“Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple—its arrangement, its exits and entrances—its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations.”—Ezekiel 43:10–11
The Torah portion for this week is Tetzaveh, which means “command” or “connect,” from Exodus 27:20–30:10, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 43:10–27.
This week’s Haftorah reading is taken from the book of Ezekiel. It opens in the middle of an intense vision that the prophet is experiencing regarding the Third Temple. In the Torah portion, we read about the descriptions and commandments regarding the First Temple to be built – which happened hundreds of years earlier during King Solomon’s time. In the Haftorah we get a glimpse of the Third and final Temple which, according to Jewish tradition, will be built in messianic times and will stand forever.
Considering the context of this vision and God’s commandment for Ezekiel to share his vision with Israel, it is strange that it centers on the Third Temple. At this time, the Jewish people were well into their 70-year exile in Babylon. Once the 70 years were up, they would return to Israel and build the Second Temple. Given this background, it seems to make more sense that this vision would be about the Second Temple, not the Third. Why is God set on providing Israel with a vision of something that they would never achieve?
The Second Temple would stand in a world very far from perfection, but the Third Temple will be built in a perfected world. The Second Temple would improve the situation, but the Third Temple would represent the ideal situation. The Second Temple was only temporary, but the Third Temple would stand forever.
When God chose to reveal the Third Temple to the Jewish people at this time, it was for two purposes — to motivate them and to comfort them.
By giving the people a vision of what was ultimately possible, God intended for them to “be ashamed of their sins,” which caused the destruction of the First Temple, and to be motivated to repent so that they could achieve the vision of a perfected world. The glimpse into the future was also meant to soothe their souls. By showing them how great things would be in the end, God was teaching the people to look past their current difficulties and focus on the larger picture.
This lesson was not just for the Jews of Ezekiel’s time, but also for us today. When we find ourselves in difficult times, it is helpful – even essential – to visualize a better future. This is true on a global level and also in our personal lives. When we paint a picture of how life can be, it not only will motivate us to work toward a better tomorrow, but also give us the strength to bear the burdens of today.
Only then can we appreciate that our challenges are but temporary difficulties on a path that will ultimately lead to a better place.