This week we begin a string of five Torah portions that primarily deal with building the Tabernacle, the desert version of what would later become the Temple in Jerusalem. These parts of the Torah are famous for their excruciating detail of specifics and measurements of each and every Temple vessel. We are told – to the precise inch (or cubit) – of how the walls, curtains, altar, etc. must be constructed. We also learn of how exactly the priestly garments were tailored.
Were it a smaller part of the Torah, maybe we would have an easier time glossing over the meaning of it all and quickly move on to more relatable matters. But given the fact that the description of the Tabernacle and its main activity of sacrifices occupies half of the second, and all of the third, of the five books of Moses, it’s hard to just ignore the matter and hope it goes away.
So let’s endeavor to try to visualize what it must have been to have a Temple or Tabernacle amongst the Jewish people. We have to keep in mind that it’s hard for us to do this today since all we have left is a small and, quite frankly, physically unimposing remnant of the Kotel, Western Wall. So we will have to close our eyes real tight, use all our powers of imagination and try really hard. (Thanks to technology today, though, you can experience it first-hand by donning goggles at the Western Wall Virtual Reality Tour https://thekotel.org/en/tours/a-look-into-the-past/)
If you combine the following metaphors in your mind, you will get a sense of what it must have been like to visit the Temple: Imagine going to a place that is as large and beautiful as The Vatican or those huge, architecturally outstanding churches in Europe. The height and roof in those places of worship seems to go on forever, giving one a sense of awe, wonder and truly being in the presence of God Himself. The detail and care of the decorations on the walls and ceilings are works of art unto themselves. The Temple in its glory was no less impressive and actually was one of the most imposing structures in the whole world.
To this imagery, add the world’s best symphony orchestra along with a group of choral singers providing moving music and song as the Levites did thousands of years ago. Beautiful smelling fragrances fill the air. As for the atmosphere, some days it is quite solemn but many times, such as on holidays, it feels like the Super Bowl with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance who are of the same mind, spirit, heart and focus on one event.
And yes, there is even a tailgate party with barbequed meat that participants would enjoy from the offerings brought for the occasion. Nothing compares to freshly slaughtered meat versus the frozen stuff we have today, all over a live fire. No propane tanks here, just the real deal.
And on top of all this, running the whole show were the holy Kohanim priests, dressed in colourful and gorgeous garb bedecked with jewelry and precious stones that rivaled those of the late Queen Elizabeth.
Let’s continue to imagine the incredible feeling of unity with so many other Jewish people (and visiting Gentiles as well) in an atmosphere of spirituality and beauty. We get but a smidgen and glimpse of the power and effect this has in our day-and-age when we witness the impact that visiting Israel has on those who go for the first time. They come back different Jews, identifying so much more with our people, history, heritage and Torah. And there is no question that the highlight of any trip to Israel is a visit to the Western Wall. Now imagine how much greater it would be if we were not visiting merely a remnant of a ruin but a full blown operation exuding beauty, power, amazing architecture and spirituality.
I envy Muslims for only one thing – and for one thing only – the Hajj. It must be a life-changing experience to make a pilgrimage to the most important religious symbol of a nation and religion along with hundreds of thousands and even millions of others who are like-minded and share the same culture, religion and belief.
Alas, we don’t have this today and that is why we cry on Tisha B’Av when we mourn the destruction of the Temple. This yearning has animated many of our prayers for literally thousands of years when we ask God to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, the crown of Jerusalem. This is why we break a glass at every wedding to mark that our joy – even the most joyous event like a wedding – is incomplete until our capital and our home is rebuilt in its entirety.
It’s not just a building that we long for, but for the heart and soul of our people that unites us and has the ability to lift and change our entire outlook and life with one short visit.
So as we read these chapters of the Torah detailing the predecessor to the Temple, in the back – or maybe in the forefront – of our minds, we hope and pray that soon a chattan/groom will no longer need to break a glass at the chuppah, that we will no longer shed any tears for our Temple, but that it shall be rebuilt in all of its glory.
At that time we will come together as One people in One land with One capital in One place celebrating One God.
Jerusalema ikhaya lami – Jerusalem is my home
Ngilondoloze – Guard me
Uhambe nami – Walk with me
Zungangishiyi lana – Do not leave me here
Ndawo yami ayikho lana – My place is not here
Mbuso wami awukho lana – My kingdom is not here
Jerusalema ikhaya lami – Jerusalem is my home