M’lochim 1 5:26
This week’s haftorah shares with us an important insight regarding the building of the Bais Hamikdash and our synagogues, the present day sanctuaries. The haftorah begins with a detailed account of the construction of the exterior of the Bais Hamikdash. Engaging nearly two hundred thousand people in the process Shlomo Hamelech arranged for the hewing and transportation of scarce heavy stones for the solid foundation of the Bais Hamikdash. For the exterior walls, he ordered perfectly hewed stones from the quarry, ones that wouldn’t require any additional cutting or planing. After the basic frame was constructed, numerous chambers and annexes were added and winding staircases were included. Shlomo even panelled the entire structure with impressive cedar wood.
After completing the exterior of the Bais Hamikdash, Shlomo received words of prophecy in the name of Hashem. The Scriptures say, “And for the house which you are building, if you follow My statutes, fulfill My laws and guard all of My mitzvos … I will then dwell amongst the Jewish people and will not forsake My Jewish nation.” Hashem reminded Shlomo Hamelech at the outset that the sole objective of this beautiful edifice was to serve as an abode for the Divine Presence. Shlomo was told that the impressive architectural structures, jewel studded walls and gold trimmings were not meaningful factors in securing Hashem’s presence amongst His people. Rather, guarding His statutes and carefully adhering to every one of His mitzvos was the only answer. Shlomo was reminded that, in essence, his magnificent structure depended totally upon the attitude of the Jewish nation. If they possessed a sincere interest in being together with Hashem they would merit it. Hashem would maintain His presence amongst His people as long as they demonstrated their true desire to be with him by carefully adhering to His mitzvos.
Interestingly, the Malbim notes the juxtaposition of these prophetic words mentioned in the midst of the construction. As the Scriptures indicate, this prophecy came immediately after Shlomo completed the exterior of the Bais Hamikdash before he began the construction of the interior walls. Malbim sees this moment as a transitional point in the building process and as a most appropriate moment for this prophecy. The exact timing for this can be understood through the insightful words of the S’forno contrasting the construction of the Mishkan in this week’s parsha and the Bais Hamikdash in our haftorah.
S’forno (in his commentary to Shmos 38:21) notes that the original Mishkan remained perfectly intact and never fell into foreign hands. As the exile became inevitable, the Mishkan together with the Holy Ark were hidden under the ground for preservation. However the Bais Hamikdash itself suffered much deterioration and eventually fell into the hands of the Babylonians who destroyed and levelled it. S’forno explains that this stark contrast was due to the nature of the individuals involved in the construction. The Mishkan was built by a crew of pious devout people whose entire focus was to create an abode for Hashem in this world. Conversely, the Bais Hamikdash was built by a large crew of workmen with diverse focus on the spiritual dimensions of the Sanctuary. In fact, even Chiram, the king of Tyre sent a large crew of his people to assist in the preliminaries of the construction. This absence of focus on the Divine dimensions of the Sanctuary had its effect in later years. The interior walls of the Bais Hamikdash suffered much abuse and deterioration and were eventually destroyed by the hands of the enemy.
In light of the above we can truly appreciate the timely message Hashem sent to Shlomo Hamelech. After successfully completing the exterior Shlomo began setting his focus on the construction of the interior of the Bais Hamikdash. It was at this exact moment that Hashem reminded Shlomo of the purpose for this interior. Hashem was interested in the Bais Hamikdash enduring as long as possible and therefore inspired Shlomo to focus on its spiritual dimensions After receiving his charge Shlomo directed his entire focus on the Divine dimensions of the Bais Hamikdash. He subsequently dedicated every detail of the interior for the sake of Hashem and intended for this stunning edifice to serve as the permanent abode for Hashem. Although Shlomo’s goal was not accomplished in full his efforts were fruitful and the Divine Presence resided in the Bais Hamikdash for four hundred and ten years.
This lesson in construction can be applied likewise to our miniature Bais Hamikdash, our synagogue. It is quoted in the name of Harav Chaim of Volozhin that our intention and focus are critical in the construction of our Sanctuaries. HaRav Chaim said, “It begins when one cuts the wood for the handle of the ax used to chop the wood for the walls of the synagogue. If this were done out of pure dedication to facilitate a home for Hashem it would have an everlasting effect on the spirituality of the structure.” HaRav Chaim added that Hashem’s presence would be so intense that it would be impossible for one to engage in idle chatter inside a structure of such sanctity. Even our present day synagogue has the potential for true sanctity and if it is constructed with total devotion and dedication to Hashem it will also merit everlasting spiritual results. Although the royal interior truly contributes to the beauty of the synagogue its endurance and spiritual capacity does not stem from this. True focus on the Divine Presence therein is what makes the difference and if constructed with this in mind our synagogue will merit intense degrees of sanctity and will remain forever the home of Hashem.