By Shmuel Sackett
This article appears in the Oct. 14, '13 edition the Queens Jewish Link.
Exactly 849 years ago, the Rambam (Maimonides) wrote a very important letter. That letter describes how he risked his life to come on a visit to Israel. It was during the time of the Crusades and life in Israel – for Jews – was indeed one of great danger. He arrived in Israel, in the port city of Akko on the 3rd of Sivan 4925 and was so excited that he arrived safely, after surviving many life-threatening storms at sea, that he wrote the following:
"On the third day of the month of Sivan, I left the ship in peace at the port of Akko, having been delivered from destruction and arrived in the land of Israel. I made a vow that this would henceforth be a day of joy and happiness, in which I would enjoy a festive meal and give charitable gifts to the poor, as would my household, until the end of time."
The Rambam continues his letter by telling us what he did a few months later in the month of MarCheshvan. "On the fourth day of the month of MarCheshvan, in the year 4926 from the time of creation, I left Akko and set out for Jerusalem, encountering many dangers along the way. I entered the Great and Holy House (the area of the Bet Ha'Mikdash – the Temple Mount) and prayed there on the sixth of the month of MarCheshvan. On the ninth of the month, I left Jerusalem and set out for Hebron, to visit the graves of our Forefathers in the Cave of Machpelah. On that day I stood and prayed at the cave – may G-d be praised for everything! These two days, the sixth and ninth of MarCheshvan, I vowed will be for me like festival days, filled with prayer and happiness, food and drink… Just as I merited being able to pray in its (the Holy Temple's) ruins, may I soon see its comfort (rebuilding) speedily – amen!"
In case you didn't grasp the magnitude of what the Rambam wrote, allow me to summarize one part of that letter: On the 6th of MarCheshvan 4926 the Rambam prayed on the Temple Mount. The language he used in his letter was "The Great and Holy House" which is the exact same wording we say every time in the Grace after Meals: "Have mercy, Hashem our G-d, on Israel Your people; on Jerusalem, Your city; on Zion, the resting place of Your Glory; on the monarchy of the house of David, Your anointed; and on the Great and Holy House upon which your Name is called…"
In celebration of that historic event, my wife and I made all the preparations necessary according to Jewish law and we walked in the footsteps of the great Rambam. What an honor to be able to do such a wonderful thing! We ascended the Temple Mount, under the Jewish law guidelines of the scholarly Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, known and the #1 worldwide expert on the Holy Temple, the Temple Mount and everything connected to that awesome experience.
Rabbi Ariel is the founder of The Temple Institute (Machon Ha'Mikdash). In today's Jewish bookstores there are many books about the Holy Temple, many beautiful posters (you probably even had some hanging in your Sukkah) and even children's games and puzzles dealing with the Temple. All of these items – every single one of them – are the fruits of the labor of Rabbi Ariel. He was the initiator and the catalyst in reviving the Temple and bringing it back into Jewish consciousness. I remember when you could barely find a Jewish book dealing with the Bet Ha'Mikdash. At most, there were some books dealing with the Tabernacle, but the Holy Temple??? – Nothing could be found.
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel changed all that. He opened the Temple Institute and started building actual vessels for the 3rd Temple. Today, they have over 60 vessels ready for use. Let me repeat that in different words: Instead of just waiting or singing "Next Year in Jerusalem", a group of people led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel have decided to do something about it. They opened a seminary of major Torah scholars who sit and learn all day about the Holy Temple. These scholars are dedicated to understanding the deep concepts of the Temple and they are applying them to our modern day. They have built vessels that are 100% kosher for use in the Temple including the Menorah, the Table and the Gold incense altar. After 11 years of exhaustive research they have designed and manufactured clothing for the Kohanim (priests) and the Kohel Gadol (High Priest) – complete with his breastplate and actual precious gems! They have made the "kiyor" (special sink for Kohanim to wash their hands and feet) plus the trumpets, measuring vessels, spoons and unique pitcher for the water libation. In addition to all these amazing vessels, they have published Mishnahs with accurate drawings and diagrams of the Mikdash, Haggadahs, Machzors (which focus on the holidays during the Temple period), detailed books with amazing commentaries, and a large collection of pictures and children's books, puzzles and games.
Thanks to their lead, others have jumped into the game and have written similar books, including ArtScroll which just came out with a beautiful book on the Holy Temple. You will also find DVD's, informative websites and even a "virtual tour" online of our holiest site. As stated above, this is all thanks to the leadership and vision of Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, may he be blessed with long life.
On that great "Rambam Day" – the 6th of MarCheshvan – Rabbi Ariel went up to the Temple Mount and led a large group who were also following in the footsteps of the Rambam. It was a wonderful day and I thank G-d for the privilege to be able to enter His special place and walk in the permitted areas. May we soon see the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in all its glory and splendor!