After King Solomon finished building the Temple in Jerusalem, there was an unforeseen complication. Everything was done; the structure and all of its vessels were complete. All that remained was the final act of placing the ancient Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies.
It should have been simple. Except that the Temple gates were closed shut and refused to open.
Solomon pleaded to God with twenty-four supplications, and the Temple gates finally opened. From this incident, the Sages learned that in times of great need — such as on days of fasting during a severe drought — our prayers should contain not eighteen but twenty-four blessings, like Solomon’s prayer.
What is the significance of the number twenty-four? And why was placing the Ark inside the Holy of Holies such an important event?
The Temple and the Ark correspond to two major themes in Judaism. The holy Temple is the focus of Israel’s avodah, service of God. The Ark, on the other hand, containing the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, represents the Torah and its revelation to the Jewish people.
The final act of completing the Temple was to place the Ark inside the Holy of Holies. This was a highly significant act, for it combined two primary values: Torah and Divine service. More to the point: it teaches that without the Ark, the Temple is incomplete.
This is not just about the Temple service. It is a fundamental principle about all forms of Divine service. Without Torah, without being informed by Divine revelation, it is impossible to know the proper way to serve God. We cannot fulfill our moral obligations, nor can we realize our spiritual aspirations, only on the basis of intellect and logic. Why is this?
It may be possible to deduce major moral principles using our powers of reason. But without Torah, it is impossible to know how to serve God and follow an ethical path in all of the diverse circumstances of life.
This is the significance of the number twenty-four. There are twenty-four hours in the day, so twenty-four represents the various situations that we find ourselves in: waking up, at work, at home, and so on. Each hour finds us in a different situation, requiring its own special rules of conduct. These varied circumstances underline the need for detailed Divine instruction — i.e., Torah.
Thus, when placing the Torah ark inside the Temple, King Solomon prayed with twenty-four supplications. He understood that without the Torah’s guidance in all aspects of life, it is impossible to attain a true service of God.
If so, perhaps this type of prayer, a prayer with twenty-four blessings, is relevant for all days of the year. Why only on fast days?
A fast day is a time dedicated to contemplation and refining one’s traits and deeds. At such times, it is especially important that our spiritual growth be rooted in the counsel of Torah, and not solely on our intellect. On a fast day, one may be inclined to accept new obligations - obligations that are not in accord with the Torah’s teachings. Extra piety is not always a good thing; it may also lead to undesirable results. For this reason, there is an ancient custom to read from the Torah on fast days, indicating that our spiritual efforts should be enlightened by Torah guidance.
This is what the psalmist taught,
תּוֹרַת אֱ-לֹהָיו בְּלִבּוֹ לֹא תִמְעַד אֲשֻׁרָיו.
“The Torah of His God is in his heart; his feet will not stumble.” (Psalm 37:31)
The two parts of the verse, Rav Kook explained, are cause and effect. It is because the “Torah is in our hearts” — because we base our moral decisions on the Torah’s teachings — that our “feet will not stumble.”
One who is firmly rooted in Torah values will avoid the errors of those who rely solely on their intellect and powers of reasoning.
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, on Berachot 29, IV:45)
Illustration image: ‘Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem’ (James Tissot, 1836-1902)