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Who will build the 3rd beis hamikdash?

Written by D Fine

After having decided that I had nothing intelligent to say about Purim (not that that has stopped me in the past!), I decided that we shall embark on a thrilling three-part series, starting this week. The subject? The third beis hamikdash. This week focuses on who will build the third beis hamidkash (stay tuned). Next week is a zooming in on the opinion of the Rambam, with specific reference to whether it is the community or the individual who is to build the third beis hamidkash. And the week after that is…well, I’ll leave it as a surprise for the moment. One may ask why the sudden obsession about the third beis hamikdash? There are threereasons here. Firstly and most importantly, I realised that I had nothing intelligent to say about the Mishkan either. But more positively, there is a connection between the Mishkan and the beis hamikdash; the former is a forerunner of the latter. And thirdly, this time of year is particularly apt to be talking about redemption and the third beis hamidkash. Apart from the heightened simcha due to the miracles of redemption of Purim and Pesach,[1]

The gemarra reveals that Nissan is one of the two months most appropriate for Moshiach’s arrival,[2] and elsewhere pinpoints the year after the Shemittah year to be the one most likely to witness Moshiach’s arrival[3] (that’s this year). Therefore, in order to at least know a bit about how the third beis hamidkash is going to arrive, and to be a bit prepared, we are writing this series.
So here goes; as always, I recommend looking up each source I quote – especially in this mini-series. The order of play is as follows: first we will cite the opinion of Rashi (et al), then explain the opinion of the Rambam (answering a contradiction in the Rambam), and finally we explain what the root of this dispute is between Rashi and the Rambam via a golden explanation of the Maharam Shik.
There seems to be a dispute as to how the third beis hamikdash will arrive. The opinion of Rashi,[4] Tosafos,[5] and the Ritva[6] all say that the third beis hamikdash will come down fully-built from Heaven; it is already built – it must just be ‘plonked down’ by HaShem onto Har Habayis (I look forward to the BBC reporting that one). The Rambam disagrees. He writes[7] that Moshiach will build the third beis hamikdash. In the Rambam’s (translated) words: ‘the melech hamoshiach will bring back the kingship of David to its former glory, and he will build the midkash and will gather in the exiles of Bnei Yisrael.’ However, though the Rambam certainly does seem to argue with Rashi’s (etc.) view, the opinion of the Rambam needs clarifying. For in two other places, the Rambam writes[8] that the obligation to build the mikdash is on the people of Bnei Yisrael.[9] So who is to build it according to the Rambam; the Moshiach or the people? The truth is that this same contradiction can be found in sources that pre-date the Rambam. Whilst the Midrash Rabbah[10] says that Moshiach will build the third beis hamikdash, the Talmud Yerushalmi[11] says that the people will build the midkash. How can we resolve the contradiction? The answer is a simple one. The Rambam (and the above sources) hold that Moshiach will command/oversee the building of the beis hamikdash, but the people will actually be the ones who build it.

So far so good. We have two opinions as to how the third mikdash will arrive: Rashi, Tosafos, and the Ritva hold that it will fall from Heaven, whilst the Rambam holds that Moshiach will oversee the people building it. But as we know, the Rishonim did not just make things up all the time; they had sources for what they said – especially in a topic like this. We have quoted the sources for the Rambam’s opinion (the Midrash Rabbah and the Talmud Yerushalmi), but where did Rashi get his opinion from? First, Tosafos in Shevuos quotes a Midrash Tanchuma[12] to support his view. And elsewhere in the Talmud Yerushalmi[13] it says that the (third) beis hamikdash will be built before Moshaich arrives; this only makes sense according to Rashi’s opinion, for according to the Rambam, Moshiach is supposed to be the one who oversees the building of the third mikdash. Therefore, we can now ask what does the Rambam do with the sources which seem to be proofs for Rashi’s view, and how will Rashi deal with the sources which supported the Rambam?

In order to get a better understanding of Rashi’s view, it is imperative that we cite some great questions from the Aruch La’ner,[14] which really gives birth to a deeper understanding of Rashi’s (and Tosafos and Ritva) opinion. He asks two strong questions on Rashi. Recall that according to Rashi, the third beis hamikdash is already built in Heaven; it must just be lowered down to Har Habayis. If so, the text of our Tefillah found in Avos[15] and Tamid[16] should not be ‘may the beis hamikdash be rebuilt (‘sheyibaneh beis hamikdash’) – for it is already built; rather it should be ‘may the beis hamikdash be revealed’(‘sheyigaleh beis hamidkash’). Next, the Aruch La’ner points out a contradictory Rashi. Later on in gemarra Sukka, the gemarra tells us[17] that there are ‘four carpenters/skilled workmen;’ Moshiach ben David, Moshaich ben Yosef, Eliyahu, and Shem ben Noach. And Rashi comments[18] that Moshiach will need to be a skilled workman for the building of the beis hamikdash. It seems that Rashi is now siding with the Rambam that Moshiach will have a hand in (overseeing) the building of the beis hamikdash. And so how do we resolve this contradiction in Rashi’s view?

The key to this topic and indeed the answer to all the questions we have posed, is the Maharam Shik’s insightful view[19] as to the dispute between Rashi (etc.) and the Rambam. He cites a fundamental gemarra in masechet Sanhedrin,[20] which reveals that there are two different ways the Moshaich can come; called be’itah and va’achishena after the pasuk in Yeshaya (60:22). The two words mean ‘in its time’ and ‘I will hasten it’ respectively, and mean that there is a set date for when Moshiach will arrive by, but if we are meritorious, we can hasten his arrival. But there is much more to this distinction. The be’itah avenue involves the pains of wars etc. in the period before the arrival of Moshiach, whilst this is less present if we merit the va’achishena route. Moreover, the Maharam Shik points out that that which the gemarra[21] says that Eliyahu will come a day before Moshiach’s arrival to announce his coming is only in the be’itah process. But the main difference between the be’itah and va’achishena routes of Moshiach’s arrival is that in the latter, the period of the arrival of Moshaich will be glazed with open miracles, whilst if he comes be’itah, the arrival of Moshiach will be via events which are characterised as being more ‘part of the natural course of history.’[22] This is the key to the entire topic.

Says the Maharam Shik, that Rashi and the Rambam are not really arguing here; Rashi is just telling us how the beis hamikdash will arrive if we are to merit the va’achishena coming of Moshiach (a period of miracles and a miraculous falling of the mikdash from Heaven), whilst the Rambam is telling us how the mikdash will be built if we only manage to achieve the be’itah means of Moshiach’s arrival; a more ‘natural’ period leading up to Moshiach’s arrival, with us having to physically build the midkash. Indeed, the Rashi (and Tosafos and Ritva) which we quoted at the start had to be talking about a v’achishena type of arrival with the mikdash suddenly appearing, for the gemarra they were commenting on was dependant upon the mikdash quickly being built in a very short period of time. This also deals with our other questions. There is now no longer any contradiction in Rashi, for Rashi is simply telling us about two different ways the mikdash can come. And vitally, this will also help us in our question as to what each side of the dispute did with the other sides ‘proof-sources.’ The answer is that each side agreed with all the sources, and did not contradict any of them; the sources themselves (as well as Rashi etc. and the Rambam) were merely presenting the two possible ways the Moshiach could arrive. There is no dispute whatsoever.

But after all that, there is one question that remains unanswered, and here is where we turn more chassidish in a bid to answer it. What about the Aruch La’ner’s question as to why we daven for the midkash to be rebuilt as opposed to revealed. If the ‘mikdash from Heaven’ idea is the most meritorious avenue of va’ashishena, why do we seemingly not daven for that? The answer is told by Rav Osher Weiss via a story involving the Divrei Chaim (the Sanzer Rebbe). The Divrei Chaim was once conducting a tisch, when he exclaimed ‘I see the beis hamikdash in Shamayim; it is just missing a curtain.’ One of his Chassidim then shouted out gleefully ‘then you build the curtain, Rebbe.’ The Divrei Chaim responded ‘I did, but someone did a sin and it was removed.’ The message he was conveying is that there is a part we have to play in the building of the mikdash, even if it will be built in Heaven. Every mitzvah we do builds a part of the mikdash, and every sin we do destroys a part of the mikdash, and prevents the mikdash from coming down. Similarly, the Shlah used to comment that the reason we push off a Tisha B’Av which falls on Shabbos is because our tears over the destruction actually build the mikdash, and one is not allowed to build on Shabbos.

May we merit to always be one of the builders, and not one of the destroyers.
Have a great Shabbos

[1] Rashi Ta’anis 29a ‘mishenichnas’
[2] Rebbi Yehoshua, gemarra Rosh Hashanah 11a. The other month is Tishrei
[3] Gemarra Megilla 17b; three lines up from the middle-sized lines
[4] Rashi Sukka 41a ‘iy nami,’ Rashi Rosh Hashanah 30a ‘lo’
[5] Tosafos Sukka 41a ‘iy nami,’ Tosafos Shevuos 15b ‘ein’
[6] Ritva Sukka 41a
[7] Rambam hilchos Melachim 11:1
[8] Rambam hilchos Beis Habechirah 1:12, Rambam Sefer Hamitzvos Mitzvas Asei 20
[9] And one cannot answer that the Rambam here is only talking about the first two batei mikdash, because there is a rule that the Rambam only codifies mitzvos that are applicable across generations (not a mitzvah le’sha’ah; for example the Rambam does not codify the setting up of the rocks in the Jordan River because that was a mitzvah for that time only). Therefore, if the Rambam codifies a mitzvah to build the mikdash, it must also apply today.
[10] Vayikra Rabbah, parshas Tzav 9:6. The Midrash learns it from the pasuk in Yechezkal 39:2
[11] Talmud Yerushalmi Megillah 1:11. It learns it from the pasuk in Shir Hashirim 4:16
[12] Mechilta Shemos, on the pasuk in Shemos 15:17 (‘midkash HaShem konenu yadecha’)
[13] Talmud Yerushalmi Ma’aser Sheni perek 5 (the very end of 29b)
[14] Aruch La’ner Sukka 41a
[15] Pirkei Avos 5:23
[16] Maseches Tamid, Perek 7 end of Mishna 3
[17] Gemarra Sukka 52b
[18] Rashi Sukka 52b ‘charashim’
[19] Maharam Shik Yoreh De’ah 213 (especially paragraph ‘venireh deyeish’). The Maharam Shik was a student of the Chassam Sofer, and lived from 1807 to 1879. He was one of the leading Rabbis in Hungary, then Ukraine, and opened a Yeshiva which had a student body of 800. Lucky I looked on Wikipedia!
[20] Gemarra Sanhedrin 98a
[21] Gemarra Eiruvin 43b
[22] See Handbook of Jewish Thought, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Volume Two 24:3

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