Twenty-three… That is the number of times armies have surrounded the city of Jerusalem throughout history. Egyptians, Assyrians, Romans, Muslims, and Christian Crusaders have all had their turn.
Fifty-two… This is how many additional occasions the city has been attacked. It has been utterly destroyed twice.
Forty-four… That is how many times Jerusalem has been captured and recaptured.
Yet surpassing all these numbers combined, which come from Eric H. Cline’s Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, are the differing opinions on how to bring actual and lasting peace to the City of Peace.
Today, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians largely center on the Gaza Strip, which is just over twice the size of Washington, D.C., and is governed by the terrorist organization Hamas. For years, the global community has favored a two-state solution, with the idea of having two official nations—one Israeli, the other Palestinian—peacefully existing side by side. Often this answer includes the contested city of Jerusalem being under international supervision.
Yet repeated failures to implement this have left many disillusioned. For example, in the wake of the most recent Israeli response to Hamas firing rockets into the Jewish state, The Washington Post published an article titled “Beneath the Conflict in Gaza Lies the Death of the Two-State Solution.”
The publication cited a Pew research poll that showed a growing segment of Middle Easterners believe that Israel and an independent Palestine could never peacefully co-exist. In Egypt, the number of people who believe this jumped from 40 to 48 percent over last year. Tunisia rose 14 points to 71 percent during the same time. Among Israelis, it went from 38 to 45 percent, and in the Palestinian territories it rose from 61 to 63 percent.
The Post article stated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “signaled clearly…that the two-state solution was off the table. In a speech discussing the current Operation Protective Edge [the military campaign to stop rocket fire from Hamas], he made this stark pronouncement: ‘I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.’”
A growing number of Palestinians also favor alternate solutions, such as seeking full Israeli citizenship as part of a single bi-national state.
Even more perplexing in all of these attempts at peace is what to do with the Temple Mount. Some staunchly favor maintaining the status quo—allowing Muslim control of the area including the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic Dome of the Rock.
Yet the deep religious, historical and cultural importance of the site brings out a myriad of competing opinions, especially among those of the Jewish religion. The most visible are Israeli groups devoted to building a new temple on the site. (Two other Jewish temples have stood there previously.) These organizations seek to emulate the Israelites who returned from captivity to build the second temple in 538 BCE.
One such group ran a video advertisement that included the tagline, “This is the generation. The children are ready.” The words followed a sweeping camera shot of Jerusalem’s Old City featuring cranes and scaffolding circling an under-construction temple—with the two mosques nowhere to be seen.
This organization is doing everything in its power to ready a new center of worship: completing priestly garb to the specifications of Exodus 28, breeding red heifers for sacrifices, building a menorah from 95 pounds of gold with a price tag of $2 million, and so on.
Other Jews want a temple, but take a less potentially inflammatory approach by daily praying the words, “May it be your will, O my God and God of my fathers, that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days…”
Not all those of the Jewish faith agree. The group that favors a temple being built cites rabbinical teachings that their efforts may speed the coming of the Messiah. Others feel that no structure should be constructed until after the Messiah’s coming. One other tiny group feels Jews should not even be in the Holy Land until the Messiah comes.
Christian denominations are similarly mixed on the idea of a third temple.
Many evangelical groups—with Bible prophecy as a motivation—heartily support Israel and the building of a third temple. Some even send considerable sums of money each year for charitable causes in the nation. Similar to some in the Jewish community, they believe supporting Israel will help speed end-time events.
All of these plans and theories are stated without addressing a hulking roadblock.
Imagine the uproar if Israelis went on the mount and leveled the Dome of the Rock to make way for their own temple. The entire Muslim world—and potentially the whole international community—would rally against tiny Israel.
The Temple = Peace
It is quite difficult to ascertain how the third Temple will be reconstructed in this present environment and even in the days of the Rambam he wrote; "Even though the building destined to be built in the future is written about in Ezekiel, it is not explained nor is it clear" (Hilchot Beit Habechirah 1:4). The problem of Ezekiel's vision of a third Temple is so great and the obstacles seemingly so insurmountable that the Talmudic Sages wanted to throw the Book of Ezekiel out of the Jewish canon:
"Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Hananiah ben Hizkiah is most certainly remembered for good, for if it were not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been removed from the canon because his words seem to contradict the Torah. What did Hananiah do? They brought him up three hundred barrels of oil [for light and food] and he sat in an attic and reconciled all the difficulties" (Shabbat 13b and see Menachot 45a).
Ezekiel's prophecies and the idea of the Third Temple as well as any lasting peace in Jerusalem seems like a fantasy and an illusory hope for the desperate. Despite all of the efforts and money poured into this hope we are no closer to the actualization of this new era of peace. We are missing a piece of the puzzle when it comes to peace in the Near East and that missing piece is the Temple itself. The Sages and Prophets taught that the appearance of the Third Temple will usher in a period of great peace such as the world has never before witnessed. Peace and the Temple are inextricably linked together and this has given rise to two distinct opinions regarding the arrival of this utopian ideal.
Do we build the Temple ourselves and is peace a man-made endeavor?
Will a Messiah come and by Divine intervention bring peace and rebuild the Temple?
Rambam states that the main identifying sign of the Messiah will be that he will physically build the Third Temple in its proper place (Hilchot Melachim 11:4). Thus the position of the Rambam and those who follow this line of thought is that we should labor towards this ideal scenario because at the proper time we will physically build the Temple and thereby establish the peace through our physical efforts.
Rashi has a different perspective; "The future Temple for which we are waiting will be revealed and come down from heaven fully built and complete, as it is written (Exodus 15:17): 'The Sanctuary, God, that Your hands established'" (Rashi on Succah 41a and see Tosafot there; see also Rashi on Rosh Hashanah 30a and Tosafot on Shavuot 15b). According to Rashi's point of view all human efforts are in vain without the direct miraculous intervention of God and this will be manifested when the Temple will descend from the skies completely built and intact. This is why many Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to this day oppose the State of Israel for according to their beliefs only this Divine miraculous occurence can bring about the age of peace which they see as inclusive of the restoration of Israel.
Which view is correct? Is Rambam or Rashi closer to the truth?
There is a third view from the Ramchal who asserts; "In time to come, not only will the Heavenly and earthly Temples be similar. The Upper House will extend until it reaches the lower world. This is the meaning of the saying of our Rabbis that the Third Temple will be the work of the hands of God. For the Heavenly Temple will not be uprooted from its place. Rather it will extend until it reaches the lower world. Around it a physical structure will then be built as befits this material world, and the two structures will be joined and become one and will never again separate. God's glory will be fully revealed there, as it is said: 'And the glory of God will be revealed, and all flesh will see' (Isaiah 40:5). Then there will be complete peace and happiness forever." The Ramchal is stating that the Divine will directly influence and inspire the physical construction of the earthly (lower) Temple which will usher in peace. Thus according to the Ramchal's third view, he has harmonized the previous two.
Does this mean that we should tear down the Al Aqsa Mosque and forcibly rebuild the Temple? Not at all. Peace will never be a reality through violence and compulsion. The teachings that we have dealt with thus far lend credence to the idea that we must physically put effort into rebuilding the Temple and the investment made here below will be met half-way by an investment from above. Each of us are responsible to work towards the labor of the Temple though and giving money to a Temple Institute will not push progress forward towards our intended purpose. The responsibility to build the Temple was given to the Jewish people in the Torah; "And you shall make a sanctuary for me; that I may dwell among them." The Or Hachayim asks why the Torah states “and you shall make a Sanctuary for me”, and then in the next verse it says “the form of the Tabernacle…so shall you do”. Are we talking about the Temple or the Tabernacle? The Or Hachayim writes that the commandment to make a Temple for is not only referring to the time when Israel was in the desert, but includes all of Jewish history from the time that we were in the desert to the time that we entered the land of Israel. He writes that when the Jewish people are in the land of Israel, and even in a time of Galut (exile), the mitzvah to build the Temple/Tabernacle still applies.
The Malbim answers this question, in his work entitled Remazey HaMishkan (Illusions of the Sanctuary), he explains that we each have to build inside of ourselves a Temple, that each one of us must provide a residence for God's presence.
Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the renowned student of the Gaon of Vilna, said that the commandment to construct a Tabernacle is primarily a personal commandment; every Jew is “a living tabernacle in miniature." God rests the Shechinah, His Divine Presence, primarily in the human heart. The Zohar compares every Jew to the Temple (i.e. the permanent Tabernacle). Just like the center of the Temple is the Holy of Holies, the center of the human being is his heart. His head is above him, his feet are beneath him, so the heart which is at the midpoint of his trunk, is the actual center of his being. Just as the holiness that is the source of all that is good in the world emanates from the Holy of Holies, the life force of the human emanates from the heart. Thus the unification of the higher Temple with the lower Temple is the alignment of the brain with the heart.
The human personality consists of three layers: intellect (what we think), emotion (what we feel) and action (what we do). The human psyche suffers from the dysfunction of dualistic perception and therefore cannot perceive through the illusion to the reality of oneness. Each of these three aspects of the human being are in a state of consistent opposition to one another and at times one over powers another so that we may think, feel or act in a manner that we wish we wouldn't. Much of the time we are unaware of our true motivations.
Each of us, being the microcosm of the Temple, must purify and clean the our Temple by aligning the three levels of intellect, emotion and action. Clearing out all of the idols from these areas of our psyche will allow the Divine presence to rest upon us and bring peace to our Temples. This is the work each of us is "required" to perform. Only when we each contribute to building the Temple in this manner will the greater Temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt in the physical world as it will be a collective Temple reflecting the universal rectification of Israel.
With this in mind we must inform people that their complaining about current events, lack of spiritual development in Israel, the failure of the peace plan, etc. is an uncontrollable external manifestation of their own personal refusal to participate in the construction of the Temple. Each and every one of us is personally responsible for both perpetuating world chaos and for ending it and bringing lasting peace.