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Where is the Original Holy Temple?

This week’s parasha, Terumah, is the first of four sections of the Torah that describes all the materials to be used for the construction of the “Mishkan,” the portable Temple and the vessel and furniture used inside for the sacrificial service. This portable structure accompanied the Israelites during their stay in the Wilderness of Sinai as well as when they first settled in Israel. There it served as the spiritual center for the Jewish nation for over 300 years until the construction of the Beit HaMikdash, The Temple, in Jerusalem under the direction of King Solomon. Its use was primarily for the purpose of offering sacrifices, individual and communal, as well as for prayer. The Sanhedrin HaGadol, the Great Court, also convened there in a special chamber. God commands, “Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst.” (Shemot 25:8) Yet we must ask, is this the first dwelling place of God? If not, what was and perhaps still is the first and original sanctuary for God?

The answer to this question comes from various statements found throughout Tanakh and Tefilah. “And Abram said, ‘I lift up my hand to Hashem, God, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth.’” “How abundant are Your works Hashem, in wisdom You made them all, the earth is full of Your possessions.” (Psalms 104) “Holy, Holy, Holy, is Hashem, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) The very first “Temple of Hashem” is the physical universe. “But will God in very truth dwell on earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less the house that I have built!” (King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Holy Temple, Kings I 8:27) The first blessing before the Shema, both evening and morning, is in praise of God, Creator of the universe. How did these great people first come to recognize God?

The Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a relates, “אדם הראשון, Adam the first man, was afraid of sunset. He thought that perhaps it was a punishment. But when the sun rose again, he said this is דרך העולם, natural law.” The Talmud continues, “when he saw the days getting shorter, he thought again it was a punishment until he saw the days getting longer. Again, he exclaimed, דרך העולם, this is the natural way of the world.” The Talmud contrasts Adam’s reaction to that of pagans and idol worshipers who make celebrations and holidays in recognition of these natural phenomena. What was the difference Adam and the pagans? Adam studied the physical universe and discovered that it worked according to fixed natural laws as dictated by the wisdom of the Creator.

This too was the approach of Abraham, David, Isaiah, our forefathers, and all of our prophets, and scholars. “For this reason, you find all the prophets point to the spheres and stars when they want to prove that there must exist a Divine Being.”(Maimonides, “Guide for the Perplexed,” Part II, Chapter 19). Maimonides goes on to site numerous verses in Tanakh that substantiate his opinion.

As my teacher, Rav Yisroel Chait explained, “we can deduce one ethical principle from this small piece of Talmud. If you don’t recognize natural law, you are prone to idol worship.” At the opening of the Torah, we are told the heavenly bodies are to serve as a giant timepiece or clock to count days, seasons, and years. (Bereshit 1:14) From the outset the Torah removes any mystical association to the celestial bodies. They are physical creations that operate according to the natural law established by the Creator of the Universe. Historically, the only people not to have astrology as part of its religion is Judaism. The heavenly bodies have a very practical function, to properly calculate the passage of time. However, their composition and motion find their explanation are properly understood only when the knowledge of science is pursued.

However, when the secular world uses the term “nature,” they are trying to evade the philosophical question, where did the system of natural law come from? Since all science is the study of causality, the question, what is the cause of natural law, must also be explored. Secular scientists use the term “nature” to include everything we see that follows a pattern, rule or principle. It stands for the way they see and understand physical phenomena but without evoking God.

Our Torah says this attitude is both foolish and false. An honest investigator can’t deny that there must be a source or cause of the nature. Nature doesn’t have its own inherent, independent existence. There is no basis for this premise. Moreover, it denies the very foundation of all science, which is to find the cause. Therefore, no person has the rational right to posit such a philosophy. Their use of the term “nature” is employed to avoid the issue of God.

In contradistinction to the secularists, the Torah’s term for “nature,” דרך העולם or טבע refers not only to the phenomena but to the source as well. Nature is not an independent force or existence. Rather it is the primary and initial way all people should come to recognize the בורא עולם, the Creator of the Universe. That first and profoundly significant recognition of God is generated by the study of any part of the physical universe. “All of them were made with Your wisdom.” “The whole world if filled with Your glory.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that all of our great Torah and halakhic sages were also secular scholars in various branches of science and mathematics. Since the Torah and the universe have the same Creator, both subjects, upon investigation, reflect and reveal the wisdom of the Creator. Having the same source, Torah and science cannot, ultimately, contradict each other. This reality is so crucial to Judaism that we set aside one day a week, the most holy day of Shabbat, in total recognition of God, Creator of heaven and earth.

The Temple built by Solomon has the same purpose as the universe created by God. They are both constructed and designed to bring the recognition of God to mankind. “Moreover, concerning the stranger that is not of Thy people Israel, when they shall come out of a far country for Thy name’s sake, for they shall hear Thy great name…that all people of the earth may know Thy great name, to be in awe of Thee as do Thy people Israel and that they may know that Thy name is called upon this house which I have built.” (Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, Kings I, 8:41-43)

The universe, the Mishkan in the desert and the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem have one and the same purpose. They are all Divinely created structures designed to make known to all people the presence and accessibility of God. Only through this recognition can mankind truly establish a close personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan

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