Why did God command the Israelites to construct a Temple? The Torah indicates the ultimate purpose for this holy structure:
“Make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8).
The goal of the Mikdash was to enable God’s Presence to dwell in the world, and “open up” channels of communication with God — prophecy and ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration.
Rav Kook distinguished between three distinct conduits of Divine communication. Each of these channels corresponds to a particular vessel in the Mikdash.
The first and highest conduit is connected to the holiest object in the Temple — the holy Ark in the Holy of Holies, which housed the luchot (tablets) from Sinai. From the Ark emanated the highest level of prophetic vision, the crystal clear prophecy that only Moses was privileged to receive. God informed Moses:
“I will commune with you there, speaking to you from above the ark-cover (kapporet), from between the two cherubs that are on the Ark of Testimony” (Exod. 25:22).
This unique level of prophecy is the very source of the Torah’s revelation.
The second conduit corresponds to the Menorah, a symbol of light and wisdom. The Menorah represents the widening expanse and dissemination of Torah and the wisdom of Israel. This conduit was not restricted to the Ark inside the inner sanctum, but expanded to encompass the Kodesh area of the Temple.
The last conduit relates to the Altar of incense. This is the channel of ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration that originates in the inner resources of the soul. The phenomenon of ruach hakodesh parallels the service of incense, a hidden service performed inside the Sanctuary. And the Hebrew word for incense, ketoret, is related to the word kesher, meaning a “tie” or “connection.”
The Temple service of Yom Kippur aspires to attain complete atonement. It seeks to ensure the proper functioning of these conduits of communication with God. For this reason, the High Priest would sprinkle blood from the special Yom Kippur offerings on precisely these three locations in the Temple:
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 167-168)
Illustration image: James Tissot, ‘Reconstruction of the Temple of Herod Southeast Corner’ (between 1886 and 1894)