By Rabbi Yaakov Ariel
“They shall make Me a sanctuary” (Exodus 25:8). This verse is the source of the
mitzvah of building the Temple. This mitzvah applies to the Jewish People as a community.
The greatest obligation applies to the king, his being the highest public authority. Yet we find that during the Second Temple period, the Jewish People built the Temple even without a king, but by means of the community leaders who were there at the time. This mitzvah does not apply to individuals or groups, but upon all of Israel in the aggregate. Therefore, only when the Jewish People unite in concerted longing to rebuild the Temple will it be possible to do so.
It is worthy of note that the redemption process in our generation began with
involvement in the mitzvah of rebuilding the Temple. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, one of the first Rabbis to focus on the return to Zion, was the first to raise the idea of sacrificing the Pesach Offering in Jerusalem. He held that this was possible in both practical and halachic terms. Moreover, he held that this was a mitzvah that we are obligated to fulfill with our own hands and not to wait for it to be fulfilled miraculously. He approached his master, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and asked him if in his opinion there was any halachic obstacle to his idea. Due to his old age, Rabbi Akiva Eiger sent him to his son-in-law, the Chattam Sofer, and indeed the Chattam Sofer responded to Rabbi Kalisher (Chattam Sofer, Responsa Yoreh Deah 236) that he saw no halachic obstacle to renewing the Temple service in our day. He pointed out, however, that he viewed the idea as having no practical chance of being implemented for political reasons (the Turkish Sultan was a harsh man, and, he thought, would not agree...). The Chattam Sofer did not reject the idea out of hand, claiming that the Temple would be built by itself. He agreed to the presumption that it had to be built by man.
Rabbi Tzvi Kalisher made waves and aroused numerous reactions for and against. The focus of the question was: Will the Third Temple be built by man or by descent from Heaven? Rabbi Kalisher himself understood that the idea could not be fulfilled in the near future. Yet several important results emerged from the very raising of the idea:
1. The debate itself increased awareness of the topic and brought many closer to his great vision, whose time now seems to be coming closer and closer. Redemption is not just some abstract topic that is going to become real in the end of days. Rather, it is very near.
2. The important question of whether the future Temple will descend from Heaven or be built by men has been extended to the whole redemption process, to the ingathering of the exiles and to making the desert bloom, and it has become clear that at least in regard to those questions we must rise and act with our own hands. We must not wait for these things to fall miraculously out of Heaven. It is G-d’s will that we should settle our land.
It was from these questions that the practical process began of collecting contributions, purchasing lands, establishing an agricultural school and starting settlements in the Land. The Zionist process began from this mitzvah of “They shall make Me a sanctuary,” and it still longs for fulfillment of yet another verse: “The mountain of the L-rd’s house shall be established in the mountain-tops.... For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Gd from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).