Rav Kook Torah

Tisha B'Av: The Beauty of the Universe


Every day we pray for the restoration of the Beit HaMikdash. Why is this spiritual center so important for us?

The Sages noted that the words dei'ah (knowledge) and Mikdash (Temple) both appear in verses ‘sandwiched’ between God’s Name (I Sam. 2:3 and Ex. 15:17). Is there a special connection between the two?

“Rabbi Elazar said: Whenever a person has dei'ah, it is as if the Temple has been built in his days.” (Berachot 33a)

What exactly did Rabbi Elazar mean by “a person with dei'ah”? And what does this quality of wisdom have to do with rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash?

True Da’at

We must first understand the concept of dei'ah. Having dei'ah means much more than just being knowledgeable. People who lack dei'ah approach matters only using their powers of logic and reasoning. They fail to recognize that the intellect is but one faculty of the human soul. In addition to intellectual abilities, we have character traits, emotions, and powers of imagination.

True da’at is knowing how to utilize all the faculties of the soul. Spiritual perfection can only be attained through a holistic approach that engages all aspects of the soul and all pathways of faith.

The Beauty of the Universe

But what does this have to do with the Beit HaMikdash? The Sages used an intriguing expression to describe the Temple: “the Beauty of the universe” (Zevachim 54b). Why did they single out beauty as the Temple’s primary characteristic? This statement is significant, for it indicates the central function of the Beit HaMikdash — to engage our sense of beauty and elevate our imaginative powers.1 The imagination is a powerful resource, and the Temple’s aesthetic qualities served to promote the world’s spiritual advance through this faculty of the soul. When the Beit HaMikdash stood in Jerusalem, it had a profound influence on the imagination, as it projected images of sublime purity and holy splendor. This impact on the imagination then inspired and elevated the character traits and conduct of those visiting its courtyards.

We may distinguish between two different aspects of the Temple’s influence. The first is in terms of the Temple’s intrinsic holiness and the impact of this holiness on those observing the Temple service. The second aspect is in terms of the receptivity of the human soul. God gave us powers of imagination so that we will be receptive to the Temple’s splendor and holiness. These two aspects of the Temple’s influence correspond to the two Names of God, placed before and after the word Mikdash.

Elevating the Imagination

Now we may understand Rabbi Elazar’s statement. Individuals who are blessed with dei'ah -who are wise enough to value all faculties of the soul, including their imaginative powers — it is as if the Beit HaMikdash was rebuilt in their days. With their wisdom, they are able to recreate for themselves and their immediate circle a small measure of the Temple’s holy influence. They recognize that their powers of imagination were created for a sacred purpose. While in terms of cold logic, the imagination may appear to be of little value, God placed it in the human soul for its potential to promote spiritual growth. Those crowned with dei'ah are able to utilize and elevate all of their faculties in genuine holiness.

Rav Kook likened the Temple’s enlightening influence on the soul to the first rays of morning sunlight, as they provide warmth and nourishment:

“The sublime beauty, the Divine splendor, attracts and draws the soul to itself. It awakens the soul from its sleep and rejuvenates all of its powers. It shines over the soul like sunlight over a cherished plant, cultivating all of its aspects, full of strength and beauty, pleasantness and vitality.

“Our yearnings to be connected to the Temple — to God’s House on the mountain summit, to the service of the kohanim, the song of the Levites, and the ma’amad (deputation) of the Israelites, to share all of the nation’s soul-ties to its holy abode — these yearnings awaken the “beauty of the universe” in the hearts of Israel each day. They establish an elevated Temple inside the soul of each individual, as we begin the day by reciting the order of offerings and incense in our morning prayers.” (Shemonah Kevatzim vol. I, sec. 606)

(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I on Berachot 33a (5:96). )

1 The ultimate purpose of the Temple is to attain Hashra’at Shechinah, the indwelling of God’s Presence in Israel, as it says (Ex. 25:8), “They shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” Rav Kook understood that this goal indicates the Temple’s function as a center of prophecy and ruach hakodesh (see Jer. Talmud Sukkah 5a), and this requires the elevation of the imaginative powers, an essential faculty for prophecy and holy inspiration.