Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

In our haftara we learn about the construction of the first Beit HaMikdash, as in the parsha we read about the construction of the Mishkan. The navi tells us that Shlomo commanded for the stones to be quarried to build the structure. They had to be very large stones, hewn stone.

Abarbanel points out that the pasuk specifically refers to making a foundation for the House (“leyased habayit,” Melachim I 5:31). Typically, one would use irregular, waste stone for the foundation because this will be under the ground; it will not be seen as it will be buried under the building. You’d expect the large and valuable stones to be used for the conspicuous parts of the structure that will be seen, so that they can make an impression. Abarbanel says that when Shlomo was building the Beit HaMikdash, he wanted every part of it to be perfect, as it is a house for Hashem and not for flesh and blood. Although perhaps no one would see the foundation walls of the building, Hashem knows how it was constructed and Shlomo wanted even the segments that were buried underground to be structurally perfect.


It’s interesting that the language used to describe the smaller stones, hewn (gazit), is identical to the prohibition against using metal implements to carve the stones for the mizbe’ach. We understand that it is necessary to refrain from using steel implements in the construction of the Mishkan because steel is the material that weapons are made of and it begets destruction. The Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash are houses of peace; they mustn’t be defiled by the instruments of war.

Ramban also emphasizes that the sword is associated with Esav, with bloodthirstiness, and with the planet Mars. As such, it becomes a locus for wickedness and even for idolatry. Drawing on the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, he says that in Jewish law the prohibition against idolatry includes any intermediary between ourselves and Hashem. For this reason we don’t in any way modify the stones we gather to construct our mizbe’ach, because this would constitute a manipulation of the natural world incompatible with our pure service of Hashem. We don’t carve the stones when we use them to build our mizbe’ach and we don’t use altered stones.

There was no halachic prohibition against using hewn stone for the construction of the Beit HaMikdash. In fact this would have been altogether impractical, as the nuances of the construction required carefully prepared building blocks as well as wood beams that would have to be cut with metal. But when Shlomo built the Beit HaMikdash, he took great care that the sound of metal cutting wood or stone would not be heard on the site.

Likewise, there was no prohibition against cutting the stones of the building with metal – in fact hewn stone was a necessary component, especially for the home of the Sanhedrin, the chamber of the hewn stone. Nevertheless, it was important to Shlomo to preserve the sanctity of the place and, in particular, to keep the polluting influence of the metal out. The Beit HaMikdash was to be a place for voices singing praise of Hashem and begging for mercy; he couldn’t tolerate having the voice of war and of cruelty echoing through its precincts.

We see from the pasuk the great care that went into carving stones of different sizes and shapes from the quarry before they were transported to the site of the Beit HaMikdash. All the cutting went on outside of the Temple Mount, so that when the materials were brought there, they could be assembled without the aid of any metal tools.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].