Ramchal clearly explains the purpose of Mishkney Elyon in his opening words:
"My purpose in this work is to discuss the subject of the Heavenly Temple mentioned by our sages, to explain its form and structure in all their various details, and to show how the earthly Temple is in direct alignment with it in its structure and all its dimensions."
The Heavenly Temple is mentioned in a number of places in rabbinic literature. In the Talmud we find: "Rabbi Yochanan said: The Holy One blessed-be-He declared: 'I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I enter the earthly Jerusalem.' Is there then a heavenly Jerusalem? Yes, as it is written (Psalms 122:3): 'Jerusalem will be built like the city that is joined to it together'" (Taanit 5a).
The Zohar states: "The earthly Sanctuary depends upon the Upper Sanctuary, and that Upper Sanctuary depends in turn upon another Upper Sanctuary, which is the most exalted of all. All of them are included in one another, and this is the meaning of the verse (Exodus 26:6): 'And the Sanctuary was one'" (Zohar Pekudey II, 235a).
This statement of the Zohar indicates that there are two heavenly Sanctuaries, one above the other. This explains the phrase from the Psalms which Ramchal took as the title of his work, Mishkney Elyon. The phrase is contained in the following verse: "There is a river whose streams bring joy to the city of God, the holy place of the dwellings of the Supreme (Mishkney Elyon)" (Psalms 46:5). The Hebrew phrase Mishkney Elyon could also be translated as "the Sanctuaries above", alluding to the two heavenly Sanctuaries mentioned by the Zohar.
The lower of these two heavenly Sanctuaries is mentioned in a midrashic comment on the verse: "And it came to pass on the day that Moses completed erecting the Sanctuary" (Numbers 7:1). "Rabbi Simon said: At the time when the Holy One blessed-be-He told the Jewish People to erect the Sanctuary, he hinted to the Ministering Angels that they too should make a Sanctuary. When the Sanctuary was erected in the lower world, this angelic Sanctuary was erected above. This is the Sanctuary of the 'lad', [the angel] whose name is Metatron, where he offers the souls of the Tzaddikim in order to atone for
The passage from the Zohar quoted earlier indicates that even higher than this heavenly Sanctuary of the Angels stands another Sanctuary. This supreme Heavenly Temple is the subject of Ramchal's Mishkney Elyon. Of it he writes: "This holy House was created before the universe. For it is from this House that all created beings receive their power and sustenance." This is the Temple that Ezekiel saw in his vision, and it is the prototype of the Third Temple, which will be an actual physical structure in this world.
The work begins with an explanation of the relationship between the Heavenly Temple and its counterpart, the earthly Temple, which is a holographic image of the Heavenly Temple and emanates from it. Ramchal clarifies the differences between the First, Second and Third Temples on earth, explaining among other things why Ezekiel already saw the vision of the Third Temple at the time of the destruction of the First, and why the Divine Presence did not dwell in the Second Temple.
Ramchal then proceeds with a step-by-step "tour" of the various parts of the Sanctuary, Temple courtyards, gates and other buildings as seen by Ezekiel in his vision. In each case Ramchal explains how the form and very dimensions of each place are bound up with the corresponding spiritual "lights" - Sefirot and holy names - in the upper worlds.
In the second part of the work, Ramchal explains the Order of the Temple Service, and in particular the secret of the sacrifices:
"Every day the lower realms need to draw close to the upper realms in order that the 'branches' should be connected to the 'roots'. This way the angels are bound to their roots, and the souls to theirs. It is the animal offering that brings the angels close, while the incense offering brings the souls close."
Ramchal's account of how the "branches" of creation reconnect with their "roots" through the Temple service fulfills his promise to the reader at the outset of the book to "lay these matters before you in a single all-inclusive introductory work that will enable you to understand the way the world is run and how God gives each day's portion of food and sustenance to all His creatures, each in its proper time."
Ramchal's explanation of the sacrificial service also throws light on the deeper meaning and kabbalistic intentions of the daily prayer services, which correspond to the regular Temple sacrifices and, in times of exile, take their place.
After the end of the main body of Ramchal's discourse in Mishkney Elyon, he says: "I will now provide a concise, orderly account of all the measurements of the Temple and its courtyards in all their details in five chapters." He follows with five chapters written in the tersely elegant style of Mishneh summarizing the plan and measurements of all the different Temple buildings, courtyards, gates, steps, etc. These five chapters have many parallels to the five chapters of the mishnaic Tractate Middot, which explains the plan of the Second Temple. Ramchal's Five Chapters also bear certain resemblances to Rambam's account of the Second Temple in his Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit Habechirah.
Thus at the end of Mishkney Elyon, as in quite a number of his other works, Ramchal performs the invaluable service of providing his readers with a clear, concise summary of the entire contents of the main work.
In Mishkney Elyon Ramchal provides vital keys to understanding both the physical form and spiritual meaning of the Third Temple.
Rambam had written: "Even though the building destined to be built in the future is written about in Ezekiel, it is not explained nor is it clear" (Hilchot Beit Habechirah 1:4). Even the mishnaic sages were perplexed by difficulties in Ezekiel's prophecies, including certain apparent contradictions to the Halachah. In the words of the Talmud:
"Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Hananiah ben Hizkiah is most certainly remembered for good, for if it were not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been removed from the canon because his words seem to contradict the Torah. What did Hananiah do? They brought him up three hundred barrels of oil [for light and food] and he sat in an attic and reconciled all the difficulties" (Shabbat 13b and see Menachot 45a).
Notwithstanding the labors of Hananiah ben Hizkiah, Ezekiel's prophecies remained a closed book for all but the most outstanding of scholars. The account of Ezekiel's vision of the Third Temple contains many passages whose meaning is extremely hard to determine even with the help of the classical commentators. Trying to build a picture of the basic design and layout of the Temple buildings as seen by Ezekiel can be a daunting task.
Rav's expression of appreciation for the labors of Hananiah ben Hizkiah can therefore surely be applied to Ramchal, who explained the structure and purpose of the Third Temple with the crystal clarity of a Rambam.
From the day the Sanctuary was erected in the wilderness, the Temple in its various manifestations has been the focal point of the entire devotional system of the Torah. It was from the Holy of Holies that Moses and all the later prophets received prophecy. It was to the Sanctuary in Shilo that the childless Hannah went to pour out her heart in whispered prayer, becoming the model of Tefilah, Prayer, for all time.
Hints about the meaning of various aspects of the Temple and its services can be found throughout the Zoharitic writings and those of the ARI and other kabbalistic sages. But nowhere in the whole of rabbinic literature is the significance of the Temple as a devotional focus for Jews and indeed all humanity explained systematically and with such clarity as in Ramchal's Mishkney Elyon.
This is not to suggest that Mishkney Elyon is "easy". It deals with matters that stand at the very summit of the universe. For the Temple "includes" all the Sefirot and all the worlds. A work about the meaning of the Temple must necessarily deal with the secrets of Maaseh Bereishit and Maaseh Merkavah. These matters must be approached with the utmost reverence and humility and with many prayers to God for enlightenment.
Does the Third Temple come down ready made and complete from Heaven, or do actual people have to build it?
According to Rashi, "The future Temple for which we are waiting will be revealed and come down from heaven fully built and complete, as it is written (Exodus 15:17): 'The Sanctuary, God, that Your hands established'" (Rashi on Succah 41a and see Tosafot there; see also Rashi on Rosh Hashanah 30a and Tosafot on Shavuot 15b).
On the other hand, Rambam states that the main identifying sign of the Mashiach will be that he will physically build the Third Temple in its proper place (Hilchot Melachim 11:4).
Ramchal helps us understand how both opinions express different aspects of the process by which the Third Temple will come into this world. He writes:
"In time to come, not only will the Heavenly and earthly Temples be similar. The Upper House will extend until it reaches the lower world. This is the meaning of the saying of our Rabbis that the Third Temple will be the work of the hands of God. For the Heavenly Temple will not be uprooted from its place. Rather it will extend until it reaches the lower world. Around it a physical structure will then be built as befits this material world, and the two structures will be joined and become one and will never again separate. God's glory will be fully revealed there, as it is said: 'And the glory of God will be revealed, and all flesh will see' (Isaiah 40:5). Then there will be complete peace and happiness forever."
In other words, a spiritual emanation of the Temple will come down into this world from the Upper World, and around it the physical reality of the Third Temple will be built.
In explaining Ezekiel's vision of the Third Temple, Ramchal has indeed brought the idea of the Third Temple down from Heaven into this world. The more that people study and grasp the Temple idea, the nearer will they bring the day when humanity will come to its senses, cease its futile cycles of war and destruction, and join together with one accord to worship the One God in the Third Temple.
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by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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