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Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

 
Rabbi Yosef Benarroch on “The Real Reason David Did Not Build the Temple” at Limmud Winnipeg Festival 2022

By Penny Jones Square, March 16, 2022

 

“. . . scholarly devotion . . . for Jews is worship first class. . . .”—Mark Helprin, In Sunlight and In Shadow

The questions posed by Rabbi Yosef Benarroch in his presentation “The Real Reason David Did Not Build the Temple” at Limmud 2022 encouraged the questioning and debating that defines Judaism. His provocative and percipient questions—“Why could King David not build the Temple?”; “What was the reason for King Solomon’s extravagance?”; and “Why the need for a Temple at all?”—led to a radical rethinking of the stories of King David and King Solomon and a surprising and inspiring answer to all three questions.

Benarroch began by highlighting the virtues of David, as king, warrior, political figure, statesman, and poet, and his accomplishments in consolidating Jerusalem, helping to defeat Israel’s greatest enemy (the Philistines), ruling for forty years, uniting the kingdom, and in bringing the Ark back to Jerusalem. He also noted that it was David’s greatest desire to build the Temple, a desire he expressed so powerfully in Psalm 132. And yet David is deemed unworthy.

The reason for David’s unworthiness is based on two sources: Chronicles I, 22:7 – 10 and Chronicles I, 28:2 – 6, both of which attribute David’s failure to having “shed much blood” and being “a man of battles.” But, on closer reading, “these sources fall short,” as Benarroch insightfully pointed out, for in both it is David speaking, and therefore this is his perception, not God’s. It is David’s words, “[t]he word of the Lord came to me” in the first source and “God said to me” in the second, telling us this is why he is not fit to build the Temple. Thus, we are only given his side of the story. We are never told the reason why God did not want David to build the Temple.

Instead, what we are given is God’s pre-conditions for the building of the Temple in Samuel II, 7:10 – 11 and Deuteronomy 12:10; not until God grants Israel "safety from all your enemies around you” and “security” will the House of the Lord be built. These conditions could not be met during David’s war-torn reign. It required Solomon’s establishment of a more powerful and peaceful kingdom and, in particular, his consolidation of powerful alliances with all the surrounding nations for God’s requisite conditions to be met. Solomon does so magnificently. “[H]e controlled the whole region west of the Euphrates . . . and he had peace on all his borders roundabout. All the days of Solomon, Judah and Israel from Dan to Beer-Sheba dwelt in safety” (Kings II, 4 – 5).

Having achieved the imperatives of safety and security, and “now blessed with an abundance of resources necessary to building the Temple as a result of his alliances,” Solomon proceeds on an excessively grand scale. According to Benarroch, this should prompt us to ask, “Why such lavishness?” And in turn, to wonder why a Temple at all when God dwells everywhere and the Jews had the Mishkan. The answers reside in what Benarroch described as Solomon’s “very shocking” explanation for why he built the Temple:

if a foreigner . . . comes from a distant land for the sake of Your name . . . when he comes to pray before this House, oh, hear in Your heavenly abode and grant all that the foreigner asks You for. Thus, all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built” (Kings I, 8:41 – 43).

What is shocking is Solomon views the Temple “not as the monopoly of the Jews but of all the nations.” The extraordinary magnificence and beauty of Solomon ‘s Temple were needed to bring the nations to Jerusalem to see the wonder of the House of God and so come to know the one true God of Israel and turn away from their own gods.

“And it works!,” according to Benarroch, who cited the story of the Queen of Sheba as evidence of the transformative power of the Temple, for “when [she] had seen all Shlomo’s wisdom and the house that he had built, and [all his wealth] . . . there was no more spirit in her” (Kings I, 10: 4 – 5). But what finally impresses the Queen of Sheba, as Benarroch pointed out, is not the architecture but God. Her words make this clear: “Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, to set you on the throne of Israel. For the Lord loves Israel forever; therefore, he made you king, to do judgment and justice” (Kings I, 10: 9). This is the purpose of the Temple as well as of Solomon’s famous wisdom and wealth, to bring the nations of the world to Jerusalem and to God.

Benarroch’s perceptive new reading shows the extravagant grandeur of the Temple was absolutely essential for it “to be a magnet for the whole world.” Solomon’s ultimate goal was to attract all the nations of the known world to the Temple “[t]hat all the peoples of the world may know that the Lord alone is God, there is no other,” and thereby to heal the world of idolatry (Kings I, 8:60). And so, according to Benarroch, Solomon was serving what has always been, and what remains, the mission of the Jews: to serve as spiritual and moral exemplars, to be “a light unto the nations, / That [God’s] salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

 

 
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