" of Lords or Representatives as some secularists would have it. The territorial necessity involved with it is related to its basic role: expressing the world-view that makes our people unique, that gives us the possibility of a meaning for existence of man in general, in this infinite world. This shall not change, not if Mars is conquered, nor if electrons explode: without this tie, man is dust in the wind.
Our land is not only a Homeland in the sense that Poland is for Poles or Korea is for Koreans, but rather it is the Land in which we can "Go up to appear and bow down." The Temple Mount is not sufficient without a good, spacious land around it, but neither is such a land sufficient without the Temple Mount. We are not like the nations of the world. They belong to a land; transfer them to another land and they will belong to it. Nor is this land like the lands of other nations. Take away one nation, they will belong to another. Here a third factor comes into play, supreme and decisive, which does not permit the above occurrences. Jerusalem and the Temple Mount transform our tie to the land into a weltanschauung [worldview/world philosophy].
This weltanschauung is symbolized by the Temple. This centralization, this facing toward one spot wherever our people have been, is what has kept us together for thousands of years.
As long as this tie was known and recognized by the nation, a wise rabbi was able to laugh even when he saw foxes walking the ruins of the Temple Mount. But when this tie has ceased to be recognized by the nation, there is no reason to laugh or to celebrate even on the Temple Mount, not even if it should be beautiful.
If the Temple Mount lies physically desolate (for us, this is the meaning of a foreign house of prayer in it) this is because, and only because, it did not possess the decisive value in our lives that it historically deserves. No one expresses any doubt that had we fought for the Temple Mount in 1948 as our fathers had in the past, it would today be in our hands. How did it happen that just as we stood before the Holy of Holies of our people we suddenly decided to obey an order from some faraway nations? We did not even try to "obey" in the way we "obeyed" their orders concerning … the declaration of statehood, and the establishing of a government.
For our generation was weaned on the idea of a state, we taught, sought and fought for a state, the fighting youth threatened rebellion for it, and not for the Temple Mount. It was so close. . . .
This is not just another matter for dialectics and discussion, like aliyah, settlement, industry or military capability. As Herzl and Jabotinsky looked upon the idea of a state not as one of many links in the Zionist chain, but rather as the basis for them all, so, too, is the Temple Mount not one of many places in the Land of Israel we have yet to conquer, not just a link, but rather it is the basis, the foundation, in fact the foundation-stone, that gives relevance and meaning to all the other welcome and blessed conquests.
Therefore the difference between our foreign minister saying: one half-kilometer from our border an important event occurred (referring to the murder of Jordan's King Abdullah) or if he had said: On the Temple Mount a foreign king was killed. The change in terminology requires a change of position, or more correctly, the change in viewpoint is still one of kilometers and hundreds of meters, advancing or retreating. And even the representatives of what is called religious Judaism, the rabbinate, even they were not shaken and did not protest at the order to retreat from conquering the Temple Mount.
On the day that the nation mourns, or should mourn the destruction of the Temple, we traditionally raise a picture of the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall. This rather than the foundation-stone, the rock under the dome. During the years of Exile, the Wailing Wall serves a fine purpose, and from near and far the tears and prayers of the nation flowed to it. Now, the source of tears seems to be sealed. There are no wailers. No one feels the need to wail for the destruction of the nation: who will then be found to cry with all his heart for the destruction of that House of long ago?
Would it not be best to transfer the center of honor from the Wall of the Mount to the Mount itself? Should we not pressure for this transfer, and if I say "pressure" I do not refer to external powers, to Arabs or to the United Nations, but rather to internal powers, among ourselves.
Before we can commission architects to prepare the plans for the House, we must commission men of spirit, men with this particular spirit inside them, to raise from the ruins the spiritual Temple Mount. We must raise the concept, stir the longings, kindle desire. We must contemplate the foundation-stone upon which we were bound and upon which we have existed until now. We must reunite Heaven and Earth, which were torn from each other, the tearing being the destruction of the Temple. The mending of this tear is the purpose of Hebrew liberation. All else: land to sustain us, in-gathering of exiles, cultural and physical creativity, growth in strength and morality and beauty, will spring from the foundation-stone.
The foxes that today walk on the Temple Mount are not those that prolong our mourning and postpone Redemption, but rather the little foxes among us, those who sabotage our own vineyards. In the same way the destruction of the Temple in our souls is that which prevented and which still prevents the redemption of the Temple Mount from the jaws of the foreign foxes.
And perhaps until recently the charge might have seemed flippant, against which one could reply "There was no opportunity to test it," and then came these felonious days, beginning with the agreement to internationalize Jerusalem, including the acceptance of a cease-fire, including the halting of our attack, and continuing standing calmly by the side to these very days; and these proved the true extent of the destruction, and its true location.
Written in 1951 - Translated by Zev Golan
This translation was originally published in December 1, 1982 edition of Ha-Or [The Light], which was published by the Council of Jewish Organizations, Queens College, New York. Some typographical errors were corrected and certain phrases were italicized or printed in bold for emphasis on September 1, 2006, for this re-publication by First Covenant.