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"And when you make for Me an altar of stones, you shall not build them of hewn stones, lest you wield your sword upon it and desecrate it." Exodus 20:22

 

Building a Holy Temple begins with the first stone. With this in mind, the Temple Institute has embarked upon building the mizbeach - the stone altar. On the 9th of Av, 5769, (July 30, 2009), the Temple Institute called upon every Jew who was willing to shed his mourning sackcloth, and roll up his work sleeves, and who was ready to curtail his participation in the traditional Tish'a b'Av afternoon custom of studying chapters of Torah which deal with the destruction of the Holy Temple, and to instead occupy themselves with the blood, sweat and tears of real-life preparation for the building of the Holy Temple and the renewal of the Divine service. In a word, to build a stone altar, one that can be placed in the courtyard of the Holy Temple, and upon which the kohanim can bring the offerings.

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This historical project actually began some months ago, just before the Passover festival, when a group of young men were brought to the Dead Sea, where they gathered together stones that would be used in the construction of the mizbeach - altar. The Dead Sea was chosen because it was upon its deserted shores that stones could be collected which had never been quarried or cut with metal blades or implements. Our sages point out that the Torah ban on dressed stones was intended to preserve the integrity of the altar as a place of peace, and tools made of metal, from which weapons of war are also manufactured, would undermine the ultimate purpose of making offerings on the altar, the purpose of making peace between man and G-d.

The stones were then individually wrapped in heavy plastic and sealed, thus guaranteeing their untainted integrity as they were transported to the community of Mitzpe Yericho, 20 kilometers north-east of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, of particular concern was the unique nature of the cement to be used to hold the stones together. Temple Institute researchers paid a visit to the Finish glass factory near Yerucham to learn how to create a mixture which would remain as cool as possible under the altar’s unremitting fires and protect the kohanim, whose work in the Holy Temple was always conducted barefoot. A formula was arrived at which would involve a mixture of sand, clay, tar, and asphalt.

Finally the appointed day of action arrived: this day was Tish'a B’av, the day the Second Temple was destroyed 1,939 years ago. What better day, and what better way to commemorate the past and to commence the future, than to begin the building of the great stone altar on the 9th of Av!

The work began at 5:30 in the afternoon of the 9th, well into the twenty-five hour fast that had begun the night before. Despite the hunger and the accompanying fatigue the volunteer participants were anxious and ready to get started.

Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the founder of the Temple Institute struck a deep chord when he pronounced, "Today, Tisha B’av, is not just a time to mourn the destruction of the Temple. It is also a time to build."

"Unfortunately, we cannot currently build the altar in its proper place, on the Temple Mount," The Temple Institute director explained. "We are building an altar of the minimum possible size so that we will be able to transport it to the Temple when it is rebuilt."

The altar, when completed, will stand 2 meters tall, 1 meter long, and 1 meter wide. Much smaller that the altar that stood in the Holy Temple courtyard, it will, nevertheless, fulfill the Torah requirements. The rocks collected by the Dead Sea comprise 10 cubic meters and weigh several tons.

Over 100 people were present at the event on the stifling hot afternoon. Yonaton Tzadok, one of the main organizers of the event, added a historical-spiritual perspective."The altar represents the return to our roots, to the time of creation when everything was pure. We have taken rocks from the Dead Sea, rocks never touched by human hands."

To the surprise of many who had come simply to watch, they too were invited by Rabbi Ariel to take part and pour the tar onto the cornerstones. Rabbi Ariel first asked if there were any kohanim in the crowd, and invited them start. A woman requested to also participate. Of course," Rabbi Ariel responded, "women are also commanded to build the Holy Temple!"

As the sun set, and the fast day was nearing its conclusion, Yonaton Tzadok called upon volunteers to return another day to complete the building of the altar. "Carrying rocks and pouring tar is a lot of work," he said. "We could use a few hundred people to help."

 

 

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