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Understanding Temple Worship

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Rabbi David Sperling

Sivan 30, 5772
Question
I would like to first thank you for the wonderful service you provide in answering Jewish questions of all types in such a warm and caring way. I have recently been troubled by a problem regarding our perception of korbanot in the beit hamikdash. Disregarding other (kabbalalistic) explanations, it seems reasonable to accept the Rambam’s position that sacrifices allowed the Jewish people, ensconced in the Egyptian culture they were brought up in, to wean from their idolatrous ways (Moreh Nevukhim 3:32). Many rabbis have since developed the argument that while the system of the beit hamikdash worship may seem imperfect (obviously, HaShem does need sacrificed animals) the established service provided a means of worship the Jewish people could psychologically handle; a shifting to the true King. If we accept this reasonable argument, why do we yearn for its restoration every day in our prayers? In a civilization that is so far removed from the slaughtering methods of worship, I can’t understand why we wish to return to it when meshiach comes. On the contrary, how can we in this day and age fathom the idea of watching animal sacrifices in a temple? How does this theological concept to rebuild a House of Worship, and the midrash that only shlamim will be offered in the messianic era, account for the concept that its very existence was to accommodate the Jews’ worship during a disparate era of pagan idolatry. Thank you again for your time and wisdom.
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your sincere and interesting question. Your question seems to lend itself to answer itself - if this approach to understanding the Temple leads us to wonder at the need for a future Temple, when all Jewish sources, and indeed the prophets themselves, indicate a third and everlasting Temple, then it seems likely that these explanations were never meant to be the only, limited, explanation of sacrifices. (For this reason the Ramban argues strongly against the Rambam's ideas). The Rambam himself writes in other places that the sacrifices are a pillar on which the world stands, and even though we do not fully understand them, they have immense import. There are really two issues that you raise - firstly the need for a Temple itself, and secondly the need for sacrifices. In regards to the need for a Temple, may I quote you an answer given on our site in the past by Rav Samson - "Question: After reading your essay last week on the importance of Jerusalem, I understand the tragedy involved in its destruction. Less clear to me is the focus that is put on the destruction of the Temple. Won’t any synagogue do? And why does it have to be on the Temple Mount? Answer: The Temple, or Beit HaMikdash, as it is called in Hebrew, is not a synagogue, as such. While it is true that the Sages have compared our synagogues today to miniature temples,[1] there are a great many differences. The Temple is first and foremost the place where G-d can be worshipped by all the Jewish People.[2] It is a positive commandment to build the Temple on the Temple Mount, and for the Jewish People to congregate there three times a year, on the Festivals.[3] This idea of the centrality of the Temple to Jewish life and worship finds expression in the interesting law that synagogues the world over must be built facing Jerusalem,[4] where all prayers are gathered prior ascending to G-d.[5] The Temple is the power source of the Jewish Nation. It is the place of the Shekhina, or Divine Presence, in this world.[6] Without the Beit HaMikdash standing in its place, the Jewish People operate at but a tiny fraction of their real power. The Gaon of Vilna teaches that without the Temple the Jewish People are like a dead body: "From the time of the destruction of the Temple our spirit has left us, the crown of our head was lost, and we remain body without a soul."[7] The Temple is the place of prophecy.[8] It is the only place where sacrifices can be brought and atonement made for the Nation.[9] The Midrash teaches that if the nations of the world realized the value of the Temple to all of humanity, they would surround it with their armies to guard it for the Jews.[10] Since the destruction of the Temple, we have been in a state of cardiac arrest. The fulfillment of our prayers for the return of the Shekhina to Jerusalem, and for the renewal of our Divine service with the Cohanim performing their avodah, the Leviim returning to their song, and the tribes of Israel returning to their designated places, can only come about with the re-establishment of the Temple.[11] May these days of sorrow and tribulations be transformed into days of happiness and song, in fulfillment of our prayers to return to Zion in gladness and to the House of G-d in eternal joy.[12] 1. Mishna Berurah, 151:1. 2. Ramban, Laws of the Temple, 1:1. 3. Ibid. 4. Berachot, 30A. 5. Kings, 1:29. 6. Exodus, 25:8. 7. Likutei HaGra, after commentary on Safra deTznuta. 8. Kuzari, Chapter 2. 9. Megilla, 1:11. 10. Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 1. 11. Amidah prayer. 12. Yom Kippur Musaf Prayer." In relation to your second point, about the renewal of the sacrifices, I could suggest two different approaches. The first is to try and learn the other approaches to sacrifices - Ramban, Kuzari, etc. Their explanations also apply for the future times. Alternatively, there is an approach (though to be fair, it is a very minor opinion) that indicates that in the future (perhaps late future) the offerings will no longer be of animals. See for example, Rav Kook, both in his siddur on the end of the Amidah, and also in Pinkasay HaRe'iyah, volume 1, p 8-11. Blessings.
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