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?
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, 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. 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. 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, where all prayers are gathered prior ascending to G-d. The Temple is the power source of the Jewish Nation. It is the place of the Shekhina, or Divine Presence, in this world. 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." The Temple is the place of prophecy. It is the only place where sacrifices can be brought and atonement made for the Nation. 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. 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. 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. 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.