A Summary of Last Years Lecture Series And An Introduction to this Years Lecture Series

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy




A Summary of last year's lecture series

and an introduction to this year's Lectures


Rav Yitzchak Levi



            I would like to refresh your memories and summarize what we learned last year and then present a study plan for the coming year.


I.       Summary of what we learned last Year


Unit No. 1: THe absence of the Mikdash


            It is very difficult – if not impossible - to experience today the absence of the Mikdash as a deficiency in our connection to God both because of the distance in time since the Mikdash stood and because of the distance in consciousness. In this unit, we tried to paint an ideal picture of the Mikdash, and especially to highlight what once was but no longer exists:


                      · The Mikdash is the site of the communal worship that is performed with the financial participation of each and every member of Israel (through the half-shekel) and by representatives of all of Israel (through the mishmarot and ma'amadot).


                      · "And we have become distanced from our land:" Various mitzvot that depend upon the Land of Israel can only be performed in the Mikdash, and therefore are no longer applicable today: the omer offering, bikkurim, and the like. Taking produce from one's privately-owned field and physically bringing it to God leads to a deeper understanding of the idea that "All things come of You, and of Your own have we given You" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 29:14).


                      · The Torah was of central importance in the Mikdash: in the Holy of Holies, in the Temple courtyard, in the Sanhedrin that convened in close proximity to the altar on the Temple Mount. Once every seven years, at the conclusion of the shemita year, the hakhel assembly served as a reenactment of the Mount Sinai experience and receiving of the Torah in the presence of the entire nation - men, women and children.


                      · We considered the significance of the sacrificial service, which involves, on the one hand, the total dedication and effacement of man to God, and on the other hand, an elevation of the sacrificed animal by way of the impossible encounter between it and the Shekhina through the sprinkling of its blood, its life force, on the altar.


                      · We also saw the various manifestations of acts of kindness in the Mikdash itself and in the very service of the priest, the man of loving-kindness.


                      · We illustrated the special character of the festivals in the Mikdash through the holidays of Pesach and Yom Kippur and the pilgrimages to Jerusalem. We saw that Yom Kippur especially reflects the mutuality in the relationship between the people of Israel and God through the whitening of the crimson ribbon as a sign of the pardoning of Israel's sins – a miracle that took place (when Israel was worthy) even in the second Temple period, when the Shekhina did not rest in the Mikdash.


At the end of this unit, we dedicated a lecture to the question of what can be done today to hasten the rebuilding of the Mikdash. In addition to study, yearning, prayer and seeking out the place of the Mikdash, we strongly emphasized the importance of spiritual repair, in light of the famous words of Rav Kook (Orot Ha-Kodesh, part III, p. 324) that just as the Temple was destroyed owing to baseless hatred, it will be rebuilt in the wake of baseless love.


Unit No. 2: the functions of the Mikdash


            In this unit, we tried to demonstrate that it is possible, to a certain extent, to categorize all the activities that took place in the Mikdash under two "meta-objectives:" the Mikdash as the place of the resting of the Shekhina and the Mikdash as the site of man's service of God. This division emerges already in Scripture (Avraham at the Akeida, Yaakov in Bet-El, David at the time of the revelation of the site of the Mikdash in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, Shelomo at the dedication of the Mikdash).


            It was from Mount Moriya, the site of the Holy of Holies, that the world was created; it represents the house of God in this world, and it is where the ark stands. The site of the altar in the Temple courtyard gives expression to the place from which man was created and to the possibility of his repair. We saw that David was connected with every fiber of his body and soul to the ark, which represents the resting of the Shekhina, whereas Shelomo was connected to the great bama in Giv'on and was exceedingly involved in offering sacrifices. It is interesting that, according to some Tannaitic sources, God does not speak to man from between the keruvim (as is stated in Scripture – Shemot 25:22; Bamidbar 7:89), but rather from next to the altar where the service was performed.


The connection between these two components, the ark and the altar, has a ramification regarding the allowance of bamot – "This is the sign: whenever the ark is inside, bamot are forbidden; if it went out, bamot are permitted" (Yerushalmi, Megila 1:12). The ark's being found inside the Mishkan expresses the full revelation of the Shekhina – God has a house in His world; removing the ark negates this revelation.


            In the continuation, we examined the various manifestations of the revelation of the Shekhina in the Mikdash (speech, sight, etc.) and the various expressions of man's service. We then turned to the connections between the two systems, and considered the symbolic significance of the keruvim both as a throne and as a bed. In this way, the Holy of Holies, the most intimate chamber in the Mikdash, expresses both dimensions at the same time: the keruvim reflect the relationship between Israel and the Shekhina, which is like the love between man and woman (Yoma 54a), and this love constitutes the foundation for the throne of God, who sits on the keruvim.


            In conclusion, we raised the question whether among these two meta-objectives one objective is more important than the other. We saw that the Ramban emphasizes the Mikdash as the site of Divine speech and revelation, that is to say, the place of the revelation of the Shekhina, whereas the Rambam thinks that the primary function of the Mikdash is to serve as the site where man serves God and turns to Him.


Unit No. 3: The history of the resting of the shekhina


1)            From the creation of the world until Avraham. We saw the many connections between the creation of the world and the Mikdash, both because it is the place where the world was created and because of the parallels between the description of the world and the Mishkan. These parallels emphasize the significance of the Mishkan as completing the act of creation. We continued with a description of the creation of man and his connection to the altar, where Adam, according to Chazal (Bereishit Rabba 34, 9), brought the first sacrifice on earth. We examined the parallel between the Garden of Eden and the Mikdash with respect to their physical and spiritual landscapes; the Garden of Eden was perpetuated in the Mikdash and the Mikdash serves as a repair of the sin in the Garden of Eden. We dealt with the sacrifices offered by Kayin and Hevel, and we tried to understand the renewed building of an altar by Noach and the purpose of his sacrifice (gratitude or atonement).


The tower of Bavel is presented in the Torah ("a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven, and let us make us a name;" Bereishit 11:4) and in the words of Chazal as the opposite of the Mikdash ("the place which the Lord your God shall choose… to put His name there;" Devarim 12:5). In this context, we dealt with the spiritual meaning of the resting of the Shekhina in a low place.


2) The period of the patriarchs. Altars assume a central role in the service of the patriarchs. The question was raised whether these altars were used for actual sacrifices (which, in most cases, are not mentioned), or perhaps they served primarily as a place for congregating, calling out in the name of God and bringing people under the wings of the Shekhina. We also discussed the distinction between a mizbe'ach and a matzeva, and the significance of this distinction. We similarly related to the location of the altars, to the relationship between Avraham and Malki-Tzedek the king of Shalem, priest to the God on high, and to the meaning of the berit bein ha-betarim, "the covenant between the pieces."


We learned about the significance of the connection between Mount Moriya and the Akeida, in its broad and comprehensive aspects. We dealt with the question of why the site of the Mikdash was hidden from the time of the Akeida to the days of David. We examined the relationship between Mount Moriya and Mount Sinai – between the beginning of creation and the beginning of the revelation to Israel in the wilderness. We noted that Mount Moriya is the point of beginning and end: it is the place where the world was created, and where the redemption of the world will take place sometime in the future, when the entire world will recognize God's kingdom. It was on Mount Sinai that the people of Israel solidified themselves into a nation in the aftermath of the exodus from Egypt, and from that point on, the movement started from Mount Sinai back to Mount Moriya.


Regarding the Patriarch Yitzchak, we focused on the fact that he was a "perfect whole offering," and on his connection to the wells. In the context of the Patriarch Yaakov, we dealt with the perpetuation of the special sanctity of Bet-El and the meaning of the matzevot, which was a unique feature of Yaakov's Divine service.


3) The people of Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness. We learned about the sanctity of Mount Sinai and the relationship between the incident of the burning bush and the revelation at Mount Sinai. We noted the temporary nature of the sanctity of Mount Sinai, which resulted from the revelation – in contrast to the sanctity of Mount Moriya, which was a direct consequence of God's selection of the site from the time that the world was first created.


            The first explicit mention of the Mikdash in the Torah is found in the Song of the Sea, where it is directly connected to the acceptance of God's kingship, following the defeat of Pharaoh and the Egyptians at the sea and the recognition of that kingship on the part of the world's greatest power and its ruler. From there, we continued to the fundamental understanding of the Mikdash as the site of God's kingdom, at the heart of which is His throne – the keruvim – and that a significant portion of the service (prostration, the commandment to fear the Mikdash, guarding the Mikdash, and the like) constitutes an expression of the connection to the king in his own house.


4) Mishkanlekhatchila or bedi'eved? In addition to the exegetical and chronological question of whether the commandment to build the Mishkan preceded or followed the sin of the golden calf, we dealt with an essential question regarding the Mishkan: Is the ideal situation one in which communal worship is performed in one place and by a single tribe, or perhaps one in which that service is much more popular, performed in many places, and performed by representatives of each and every family (the firstborns)? Is the Mishkan meant to distance any trace of corporeality of God, or is it supposed to give tangible expression to the presence of the Shekhina?


At the end of the discussion, we suggested that there are two different types of revelation that correspond to the different ways in which God reveals Himself in the world in general. In chapter 1 of the book of Bereishit, God conceals Himself, as it were, in the world of nature, and He grants man "possession" of the world. In this sense, man's mission as the master of creation is to build a house for God in one place that will give expression to the world's connection to Him and His providence over the entire world. In chapters 2-3, God is represented as master of the created world, and man is but a guest in His house; God dwells everywhere, and from this perspective, building a Mishkan in one place constricts God's Shekhina, as it were.


5) The dedication of the Mishkan. We compared the three different accounts of the dedication of the Mishkan in the books of Shemot, Vayikra and Bamidbar. We examined the chronologies, the relationship between the seven days of milu'im and the eighth day, and the significance of the sacrifices brought by the tribal princes. In light of all this, we tried to  understand the dates of the building and the dedication of the first Temple, the second Temple, and the Temple of Yechezkel; we focused on the relationship between Nisan and Tishrei, which reflects different understandings of the purpose of the Mikdash – is it intended exclusively for Israel, or was it meant from the very beginning for the entire world?


Intermediate Summary: Thus far in our examination of the history of the resting of the Shekhina, we have followed the history of the Divine service from the days of creation (Adam, Kayin, Hevel and No'ach) and the patriarchs to the building of the Mikdash. We started with individuals who served God each man in his own way and in accordance with his particular time and nature. We continued with "the father of many nations," whose mission was to establish a family and people which would serve God. Thus, on the one hand, Avraham strove to draw the world near to God, and on the other hand, he merited a revelation of the site of the future Mikdash, in the sense of "an act of the fathers is a sign for the sons." This was, however, a one-time revelation, a momentary flash, which was meant at its time exclusively for Avraham and Yitzchak (even the lads who accompanied them did not reach the place), and afterwards was forgotten. When Israel entered into the land, the place of the Mikdash was not known. Hundreds of years passed before David began to seek out God's place, and the site of the Akeida is revealed to him anew after Israel is united under his kingship and by virtue of his extreme dedication.


            A different process began when Israel went down to Egypt and became a nation enslaved in Egypt that wished to be liberated from it. In this process, Mount Sinai (which had been torn off from Mount Moriya "like challa from dough;" Midrash Tehilim 68) assumes an important role, after the people of Israel recognized God's kingdom for the first time at the splitting of the Red Sea. In this way, Israel evolved from a set of individuals enslaved to Pharaoh, the leader of the world's superpower, into a people composed of servants of God. The clear continuation of this one-time revelation at Sinai was the construction of the Mishkan in the heart of the camp of Israel, and from there began the movement back to Eretz Yisrael in general and Mount Moriya in particular.


II.         Introduction to this year's lectures


In our lectures this year, we will complete our study of the history of the resting of the Shekhina from the time of the building of the Mishkan until the end of the second Temple period. We will not deal with the structure of the Mishkan or the Mikdash or with the vessels used and the service performed therein. With God's help, these topics will be studied in a separate lecture series.


We will open the year with another issue that touches upon the essence of the Mishkan: the relationship between the Mishkan and the altars and matzevot that came before it, and the novelty in the Mishkan in comparison to the nature of the Divine service before it was erected.


We will then consider the wanderings of the Mishkan in the wilderness.


As an introduction to the entry into Eretz Yisrael, we will examine two perspectives on the Torah's attitude toward the future resting of the Shekhina in Eretz Yisrael: "the place which the Lord your God shall choose" and the territory of Binyamin as the territory of the Shekhina.


We will continue with a study of the stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael, giving special attention to the status of Shilo. We will also deal with the building of the altar and the writing on the stones at Mount Eival, during the blessing and curse assembly conducted there, the special covenant made in Eretz Yisrael, and the assembly held in Shekhem. Then we shall deal with the Divine service during the period of the Shoftim and in the days of Shmuel and Shaul.


In the continuation, we will examine David's attitude toward the Mikdash and his part in its building. We will try to understand the meaning of the transition from Mishkan to Mikdash through an examination of Shlomo's attitude toward the Mikdash.


We will consider the service of God in Yehuda and in Israel during the first Temple period (bamot, calves, idolatry) and the background of the Mikdash's destruction.


From there, we will shift to the days of the return to Zion; we will discuss the returnees' new attitude to the Mikdash, examining the differences between the days of the first Temple and the second Temple period. We will conclude our study with the history of the resting of the Shekhina until the end of the second Temple period.


With my blessings for a fruitful and pleasant year,

Yitzchak Levi.


(Translated by David Strauss)