Torah Thursday: Moshe Feiglin’s hubris and Parshat Shemini


Computer problems and time constraints are responsible for this post is coming out a bit behind schedule. My apologies.

This past week, formerly extreme right-wing cum mainstream Knesset member Moshe Feiglin was prevented from entering Haram al-Sharif, current home of the Dome of the Rock and former site of both Holy Temples. Feiglin has tried and occasionally succeeded entering and praying there several times before. His stated goal is the exertion of Jewish sovereignty over the site, with the ultimate goal of bringing about the Third Temple.

This week, both the Torah and the Haftorah portions give us strong reasons to doubt the religious reasoning behind Feiglin’s actions. In this week’s Torah reading (Shemini), we get the tragic story of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. On the day of the  inauguration of the Mishkan (the traveling temple used by the Israelites prior to the construction of the First Temple), the two attempt a sacrifice to God. Despite following the same procedures as their father, it doesn’t go too well:

And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

The Rabbis offer a host of reasons for why their sacrifice was rejected: everything from disobeying Moses, to being drunk, to getting minor details of the sacrificial procedure wrong. Personally, though, I like the explanation offered by Rav Solovechik, mostly for its simplicity and fidelity to the original text. Seizing on the line “which He did not command of them,” Solovechik notes that the transgression of Nadav and Avihu is their attempt to fulfill the sacrifices when God has not commanded it. And so, God punishes the pair for their arrogance.

Attempts like those by Moshe Feiglin and the Temple Institute to bring about the Third Temple without the explicit command of God would seem to be remarkably similar to the sin committed by Nadav and Avihu. It represents incredible hubris on the part of those who would misuse God’s name to pursue their narrow political agendas. And in this week’s Torah portion, we see how God reacts to this sort of thing.

One reason that the Third Temple cannot yet be built can be found in this week’s Haftorah. In II Samuel 7, David seeks permission to build the First Temple in Jerusalem:

And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies.That the king said unto Nathan the prophet; “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within the curtains.”

Initially, the prophet Nathan agrees, telling David to go forth and build God a permanent Temple. That night, however, God instructs Nathan to reconsider:

When your days are finished and you shall lie with your forefathers, then I will raise up your seed that shall proceed from your body after you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

David’s son, Solomon, will build the Temple after his father’s death. The reasons for this decision comes in I Chronicles 28:

And King David rose to his feet and said, “Hearken to me, my brethren and my people; as for me, it is with my heart to build a house of rest for the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I prepared to build.But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house in My name, because you are a man of war, and you have shed blood.’

King David, a man of war, is not worthy to build a Temple to God. Only Solomon the Wise, a man of peace is capable of building the Temple. We cannot know when the Messiah will come nor how the Messianic era will play out. But the indication from the Haftorah portion this week is that the building of the Third Temple will first require the achievement of a peace and just world.

Moshe Feiglin is certainly not a man of peace (nor is he a King David, but that is a subject for another time) ; quite the contrary. His attempts to claim Jewish sovereignty over Haram al Sharif are designed to incite violence and racism. As such, they are not the sorts of actions that could ever lead to the building of the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the Third Temple. Much like Nadav and Avihu’s, Feiglin’s actions represents the worst sort of hubris. As such, he and his ilk take the Jewish people further away from God.

Working towards the Messianic era means working for peace and justice. And today, that means working against Moshe Feglin.

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