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Why Not Rebuild the Tabernacle First?

Israel is obligated to rebuild the Holy Temple: this commandment applies in every generation.

Given the difficulties and obstacles involved in rebuilding the Holy Temple today in its proper place - Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - some wonder why Israel does not first rebuild the Tabernacle, at least as a temporary plan, until such time as circumstances permit the Temple to be rebuilt properly.

Firstly, let us understand that on a conceptual level, the Tabernacle and the Temple are one idea... not two separate commandments. The commandment of "And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary, that I will dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8), before being actualized in its permanent location, was first fulfilled through the traveling Tabernacle - a miniature version of the Holy Temple in modest form. But there were also differences between the Tabernacle, as described in the Torah, and the structure of the Temple, as explained in Tractate Middot. There were also differences between the First and Second Temples.

There is a distinct relationship between the Tabernacle of the desert, and the Holy Temple which stands in Jerusalem. In order to illustrate why the Temple was preceded by the Tabernacle, the rabbis of the Talmud utilized a parable:

"Rabbi Judah the Prince arranged for his son to marry. The Rabbi agreed to provide for his son's livelihood for twelve years, so that the latter would be able to continue with his holy studies unhindered. At the end of this period the marriage would take place. When the son was introduced to his betrothed, he was quite pleased, and said 'Let the wedding take place in six years, instead.' But later, when the youth had occasion to see his bride a second time, he said 'Let us have the wedding now! And then I shall go and continue with my studies.'

The boy was afraid that his father would be annoyed with him, on account of his efforts to bring forward the date of the wedding. But Rabbi Judah told him: 'My son! On the contrary! Why, you have acted just as G-d Himself did! For at first, the Torah states (Ex. 15:7): 'You shall bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance... in the Sanctuary, G-d, which Your hands have established.' (This means that when the Jews will enter into the Promised Land, they will then build the Temple). But afterwards Scripture suddenly states: 'And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary, that I will dwell among them' (Ex. 24:8) - meaning now, in the desert (Ketubot 62:B).

This anecdote of Rabbi Judah the Prince helps us to understand the connection between the Temple and the earlier Tabernacle.

The main objective of the commandment to build the Temple is to establish it on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount. Nevertheless, on account of G-d's love for the Jewish people - just as the anxious groom of the story wants to go ahead and marry his bride as soon as possible, so too, the Holy One sought to bring forward the time of His intimacy with His chosen people.

Therefore, He commanded them to erect a temporary, traveling Tabernacle of gold-plated cedar wood until the fixed Temple in Jerusalem would be built, so that He could be close to Israel during this intermediary period until they entered into the land.

The Tabernacle and the Temple are not two separate entities; in reality they are one and the same. This idea is emphasized even more emphatically by the commentators and scholars who point out that by comparison, the measurements of the Temple in Jerusalem reflect those of the Tabernacle. For example: the area of the Tabernacle was ten cubits by thirty; the Temple stood at twenty cubits by sixty. The idea is that although the Tabernacle's measurements were relatively small - small enough to enable it to travel conveniently through the desert - still, along general lines of comparison the two structures follow the same pattern of design.

But once the Holy Temple was erected in its permanent, pre-designated location in Jerusalem, the era of the Tabernacle officially came to a close... and the Tabernacle, for all practice and purpose, became as ancient history for Israel. New factors came into being, which irrevocably altered the previous situation: The altar of the Temple was established on its designated spot, the place on which Isaac had been bound by his father Abraham. And the Sanctuary itself was erected on "shoulder" of Mount Moriah, in keeping with the verse "He shall dwell between his shoulders" (Deut. 33:12) This is the spot which had been chosen by G-d since the very beginning of time; it was David and Samuel who clarified that it was indeed this spot, the "threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite" (II Samuel 24:18) that G-d had chosen to rest His presence for all time. From the time that the first Holy Temple was built by King Solomon, there would be no going back to the Tabernacle.

 

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