Even if the mortgage is paid off, we still do not own the house. This is the lesson of the Jews in the Diaspora. The land is not ours and we can be, and repeatedly have been, expelled, only to look for other lands on which to pitch our tents.
One day we shall come to rest and have an inalienable and unchallenged title to Israel. When that time comes, we shall build the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple of God on Mount Moriah. It will be on the same spot where Adam and Noah first offered sacrifices to God, Abraham bound Isaac, and King Solomon and Ezra built the first and second Temples. The Temple will be bedecked in gold and will stand taller and prouder than any other building in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, God dwells with us in our tents – ve’asu li mikdash, veshachanti betocham, “They shall make a sanctuary for me and I shall dwell among them.” The Temple is both God’s mobile home, the mishkan, that travels with and among us, and God’s future and permanent home, the Beit HaMikdash, in Jerusalem.
Kind David’s Psalms gives us comfort because David, like us, was forever on the run from his enemies. When David went to war, the mishkan moved with him and protected Israel as it had in the desert before his time.
“You shall not build My House” God said to King David, “for you have shed too much blood and fought too many wars. In Solomon’s days I shall give peace and quiet to Israel. He shall build My House.”
Why was King David denied the eternal honor of building the Beit HaMikdash? Did God not command him to fight wars?
Yes, but the permanent House of God, the Beit HaMikdash, can be built only in times of peace, security, and tranquility. That is God’s wish. “When He has granted you safety from all your enemies and you live in security, there will be a site that God will choose as the place dedicated to His Name.”
Accordingly, prior to the days of King Solomon, the Jews brought their sacrifices in the mobile mishkan, first in the desert and then in Gigal, Shiloh, Nov, and Givon. And until the third Beit HaMikdash is built and in the absence of the mishkan, we must make God welcome in our lives and at our tables.
Meanwhile we continue to study the blueprints for the future Beit HaMikdash. Thanks to our Oral Law, we know exactly what the Beit HaMikdash will look like and where everything will stand.
It will be just as it was.
The azarah, the main courtyard of the Temple, was surrounded by walls that separated it from the Har Habayit, the Temple Mount to the North, West, and South and from the ezrat nashim, the women’s courtyard, to the East.
One entered the azarah through a gate in the Israelites’ Courtyard in the East. Standing inside the Israelites’ Courtyard with one’s back to the gate through which one had just entered, one was aware of the presence – deep inside the azarah, about one hundred amot ahead, at its western extremity – of the Kodesh Hakodashim, the most holy chamber in the Temple.
In it, during the time of the First Temple, stood the Holy Ark. In the Holy Ark were the tablets of the Law and the Torah scroll written by Moses and on it stood the keruvim, the Cherubs.
During the Second Temple era, the Holy Ark was no longer visible. To protect it against the enemies of Israel, King Yoshiyahu had hidden it in the last days of his reign. In its place, there lay an even shetiah, a stone slab marking the spot where it once stood. The only person ever to visit the Holy of Holies was the kohen gadol, the high priest, who entered it once a year to perform the Yom Kippur service.
In front of the Holy of Holies separated by a wall in the First Temple era and by two curtains during the Second Temple era stood the heichal, the sanctuary.
The heichal was furnished with the shulchan lechem hapanim, the table spread with the twelve loaves of showbread, facing north; the menorah (candelabra) facing south; and the mizbe’ach hazahav (the golden altar) facing East, on which the ketoret, the daily incense, was burned. The kohanim would enter the heichal each day to burn the ketoret on the mizbe’ach hazahav and to light and clean the menorah and each week to change the lechem hapanim, the showbread.
Raphael Grunfeld’s book “Ner Eyal, a Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” (2016) is available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X and “Ner Eyal, a Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed” (2001) is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/0615118992
In front of the heichal stood the ulam, the antechamber.
In front of the ulam stood the ezrat hakohanim, the courtyard in which only kohanim were permitted to enter.
In the ezrat kohanim stood the mizbe’ach hachitzon, the outer altar, also known as the mizbe’ach ha’olah, on which most of the sacrifices were offered up. The ezrat kohanim also contained the kiyor, the copper basin in which the kohanim washed their hands and feet before performing the sacrificial service.
In front of the ezrat kohanim stood the ezrat Yisrael, the courtyard for the Israelites, beyond which the non-kohanim were generally not allowed to venture.
One exited the azarah through the gate in the ezrat Yisrael, through which one had previously entered, taking care, as one does when leaving a synagogue, never to turn one’s back on the Temple.