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ב"ה

What is the Primary Purpose of the Temple? - תרומה

Thursday, 3 February, 2022 - 9:06 pm

 

What is the Primary Purpose of the Temple? 

 

Should we value ourselves based on what we do or should we value ourselves for who we are? Is our relationship with G-d based on what we do or is it based on who we are? 

 

This question is the deeper meaning of the debate between two of the great classic commentaries on the primary purpose of the temple that the Jews were commanded to build. The temple contained two chambers, a courtyard, and multiple pieces of furniture, including, the ark, table, menorah, two altars, and a washing basin. The question arises, which of these details expresses the core purpose of the temple? 

 

Nachmanides argues that the main objective of the temple was to house the ark, which contained the ten commandments. In his words: 

 

Thus the main purpose of the Tabernacle was to contain a place in which the Divine Glory rests, this being the ark, just as He {G-d} said, "I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark-cover." Therefore He {G-d} first gave the commandment about the ark and the ark-cover, for they are first in importance. (Ramban 25:1) 

 

Maimonides, however, defines the sacrifices as the main objective of the temple. This implies that the temple's main function was the altar that served the offerings. As Maimonides explains in his Book of Commandments: 

 

We are commanded to build a Sanctuary to serve [G‑d]. In it we offer sacrifices, burn the eter­nal flame, offer our prayers, and congregate for the festivals each year, as will be explained. (Sefer Hamitzvos, positive mitzvah 20)

 

The altar and the offerings represent the person's effort toward self-improvement and development, refining himself and becoming closer to G-d. By contrast, there was no action or service related to the ark; thus, the ark represents G-d's relationship with the Jewish people that is unconditional and not dependent on anything the people were required to do. 

 

When Maimonides, the great legalist and codifier, looked at the Tabernacle, he focused on what a person is required to do, as symbolized by the offerings upon the altar, whereas Nachmanides, whose commentary incorporates the "hidden wisdom," the wisdom of the Kabbalah, sees the crux of the temple as an expression of G-d's love and desire to dwell amongst the Jewish people. 

 

The Rebbe explains that Maimonides and Nachmanides are not arguing; instead, to employ a Talmudic expression, "one said one statement, and one said another statement, and they do not disagree." Nachmanides focuses on the essence of G-d, whose connection to the core of the soul is unconditional, while Maimonides focuses on how we express our connection to G-d within our conscious mind, personality, and lifestyle. 

 

Returning to our opening question: G-d values us unconditionally because of who we are at our core, as Nachmanides highlights. Yet, as Maimonides alludes, G-d also gives us a roadmap, showing us how we can align the totality of our being with our essential core. 

 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 36 Vayakhel Pekudei. 

 

 

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