Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL"):

The Gate of Heaven

Rabbi Elazar said: What does Isaiah mean when he says, "And many peoples will go and say: 'Come let us go up to the Mountain of God, to the House of the God of Jacob'"? Why the God of Jacob and not the God of Abraham and Isaac? The answer is: Not like Abraham, who saw it as a Mountain ("as it is said this day, On the mountain God is seen" - Genesis 22:14). And not like Isaac, for whom it was a Field ("And Isaac went out to pray in the field" - Genesis 24:63). But like Jacob, who called it a House: "And he called the name of that place the House of God" (Genesis 28:19) (Pesachim 88a).

The story of the quest for the Temple begins with the patriarch Abraham, who changed the entire course of human history by finding God  and teaching the world about Him.

According to tradition Abraham was abandoned in a cave as a tiny baby but miraculously survived. When at last he crawled out of the cave, it was night. He looked up in wonder at the millions and millions of stars high in the heavens. He said, "These must certainly be the most powerful forces in the whole universe. These must be the gods." But when dawn came and the stars disappeared, he said, "Those little lights can't be gods because something else has outshone them. When the sun rose and shone in all its glory, Abraham said, "This is the most powerful force. This is God." But when the sun declined and set, Abraham understood that the sun is also not God. When the moon appeared, Abraham realized that none of them is God. All were created by one supreme God Who alone has dominion over the heavens above and the earth below.

Abraham devoted his life to seeking out and revealing the unified Power that underlies the manifest plurality of creation. Abraham's search for God is expressed not only in the biblical narrative but also in Sefer Yetzirah, the "Book of Formation", foundational text of the Kabbalah, which is attributed to him. In it he presents the twenty-two letters of the Aleph Beit as the fundamental coordinates and elements of creation, showing how to combine and manipulate these Letters of Creation in order to channel beneficial influences through meditation and prayer.

Abraham made his life one of selfless service to God in all he did. His mission was to bring God "down to earth" by following the path of kindness and justice in practical everyday life. Abraham's vision was of a land whose people serve God in the way they grow and harvest their crops, eat and drink, buy and sell, marry, have children and go about their other affairs.

Thus Abraham received the prophetic call: "Go to the Land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). He had to search until he found the place most fitted for this exalted purpose. Even when he came to the Land, he was tested time after time. Until at last he received God's command: "Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as an offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you" (ibid. 22:2).

"On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar" (ibid. v. 4). With his prophet's eyes, Abraham knew as soon as he saw it that this was "The Place". At the climax of his lifelong search for the Source, here at Mount Moriah Abraham finally reached the center point where the Earth connects with the worlds above it. This mountain is the place of Even Shetiyah, the "Foundation Stone" from which the Earth emanated like a fetus growing out from its belly. This was the place where Adam was created, and here he sacrificed. Here Noah sacrificed after the flood. This was a fitting place for Abraham to "offer up" his son Isaac: to elevate him to a life of perfect submission to the will of God. Abraham called the place "the Mountain where God sees and is seen" (ibid. v.14).

The service to which Isaac was called was that of the heart: prayer, in which we reconnect with our spiritual roots through the use of words formed through combinations of the Letters of Creation. "And Isaac went out to pray in the field" (ibid. 24:63). Isaac's chosen field of labor was none other than the mountaintop where he came face to face with his destiny. Isaac turned this lofty mountain of self-sacrifice into something more attainable: a "field" of regular spiritual discipline.

It was to this same mountain-field that Isaac's son Jacob came when he was forced to flee from his brother Esau. As the sun went down, Jacob built a primitive structure where he could lie down and sleep. There he dreamed the dream of prophecy: "There was a ladder set on the ground and its top reached the heavens. Angels of God were going up and down on it, and God was standing over him. Jacob awoke from his sleep and he said, 'Indeed God is in this place. How awesome is this place. This is none other than the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven'" (ibid. 28:12, 16-17).

Jacob recognized this as the place where Heaven and Earth meet, the spot where angels "go up" to Heaven on the wings of our prayers and angels "come down" with blessing and sustenance for the whole world. For Abraham it was a lofty mountain. For Isaac it was a field of disciplined labor. Jacob now brought the Temple idea within everyone's grasp, establishing the stone on which he rested his head as the foundation of God's "House".

The idea of a house can be understood by all, as opposed to that of a mountain or field, which are more remote from most people's experience. Just as we dwell in our homes and houses, carrying out our most basic daily functions there, so the Divine Presence may be said to "dwell" in a House appropriately designed and conducted. The House that Jacob's descendants were to build on this spot would be a sign for all humanity of God's presence in the world. The establishment of this House was the end goal of the journey of destiny on which Jacob now set forth.

Design of the Sanctuary

Years after his dream of the ladder, when Jacob went with his children into exile in Egypt, he planted trees. These were to provide the beams his descendants would need to build the Sanctuary when they went out of Egypt. This was the Temple prototype that they would carry with them in the wilderness and erect at all their encampments.

"And God said to Moses: Tell the Children of Israel to take for Me an offering. and let them make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you, the design of the dwelling-place and the design of all its utensils, so shall you make it" (Exodus 25:1ff).

The Bible gives a detailed account of the design of the Sanctuary and its vessels (Exodus chapters 25-31). The chief craftsman was Bezalel son of Uri of the tribe of Judah. The Midrash relates that when Moses saw Bezalel's ready grasp of the design, he said: "You must have been in the shadow of God (Betzel El, a play on Bezalel) when He showed me the design, and that's how you knew" (Berachot 55a). For "the design of the Sanctuary corresponds to the underlying scheme of creation" (Tikuney Zohar, Introduction p.12). The Rabbis taught: "Bezalel knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created" (ibid.). That is, he understood the different ways in which the supreme lights contained in the Letters of Creation combine to bring this world into being and sustain all its creatures. Correspondingly, he understood how to construct the physical Sanctuary in such a way that these lights would shine forth to all the creatures in the world in order to provide them with sustenance and blessing.

After the Israelites entered the Land of Israel they set up the Sanctuary in Gilgal and then built a more permanent structure in Shilo and subsequently in Nov and Givon. The secrets of the design of the Sanctuary were handed down from generation to generation until they were entrusted to the prophet Samuel and the messianic King David. Having conquered Jerusalem, David instructed his son Solomon to build the Temple. "Then David gave to Solomon his son the design of the vestibule and buildings and treasuries and upper rooms and inner chambers and the place of the Ark.. All this in writing as God has made me wise with His hand upon me, all the works of this design" (I Chronicles 28:11 and 19).

Solomon began building the Temple in the year 2928 (832 B.C.E.) according to the traditional Jewish reckoning, and completed it seven years later. The design of Solomon's Temple is explained in detail in the First Book of Kings (chapters 6-7). Once the Temple was built in Jerusalem, it was strictly forbidden for Jews to build a temple or offer sacrifices anywhere else.

Solomon's Temple inaugurated an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and cultural flowering. But having been built by human agency, this Temple could not last forever. When people abandoned the ideals it embodied, the Divine Presence departed, for it cannot dwell amidst corruption and evil.  After standing for four hundred and ten years, the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 3338 (422 B.C.E.) and the Jews went into exile for seventy years. They repented and returned to the Land, and started building the Second Temple in the year 3408 (352 B.C.E.). It stood for four hundred and twenty years until its destruction by the Romans in the year 3828 (68 C.E.).

Full details of the design and rituals of the Second Temple were carefully preserved by the early generations of Tannaim, teachers of the Mishneh, who had actually seen the Temple and taken part in its ceremonies. The design of the Temple is the subject of the mishnaic tractate Middot ("Measurements") while its rituals are discussed in the other tractates in the order of Kodshim ("Holy Matters") and many other places throughout the Talmud.

But from the time of its destruction by the Romans, the Temple ceased to be a tangible reality in the world and instead became a distant dream. Jews have prayed daily for the realization of this dream ever since, even under the worst conditions of exile and persecution.

Ezekiel's Vision

"In the twenty-fifth year of our exile on the New Year, on the tenth day of the month in the fourteenth year after the city was struck, on this very day the hand of God was upon me and He brought me there. In visions of God He brought me to the Land of Israel and set me down upon a very high mountain where there was the likeness of a city to the south. And He brought me there, and behold: there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a cord of linen in his hand and a measuring rod; and he stood in the gate. And the man said to me: 'Son of man, see with your eyes and hear with your ears and set your heart on all that I will show you, for it is in order to show you that you have been brought here. Declare all that you see to the House of Israel'" (Ezekiel 40:1-4).

Shortly after the destruction of the First Temple, the prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the Third Temple with all its buildings, gateways and courtyards in all their details. The entire vision is recorded in the Book of Ezekiel (chapters 40-43:17).

There is an apparent contradiction in the opening verse of this prophecy, which dates it "on the New Year, on the tenth day of the month." (Ezekiel 40:1). The Rabbis taught: "In which year is the New Year celebrated on the tenth of Tishri (and not at its usual time on the first of that month)? This was the Jubilee year [the fiftieth year in the count of sabbatical years, see Leviticus 25:9], fourteen years after the destruction of the Temple and twenty-five years after the exile of Jehoiachin" (Rashi ad loc. and Erchin 12a).

The Jubilee year is one of complete redemption in which all slaves go free, everyone returns to their ancestral lands and everything begins afresh. In kabbalistic thought, Yovel, the Jubilee, is associated with the redemptive sefirah of Binah, "Understanding", which has "Fifty Gates".

In Ezekiel's vision on this auspicious day, he rose in his prophetic Binah to a level beyond created space and time. He was thus able to see beyond the Second Temple that would rise fifty-six years later. He saw beyond its destruction over four hundred years afterwards, beyond the thousands of years of exile, trials and tribulations that were to follow. Ezekiel already saw a vision of the ultimate Heavenly Temple, which is destined to descend to earth at the climax of history as we know it and stand eternally on Mount Moriah.

Twenty years prior to this vision of the Heavenly Temple, as Ezekiel stood in exile in Babylon by the side of the River Kvar, "The heavens were opened and I saw visions of God" (Ezekiel 1:1). This was when Ezekiel saw the Merkavah, the "Chariot" with which God governs the world. The storm-wind, fire, brightness, Chayot and Ofanim that Ezekiel saw all exist in Heaven, wherever that may be. Only at rare moments, however, does a tiny chink open in the thick clouds of concealment that hide the spiritual worlds from normal human consciousness, affording outstanding masters of the spirit a brief glimpse beyond time and space into the inner workings of the universe.

"Everything that Ezekiel saw, Isaiah also saw. But Ezekiel was like a villager who saw the King, while Isaiah was like a big city dweller who saw the King" (Chagigah 13b). This rabbinic comment offers insight into why Ezekiel's visions, such as those of the Chariot and Heavenly Temple, are described in such graphic detail, in contrast to Isaiah's. Several generations prior to Ezekiel, Isaiah attained even higher levels of prophecy, having been in the Land of Israel when the First Temple stood in all its glory. Isaiah too saw the Chariot and the Heavenly Temple, as in his first vision, which opens with the words: "I saw God sitting upon a throne, high and lofty, and His train filled the Temple" (Isaiah 6:1).

Isaiah, Ezekiel and all the prophets saw one and the same God. They saw the same Throne of Glory and Heavenly Temple. But Isaiah lived in times which were better and more conducive to exalted spiritual vision. In this sense Isaiah was like a city dweller, who is less easily excited by the glory and bright lights. In Isaiah's time it was not so necessary to reveal all the details of the vision.

However, by Ezekiel's time the people were in exile under foreign rule. Many were increasingly assimilated and cut off from the ancestral vision that had been transmitted from generation to generation ever since the entire Jewish People prophetically glimpsed into the Heavens as they crossed the Red Sea and when they stood at Sinai. Precisely because the people were now in exile and on a lower spiritual level, it was necessary to fuel the vision and keep it alive, and Divine Providence decreed that Ezekiel be granted prophecy even in exile and that he should record and transmit what he saw.





Translated by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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