Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-5:26
Every Jew who lived through the Six Day War recalls the thrilling image of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, holding a sefer Torah and blowing a shofar at the Western Wall.
Moments before, Israeli paratroopers had returned Jerusalem’s Old City, crowned by the Temple Mount, to Jewish hands for the first time in almost 1,900 years. Following this triumphal celebration, Goren made his way up to the Temple Mount. He gestured toward the Dome of the Rock and said to the Israeli commander, General Uzi Narkis, “Now is the time to put 100 kilograms of explosives in the Mosque of Omar.”
What Rabbi Goren had in mind was a vision of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.
Imagine the Third Temple. Our Torah portion, Vayikra, makes it easy. Although the Torah herein prescribes the rituals for the Mishkan in the Sinai wilderness, surely Vaykira describes the sacrifices as they were conducted in Jerusalem’s First and Second Temples. The Ola and Mincha were offered daily, an animal every morning and grain every afternoon. The Chatat, Asham and Zevach Shlamim were supplemental sacrifices, offered when circumstances dictated atonement or thanksgiving.
At first glance, the prospect of animal sacrifice strikes our modern sensibilities as anachronistic, perhaps primitive, even barbaric. How great are the throngs of contemporary Jews who turn away from Torah because of such passages? How much the more so that they would say “no” to rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and re-instituting sacrifices as worship of God.
Narkis had his own reasons for saying “no” to Goren. His reasons were geo-political. Israel was then in the final phases of a stunning military victory against four Muslim nations: Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Demolishing the Dome of the Rock might have incited all the Arab nations against Israel and enflamed the entire Muslim world that stretches well beyond the Middle East. When Goren persisted in his demand, Narkis told him, “If you don’t stop, I’ll take you to jail.”
Visions of rebuilding the Temple are not confined to Jews alone. In 1969, Denis Rohan, an Australian Christian, set fire to the other Muslim holy site on the Temple Mount, the Al Aqsa Mosque. Rohan believed that by razing the Mosque, Jews could then build the Third Temple, heralding the Second Coming of Jesus. His “aha!” moment gave rise to arson as theology. The fire damaged only part of the mosque. After his trial and conviction, Rohan was hospitalized in an Israeli psychiatric institution.
In the 1980s, two members of an Israeli underground organization plotted to blow up the Muslim holy sites. They, too, had visions of the Third Temple dancing in their heads. Their plot was foiled. They were arrested and tried for acts of terrorism. They were convicted and served time in Israeli prison.
But Vayikra asks us implicitly yet insistently to imagine a Temple Mount with the Al Aqsa Mosque along the southern ramparts, the Dome of the Rock more or less in the middle toward the south and the Third Temple more or less in the middle toward the north and along the western ramparts. There is ample room. According to archaeologists and historians, this is approximately where the First and Second Temples stood.
There is one adjective alone that describes a Temple Mount that includes all three, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher all but within shouting distance. That one perfect adjective is “messianic.” For these four holy sites to exist simultaneously would be the crown jewel of a world at peace. Is this not Jerusalem’s prophetic destiny?
Let us pray that prayer, not sacrifice, will be the mode of worship of God in the Third Temple. But if the Third Temple requires the offering of one bullock, one pigeon or one turtle dove a day, I say that this is a small sacrifice for a world living in peace. What say you?
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)