Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 24: Opening the Temple Gates

In this chapter, the psalmist pleads with the gates to open up before God:

“שְׂאוּ שְׁעָרִים רָאשֵׁיכֶם, וְהִנָּשְׂאוּ פִּתְחֵי עוֹלָם; וְיָבוֹא מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד. מִי זֶה מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד? ה’ עִזּוּז וְגִבּוֹר, ה’ גִּבּוֹר מִלְחָמָה. שְׂאוּ שְׁעָרִים רָאשֵׁיכֶם, וּשְׂאוּ פִּתְחֵי עוֹלָם, וְיָבֹא מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד. מִי הוּא זֶה, מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד? ה’ צְבָאוֹת — הוּא מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד סֶלָה.” (תהילים כ"ד:ז-י)

“Lift up your heads, O gates; and let the entrances of the world be uplifted. Let the King of Glory enter. Who is this King of Glory? God, strong and mighty; God, mighty in battle.

“Lift up your heads, gates; lift up, entrances of the world. Let the King of Glory enter. Who is He, this King of Glory? God of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

What exactly are these gates and “entrances of the world” that refuse to open? Why is the request repeated? And why does the psalm describe God first as a mighty Warrior in battle, and later as the “God of Hosts”?

According to the Talmud, it was King Solomon who was pleading with the gates. Having completed building the Temple, the final step was to bring the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies. But the Temple gates refused to open up!

What does this Midrash mean? Why did the Temple gates disobey Solomon?

Disconnect of Mind and Heart

Placing the Ark inside the Holy of Holies was the final step in building the Temple. Rav Kook explained that Solomon’s difficulties indicated that the Jewish people were not spiritually ready for the Temple and its positive influence on the entire world.

Divine service is based on those human faculties through which the soul receives the Divine light. Like prayer, the avodah of the Temple primarily corresponds to our emotional and imaginative powers.

But these faculties need to be governed by the intellect. Thus, it was placing the Ark — which contained the luchot and the Torah of Moses, the source of enlightenment for the world — which completed the Temple.

Those who have not perfected their traits suffer from a dissonance between their cognitive understanding and their wants. They may intellectually recognize the correct path, but their heart and desires are not under the mind’s guidance. This disparity, if not corrected, will eventually lead to a spiritual decline.

This conflict may also exist on the national level. The people in the time of Solomon had not attained spiritual perfection. Their spiritual attainments were temporary. In the depths of their souls, the seeds of corruption that would later bring about the Temple’s destruction were already planted.

The refusal of the Temple gates to accept the Ark is a metaphor for this lack of readiness. The people’s emotions were not pure, and they had failed to sufficiently develop their powers of reasoning. They had not clarified the paths they needed to guide their hearts and desires.

Solomon’s Solution

King Solomon sought to bring the Ark and the Temple together. He searched for a method to unite mind and heart.

Usually, the intellect seeks to benefit all peoples, without differentiating between nationalities. It is the heart which feels an emotional attachment to one’s people and seeks its success in particular. With regard to the Jewish people, however, there is no conflict between these two aspirations. Respect accorded to the Jewish people leads to universal recognition of God and the ideals of the Torah; the entire world benefits through this enlightenment.

Solomon turned to the Temple gates, which watch over the national interests of the Jewish people. “Lift up your heads!” Open up, and let God enter! When the gates of Israel open up, the “entrances of the world” will also open. The heart, full of love and concern for the Jewish people, will then complement the intellect, aspiring to benefit the entire world.

The Temple is a source of universal enlightenment, a “house of prayer for all the nations.” There are two ways in which Israel can influence the world; King Solomon alluded to both paths in his plea.

Two Paths

At a time when many forces in the world oppose the Jewish people and the Torah, we can identify the overall progress towards the ultimate goal by recognizing God’s power and strength when protecting His people. The unique story of a people surviving (and outlasting) many powerful nations who sought to subjugate and destroy it throughout the ages reflects formidable Divine providence in the history of the world.

Not only did Israel survive the centuries, but often vanquished other nations, enabling other nations to recognize the nobility of its Torah and holy ideals. The survival of Israel throughout centuries of hostility and persecution reflects the Divine attribute of gevurah, strength and might. “God is mighty in battle.

There exists a second, gentler method by which Israel influences the world. Not in the loud blaring of battle, but in the “still, small voice.” Gradually, without fanfare, holiness spreads from the enlightened source of Israel. The “entrances of the world” are not forcibly opened by the gates of Jerusalem. They lift themselves up. “Let the entrances of the world be uplifted.

Each nation will rise to the higher goal, but its truth will correspond to its own predisposition. The ethical hues will be numerous and varied, as each nation accepts the imprint of Torah on the foundation of its natural tendencies. In this path, God will be revealed as the “God of Hosts,” the God of many diverse peoples. Each nation will strive towards its own particular goal, and together they will unite towards the one universal goal, in accordance with the Divine will of their Creator.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, pp. 83-85, on Shabbat 30)

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