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Thursday
Aug252016

BRINGING THE BEIS HAMIKDASH TO THE PEOPLE

One of the most popular speakers on the topic of the Beis HaMikdash is RMordechai Persoff, director of the Midrasha LYeda HaMikdash, or as it is known in English, the Mikdash Educational Center. * For twenty-five years he has been making all aspects of the Mikdash accessible to the public. He has many stories that show the deep connection we have to the Mikdash, and that includes those who are not yet religious. * For the month of Av and all year round.

The “Three Weeks” and the month of Av in general are a time when our yearning for the Beis HaMikdash goes up a notch for all segments of the Jewish people; religious, Chassidic, Zionists, and not yet religious. Lectures on the subject are given all over Eretz Yisroel and the world.

True, there is great ignorance, but all those involved agree that a drastic improvement has taken place in the public’s interest in the Mikdash.

There are many people who teach about the Mikdash. One of the most popular and well-known is R’ Mordechai Persoff, head of the “Midrasha L’Yeda HaMikdash.” I went to speak to him thanks to a referral from R’ Menachem Makover, director of the Temple Institute who collaborates with the Midrasha, and who, himself, has been involved in Mikdash related matters for decades.

It was hard to find a time to talk to R’ Mordechai since he is so very busy giving lectures and workshops. A glance at his itinerary shows that he is giving talks all over the country: Yerushalayim, Elad, Moshav Tzerafya, Ekron, Moshav Netta in the south, B’nei Adam, Talmud Torah Neria, Karmiel, Neve Shaanan in Haifa, and the yishuv Rechalim. The day we spoke he was in Petach Tikva and Tel Aviv. The day before he was in Eli and Mazkeret Batya. Next week, he will be running a big event in a hesder yeshiva in Ramat Gan and will be a guest of a Chabad House in the Kiryat Shalom neighborhood in Tel Aviv. The day after that he will be in Kfar Yaavetz, at the Meoras HaMachpeila and Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Between lectures, between trips, we sat down to talk and to hear how it all began.

“The ‘Midrasha L’Yeda HaMikdash’ has been running for twenty-five years. Our goal is as the name suggests, to disseminate information about the Mikdash. We want every Jew in Eretz Yisroel (and in the past four years we’ve expanded to other countries too) to know more about the Beis HaMikdash. Our goal is to give over information, to teach about the Mikdash, its structure, and the avoda that was done there.”

To R’ Mordechai there is a goal beyond that:

“When a person knows about the Beis HaMikdash, when he davens for the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt speedily in our days, he knows what he is asking for. The knowledge that he has, leads to the yearning and in that merit, it will be rebuilt. It is not enough to ask and daven. We need to know what we are praying for and why this is important to us. These are the goals of our Midrasha.”

Why would a Jew today yearn for the Beis HaMikdash? People are having a hard time dealing with their daily lives!

“It says that when the Mikdash was destroyed, people no longer ate meat or drank wine because the meat reminded them of the sacrifices in the Mikdash and the wine reminded them of the wine libations in the Mikdash. After the churban, people asked, ‘How can we live without the Beis HaMikdash? What kind of life is it without this holy place?’

“We are so distant from the Beis HaMikdash that we don’t even relate to the question. There is a vort on the words, ‘because of our sins we were exiled from our land – and were made distant …’ - because we were exiled from our land, we became so distant from the vision and aspiration of the Beis HaMikdash.

“Now for an answer to your question. Today’s reality is one of lack. We do not have the place where we can feel G-d’s closeness. Hashem wants a Beis HaMikdash for the purpose of ‘and I will dwell among them.’ He wants to be with us. We, every Jew, wants to feel Hashem within us. This is why we aspire to the Beis HaMikdash.

“We need to teach about the Beis HaMikdash so that people can appreciate the significance of this place. And when we do that, we will understand and feel that the Beis HaMikdash is not just a holy building in our history that was destroyed but something we are missing today.”

THE HUGE MODEL
OF THE MIKDASH

The people who work for the Midrasha are busy year-round, but they are extra busy this time of the year. They travel from place to place and present a variety of fascinating activities for all ages through a lecture, hands-on activity, a game or workshop.

R’ Mordechai notes that they are big believers in getting people involved in the learning and not just providing a lecture.

“We use a lot of props. We have a huge model of the Beis HaMikdash, four meters big, that travels with us. Wherever we go, we assemble it with help from the audience. This way, they feel that they took part in building the Beis HaMikdash.

“One of the messages we convey is about the unity that the Beis HaMikdash engendered. When they build the model, each of them sees how important the part they contribute is for completing it. This is true for children and adults.”

In addition to the model of the Mikdash, the people from the Midrasha also have actual-size vessels of the Mikdash, like the Menorah (which includes a model with diagonal arms), the Aron, Shulchan, priestly garments and more. All are true to life sized, which makes it all the more real. “Our goal is to make it as real as possible.”

When R’ Mordechai speaks, his face lights up.

“Picture someone going to the Beis HaMikdash. He is astounded by the magnificence. He smells the incense. He hears the singing of the Levites. All his senses work overtime and connect him deeply to the holy site.

“To the extent possible, we want to get a person who learns about the Beis HaMikdash to experience it. This is why we don’t only teach and explain but use many visual aids.

“When we conduct workshops, the children try out the instruments of the Levites. One portion of our lectures is brought to life by 3D models, which allow us to conduct a virtual tour of the Beis HaMikdash. They see vessels which are the real size and it makes an impact on all audiences across the board, from preschoolers to adults.

“We just finished a big project in the yishuvim of the Galil. We went to about thirty yishuvim, to people who are not yet religious, and in each place we found some point they could relate to in order to attract them to the idea and ideology of the Beis HaMikdash.”

How does the irreligious public react to a subject that is so foreign to them?

“We start by talking about Yerushalayim. Yerushalayim is a city that they acknowledge is the heart of the nation. We talk about the glorious past of the Jewish people in Yerushalayim, starting from the Creation of the world, to the Akeida, Yaakov’s dream, and of course, the Battei Mikdash. When a person understands that the Jewish people lived for a period of 1500 years with Battei Mikdash (or the Mishkan) it helps them relate, at least on a general level. They realize that it wasn’t just some buildings that were destroyed but a central part of Jewish life.

“That is how we address and get them to connect to the past. The same thing applies to the future and our yearning for it to be rebuilt. When people see the rich array of topics connected with the Beis HaMikdash, that it is not just about bringing sacrifices, they become aware of the magnificence and the tremendous impression the place had on people. When they hear about the idea of achdus, how the Beis HaMikdash related to the nation and to the individual (like the bad smelling galbanum spice that was included in the incense which represents the evildoer who is also part of the Jewish nation), it helps them relate.”

THE BEIS HAMIKDASH AROUSES THE DEEPEST LEVELS OF THE SOUL

I see how alive the subject is for you. How do you inspire people nowadays to yearn for a place so spiritually and historically distant?

“It’s not easy, as it really is hard to yearn for a place you’ve never been to, even though I honestly think that it’s a little easier in our generation than it was previously.

“Before I respond to your question, let me say that even during the time when they wanted to build the second Beis HaMikdash, the leaders of Yehuda and Yerushalayim stopped the construction saying, ‘we are few,’ and ‘we are not deserving,’ and ‘it’s not the time to build now.’ But Hashem sent them Chagai the prophet to urge them to build, which had the desired effect, and two years later the Beis HaMikdash was standing. From this we see that there were always those who felt that we were not worthy and maybe it’s not the right time.

“The Lubavitcher Rebbe urges us to study about the Beis HaMikdash based on the Midrash that the prophet Yechezkel said to Hashem, why should the Jewish people be engaged in the study of the building of the Mikdash during exile, and Hashem rejected that line of reasoning and said, ‘Because My house was destroyed, should My children not be involved in building it? On the contrary, if you are involved in learning about the Beis HaMikdash, I consider it as though you built it.’

“Today it is easier to raise people’s awareness about building the Beis HaMikdash. The Jewish people know and feel that we are the generation of the Geula. Furthermore, the moment you are involved in learning about the Beis HaMikdash, you think about it and talk about it. All these, thought, speech and action, create a real and tangible feeling that brings a person to experience the Beis HaMikdash and yearn for it.

“As someone who has been traveling around the country for twenty years lecturing about the Mikdash, I can say that people are very interested in this topic. It’s really extraordinary. People today know much more about the Beis HaMikdash than Torah scholars in the previous generation. Second graders can describe the avodos in the Mikdash as well as the structure of the building. I have been in preschools where they know about the Nikanor Gate, the Chulda Gate, the Lishkas HaShemanim and more, places that previously only the greatest scholars were familiar with.

“You see this also in the broader public, including those who are not yet religious. There is a tremendous awakening. I know about big groups who are interested in the Beis HaMikdash, in the engineering of it. Although we cannot fully picture how and when it will be, as the Rambam says, boruch Hashem, there is a great desire for knowledge.”

Can you tell us of an incident in which you were surprised by the public’s interest in the Mikdash?

R’ Mordechai did not have to think much to answer this.

“One of my favorite talks is about the mystery of the missing vessels of the Mikdash. Where are they? Often, after these talks, children come over and want to get involved in the search, because it’s important to them.

“Just last week I was at a workshop with children. The adult supervising them was the gym teacher who also sat and listened. At the end, the teacher said, ‘It frustrates me that the fourth graders know more about this stuff than I do.’

“In general, at any school or preschool that I go to, when the parents come at the end of the school day to pick up their kids, they stand around, fascinated. I address the children and find out that I was speaking to the parents. Often, people contact us with questions and things they want to clarify and understand.

“One of the most moving reactions I’ve heard was after a lecture I did by a shliach in Arava, R’ Moshe Blau. It was two or three years ago and I spoke to a group of older residents. I set up the model of the Beis HaMikdash and gave my talk. When the time was up, I began dismantling the Mikdash and a woman came over to me and said in an annoyed tone, ‘How can you take apart the Beis HaMikdash?’ I was taken aback and then said, ‘If dismantling the model bothers you that much, can you appreciate how great was the sorrow over the destruction of the actual Beis HaMikdash which we no longer have.’

“In recent years we have expanded our activities to the US. We have a lecturer there who goes around to Jewish communities and makes a presentation. Many of his lectures are to irreligious audiences. One time, he was invited to make a ‘Shabbat Mikdash’ somewhere in New Jersey. Over the Shabbos he made some nice presentations.

“A few days later, the rav of the community called him and said that a member of the community sent him an email in which he said he had considered leaving the community after being a member for twenty-five years. ‘I did not feel that connected to the community,’ he wrote, ‘but this Shabbos gave me the feeling that I belong to the Jewish people and to the community as well.’

“There is no question that the Beis HaMikdash arouses the neshama and brings out the desire to be part of the Jewish people and strengthen one’s connection with Hashem.”

“I BUILT THE BEIS HAMIKDASH TODAY”

The Midrasha employs all sorts of means to make the topic of the Mikdash accessible to the average person. They produced a series of films called “Nitzotz MeiHaMikdash,” and a series “B’niya Lifnei HaSheina,” as well as a series of films called, “Z’vulun Choker HaMikdash” and more.

R’ Mordechai spoke about how influential these are on the younger generation:

“We produced the ‘Nitzotz’ series five years ago. It happened to find its way onto the Internet. You hear a third grader say, ‘I watch your movie every week,’ or another child, in second grade in Karnei HaShomron say, ‘I love the movies you make and it really makes me feel connected to the Beis HaMikdash. The part I like best is the Menorah’s decorations.’

“We once went to a religious girl’s high school in Maala Levona as part of a Yom Iyun on the Mishkan and we did a workshop with ninth grade girls. Their madricha at the workshop taught them about the priestly garments and suddenly, all the students began singing a song about the priestly garments that we always teach in preschools. Apparently, they remembered the song since they learned it with us in preschool!”

How do the children react when they build the model of the Beis HaMikdash?

“At first, the model is not something actual to them, but within twenty minutes the model is constructed and becomes something real and tangible before their astonished eyes. It creates an excitement and the impact is tremendous, not only on the children but also when we do it with adults. This is the first time they are seeing a model of the Beis HaMikdash that extends upward to a meter and a half (4 and a half feet).

“Not surprisingly, a child goes home afterward and tells his parents, ‘Today I stood next to the Beis HaMikdash,’ or ‘Today I built the Beis HaMikdash,’ ‘Today I looked at the Beis HaMikdash.’ Many of them want their picture taken next to the model. They want to feel a part of it.”

HAKHEL IS
ALIVE AND WELL

This year is a Hakhel year, the year following a Shmita year. When the Beis HaMikdash was standing, the Jewish men with their wives and children would go to the Beis HaMikdash on Sukkos. Yerushalayim was full of people who had come to see the king and hear him read from the Torah.

The Rebbe turned the entire year into a Hakhel year and suggested that people make gatherings “in order to instill in the Jewish people fear of Hashem.”

R’ Pinchas Persoff describes huge Hakhel gatherings:

“We are almost at the end of the year. Throughout this past year we held numerous gatherings to commemorate Hakhel. The staff at the Midrasha held Hakhel activities for about 100,000 people around the country.”

Every year you are involved in teaching about the Mikdash. How do your Hakhel programs differ?

“Good question. Unlike our usual programs in which we prefer working with small groups, when it comes to Hakhel gatherings, because of the nature and tone of the event, we do them with large groups, as big as possible. There have been events that we’ve done with 500 children, even 1000, and one time, we even had 2000 participants! At an event like that, you feel the power that is generated by the gathering of such a large number of people. It creates an amazing energy.”

R’ Pinchas and his people go to the places where they are invited and make their Hakhel presentation, whether a shiur or a play or a lecture, depending on the audience. They put up huge pictures of the Beis HaMikdash that measure five meters by three and a half, which gives the impression that you are actually there. Most of the time, they set up their actual size vessels of the Mikdash on the side, which helps make the event come to life.

“Our Hakhel ceremony is divided into two parts. In the first part, we speak about preparations for Hakhel – the importance of the event, what it’s about, and who needs to participate. Our actors come dressed in the priestly garments and they blow four silver trumpets as was done in the original ceremony.

“In the second part we start the ceremony itself. An actor dressed as a king leads the event. We often include the head of the community in the ceremony, whether he is a rav of the city or some other distinguished personality like mayors or heads of the community council, or even supervisors from the Education Ministry. Whoever is there, without exception, gets ‘into’ the Hakhel atmosphere.

“The highlight of the encounter is when the king reads the verses from the Torah. When the ceremony is done with a crowd that is not that religious, we do a ‘kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim’ ceremony in which the king reads the Shma. It is a moving sight to see so many people accepting the malchus Shamayim together.

“Although we are not Chabad Chassidim, I can tell you that the Rebbe’s vision is being realized through us. In this Hakhel year, as opposed to earlier years, we reached record levels of participants. There is not a religious educational institute, at least that I know of, that did not address the topic of Hakhel in some way or another. Even the Education Ministry had a Hakhel committee that prepared curricula and programming on the topic.”

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