In the Blink of an Eye

Tisha B’Av – Parashat VaEtchanan 5780

Meir Sendor

In our daily prayers, three times a day, we ask HaShem to “return the divine service to the innermost sanctum of Your House, and the fire offerings of Israel and their prayers in love receive with favor.” We could take this to mean we pray for restoration of the Temple modeled on the original Second Temple or its refurbished Herodian version that was destroyed and for the resumption of animal sacrifice as its essential service, as Maimonides indicates in his great halakhic code Mishneh Torah (Beit HaBehirah 1:1, Melakhim 11:1).  Or we could follow Maimonides’ daring insight in his great philosophic work Guide of the Perplexed (3:32), that animal sacrifice was a provisional mode of ancient worship with the divine intent that our nation evolve and mature to serve God predominantly through prayer and fasting and eventually, he hints cleverly, through meditation. Then “innermost sanctum” could connote the spiritual essence of the Temple and the “fire offerings” could be understood as a metaphor for spiritual passion, as some commentators suggest, and we could imagine a spiritual center of contemplative devotion. These and those are the words of Maimonides. So what are we praying for, every day, and praying and fasting for with special intensity on Tisha B’Av?

Rebbe Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, ztz”l, the Klausenberger Rebbe, in a halakhic responsum in Divrei Yetziv (HM 87), wrestles with the question of how the Third Beit HaMikdash will be built, speedily in our days. The Rebbe was an extraordinary Gadol, with vision and realism both. He was a heroic leader during the Shoah who survived and helped many others survive horror after horror, guiding those around him with moral clarity and deep spiritual intuition. One story: on the notorious death-march from Auschwitz, at the end of the third day, the Jews were completely exhausted, without food or water. Everyone collapsed in a field. When the guards were sleeping the Rebbe passed the word around: “Everyone should dig beneath themselves. ‘God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye (Pesikta Zutarti, Esther 4:17).’” People started to dig with anything they could, with branches of wood, with their fingers. And all around the field little springs of water started to bubble up, saving lives. But the Rebbe himself did not drink: it was Tisha B’Av. He lived to establish flourishing communities and organizations in the States and especially here in Israel where he ultimately settled.

The Rebbe notes that there are two general approaches in the sources to the question how the Third Temple will be built. There’s Maimonides’ position in Beit HaBehirah:

רמב”ם הלכות בית הבחירה פרק א הלכה א

מצות עשה לעשות בית ליי’ מוכן להיות מקריבים בו הקרבנות, וחוגגין אליו שלש פעמים בשנה שנאמר ועשו לי מקדש


It is a positive mitzvah to make a house for HaShem, ready to offer in it the sacrifices, and for the pilgrimage festivals three times a year, as it says “make for Me a sanctuary (Ex. 25:8).”

According to this position, a Temple, like the original Mishkan and the succeeding two Temples, needs to be built by human work. So, too, for the Third Temple. But there is another line of thought found in Rashi and Tosafot:

רש”י מסכת ראש השנה דף ל עמוד א

בנין העתיד לבא – בידי שמים הוא.


Rashi Rosh HaShanah 30a

The [Temple] Building of the future will be by the agency of Heaven.

תוספות מסכת סוכה דף מא עמוד א

מקדש העתיד בנוי ומשוכלל יגלה ויבא מן השמים שנא’ מקדש ה’ כוננו ידיך.


Tosafot, ibid.

The Temple of the future, built and perfect, will be revealed and come from Heaven, as it says “the Temple of HaShem that Your Hands have established (Ex. 15:17).”

The Klausenberger Rebbe suggests that the source text for Rashi and Tosafat is a version of the midrash Bemidbar Rabbah (12):

ומקדש ה’ כוננו ידיך זה בית שלישי שיהיה דוקא מעשי ידיך שלא יתעסק בו שום אדם כלל


“The Temple of HaShem that Your Hands have established (Ex. 15:17),” this is the Third House, that will be specifically the work of Your Hands, for no human being shall be involved with it at all.

The Rebbe also notes that this is the position found in the Gemara Baba Kama and echoed in the Zohar, based on the principle that God Himself follows the halakhot of His Torah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף ס עמוד ב

שלם ישלם המבעיר את הבערה – אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: עלי לשלם את הבערה שהבערתי, אני הציתי אש בציון, שנאמר: ויצת אש בציון ותאכל יסודותיה, ואני עתיד לבנותה באש, שנאמר: ואני אהיה לה… חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה;


“The one who causes a fire shall surely pay [compensation] (Ex. 22:5).” The Holy One, blessed be He, said: it is upon Me to pay for the fire that I caused. I set fire in Zion, as it says “and fire went forth in Zion and consumed its foundations (Lam. 4),” and I will build it in the future with fire, as it says “I shall be for her… a wall of fire around and for Glory within her (Zekh. 2).”

This Gemara appears to side with the view that the Third Temple will be a divine construction. While the fire that destroyed the Second Temple was physical, authorized by Heaven, the fire with which the Third Temple will be built is a spiritual fire, as the Rebbe proves from the Gemara Hagigah (14b), when a spiritual aura surrounds the trees while Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Eleazar ben Arakh are discoursing on the mystical Work of the Chariot. This is similar to the fire referred to in this week’s parashah, when Moshe Rabbenu describes the revelation of the Torah at Sinai:

דברים פרק ד פסוק יא יב

ותקרבון ותעמדון תחת ההר וההר בער באש עד לב השמים חשך ענן וערפל:

וידבר יקוק אליכם מתוך האש קול דברים אתם שמעים ותמונה אינכם ראים זולתי קול:


And you came close and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire unto the heart of Heaven, darkness and cloud and obscurity. And HaShem spoke to you from the midst of the fire, a voice of words you heard but an image you did not see, just a voice.

So which will it be: a man-made Temple or a heaven-made Temple? The Klausenberger Rebbe invokes the principle “these and those are the words of the Living God (Eruvin 13)” and suggests three ways to resolve the disagreement.

First, based on a verse in Isaiah describing the Messianic era:

ישעיהו פרק ס פסוק כאכב

ועמך כלם צדיקים לעולם יירשו ארץ נצר מטעו מטעי מעשה ידי להתפאר:

הקטן יהיה לאלף והצעיר לגוי עצום אני יקוק בעתה אחישנה: ס


Your nation, they are all righteous, they will inherit the Land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands for glory. The least shall become a thousand and the youngest shall be a powerful nation, I am HaShem, in its time I will hasten it.

In the Gemara Sanhedrin a contradiction is noticed in the last phrase:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף צח עמוד א

אמר רבי אלכסנדרי: רבי יהושע בן לוי רמי, כתיב בעתה, וכתיב, אחישנה! זכו – אחישנה, לא זכו – בעתה


Rabbi Alexandri said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi compared the two phrases. It’s written “in its time” and it’s written  “I will hasten it.” If they are worthy: “I will hasten it.” If they are not worthy: “in its time.”

Will the ultimate redemption occur in its appointed time, or will God push it ahead of its time? It depends on whether we are worthy. The Klausenberger Rebbe applies the same principle here: if we are worthy, the Third Temple will be built by heaven, entirely new, a spiritual center of transcendent illumination. If we are not worthy, then it will be built by human beings based on the old model.

A second resolution: The original, man-made building will be revealed, but it will be transformed by Heaven into a new form.

A third approach: human beings will build the physical building, and upon that work HaShem’s Holy Temple shall descend as a heavenly fire surrounding it and infusing it.

I’ll leave it to you. When you pray daily and fast on Tisha B’Av for the Temple and for meaningful divine service and the spiritual advancement of our nation and our world – what is your vision? The prayer that we add on Tisha B’Av for the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem paraphrases the Gemara Baba Kama: “For You, HaShem, with fire ignited it, and with fire in the future You will rebuild it, as it says ‘I shall be for her, says HaShem, a wall of fire surrounding, and for glory within her.'” Whatever we pray for, we are asking HaShem to help us transform our consciousness and all human consciousness at its core, in the Holy of Holies of our hearts and minds. Will we be worthy? The world around us at the moment doesn’t look very promising. But “God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye – ישועת ד’ כהרף עין .”

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