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Wednesday
Jul262017

EXPERIENCING THE MIKDASH

When I met with Yochai Shamron it was nearly midnight. We were both after a long day’s work, and we wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. “Here take it; before we even start talking, first take a look,” he said to me as he pulled out a set of 3D goggles and a pair of large headphones, and began to fix them to my head. “Just hang on to the chair and don’t let go, so that you don’t get lost on me.” I try to recall the last time that anybody asked me to hang on tight to any object for fear of getting lost, and in the living room of a four-room apartment no less. Meanwhile, Yochai set up the program, pulled the straps over my head, and I heard a pleasant voice coming from behind me, “Shalom, I am Yehoyada HaKohen. Come along with me for a tour of the Beis HaMikdash.”

I try to recall the last time that anybody asked me to hang on tight to any object for fear of getting lost, and in the living room of a four-room apartment no less. Meanwhile, Yochai set up the program, pulled the straps over my head, and I heard a pleasant voice coming from behind me, “Shalom, I am Yehoyada HaKohen. Come along with me for a tour of the Beis HaMikdash.”

I wait for Yehoyada HaKohen to appear on the screen in front of me, but all I see is a large red curtain, the voice of Yehoyada can be heard in the background and I realize that the tour is about to begin. I turn my head around, and ah, there he is. He was behind me. Now the tour begins.

After a few minutes of following Yehoyada around, I find myself being drawn into a magical yet realistic world. Suddenly, I understand Yochai’s warning about not getting lost, because the only thing I want to do right now is run all around the expanse of the Har HaBayis and the Beis HaMikdash.

“I wanted to come up with the most sensory experience possible,” Yochai explained to me afterward. “The more tangible something is made to be, the more people will long for it. This is not like telling a story or learning something and relying on the person’s imagination. When you make it more real it comes alive and a lot easier to relate to, and thus to anticipate and hope for it.”

BEIS HAMIKDASH IN SURROUND VISION

The directive of the Rebbe to study and be involved in matters of the Beis HaMikdash during the Three Weeks has for some time already crossed into other communities and beyond the classic approach to the study of the written word. The curiosity and interest in the subject of the Mikdash, which are growing ever more among the broader population, along with the need to innovate, gives birth each year to new and original initiatives in the field, with an emphasis on the experiential, creativity, and use of new technologies.

One of those who has taken the idea of visual demonstration to the furthest level that is possible today is R’ Yochai Shamron, a resident of Elad, for whom the subject of the Beis HaMikdash has been a strong passion for many years.

Yochai’s project has taken the chareidi world by storm. It is a 3D virtual tour of the Beis HaMikdash in 360 degrees. Here is a brief explanation for those not that familiar with latest cutting-edge technologies. These are special sealed goggles which are strapped onto the head alongside a pair of headphones. Both do not allow any extraneous sounds or sights to interfere with what is coming through the devices.

The entire program is built in 3D and swivels to a full 360 degrees, and portrays the Beis HaMikdash in the most realistic form possible. When the viewer lifts his head, he sees the sky or the roof over his head, and when he lowers his head he sees the ground at his feet. Similarly, turning your head around or to the sides will show you what is happening behind you and to the side, just as it would in real life.

The tour takes the viewer through the entire expanse of the Beis HaMikdash. You enter through the massive gates, into the halls and courtyards, circle around and over the Mizbeiach, watch the Levite choir singing and playing music, and see the sacrifices. On your visit into the Heichal, it is possible to stand next to the Kohen while he is lighting the Menora and offering up the Lechem HaPanim, and to end off by entering the Holy of Holies and seeing the Aron and the Kruvim up close.

As Yochai tells it, “Once, at the end of the program, an older chareidi Jew approached and said to me, ‘I feel like I just left the Holy of Holies, and that now I must hold a thanksgiving feast for having exited in peace.’”

I DISCOVERED THAT I KNEW NOTHING

Shamron’s connection to the Beis HaMikdash began many years ago. The one who ignited his passion was his former study partner in kollel. “He got into it in a big way. One day I was sitting with him and he began to ask me questions about the Beis HaMikdash. I discovered that I knew nothing. I grew up and was educated in a religious school and yeshivos, and after that I sat for years in kollel. The topic of the Beis HaMikdash was not foreign to me, but I suddenly realized that I could not answer simple questions about it.”

Yochai began to study the subject in depth and was hooked. Not long after he began, he was already expert in the topic and even gave classes on the subject. However, nesting in his heart was always a sense of mission. “I am not a theoretical person; I am a man of action. I felt a strong sense of disappointment over the thought of how many distinguished young scholars, not to mention bachurim and children in the religious world, who were raised in religious institutions, have no idea of the most basic of basics.”

That is how the first production was born. Together with another friend, they produced a stunning film on the Beis HaMikdash, a film that is still being sold today in many places (including Matteh Moshiach, after they made the necessary corrections in the shape of the Golden Menora).

FROM FILM TO MULTI-SENSE EXPERIENCE

The years passed and the film had already been distributed in every possible place. Yochai had just one question. How could he make the Beis HaMikdash even more real to people?

“I began researching 3D technology. I invested a lot of money and we started working on a film that would be projected on three screens simultaneously and would be viewed on moving seats. I worked on it with a friend who is a professional and we slowly made progress. One day, I arrived at the studio where we worked and my friend told me about a new type of device that incorporates 3D technology with 360 degrees surround vision and which wasn’t yet on the market. It was only being manufactured as a prototype model.

“I put the device on my head and instantly realized that whatever we had done until then was going to be shelved. This is what I wanted.

“We started researching the technology. It was brand new in Israel and there was nobody who worked with it. By Divine Providence, we found someone suitable for work on the project. It was labor intensive and detailed work, which took over a year and cost hundreds of thousands of shekels, but we ended up achieving what we wanted.”

In the meantime, the device went on the market for general use, and Yochai bought quite a few of them and started to offer those around him the opportunity to view the program. Reactions were very positive and the initiative caught the religious world by a storm. Today, Yochai runs his program in schools, camps and for adults. He shows up with all his equipment, which includes all the electronic gear and rotating stools, and brings more and more Jews to a heightened awareness about the Mikdash.

“I feel that this is my mission. Every neshama has its reason for coming down to this world and I feel that my mission is to be involved with and to teach the topic of the Beis HaMikdash in the most experiential way possible, in a way that everyone can relate to.”

Shamron is constantly working on improvements and upgrades. “Our primary focus now is to make the program accessible to the general population. Right now, it is more suitable for a religious audience. We are working on making it suitable for the broader public in Eretz Yisroel.” Presently Shamron is based in Crown Heights at the Chabad Center for Hebrew Speaking People on 845 Eastern Parkway.

CRAFT PROJECT FOR CHILDREN

Mrs. Rinat Konow of Raanana is involved in producing craft projects, writing and developing workbooks for children. She too has harnessed her talents to teach Jewish children about the Beis HaMikdash through hands-on creative experience. This particular project contains ten activities for children, and includes the materials, tools, and detailed explanations. It does not aim to teach the exact measurements and form of the Mikdash, but engages the children and sparks their creativity around this topic. The project is designed for children of all ages, and even for adults who enjoy crafts.

Daily, Rinat works with every type of demographic, from both the religious sector and those who do not identify as such. “The idea behind the project is to enable children to relate to the whole topic of the Beis HaMikdash through creative activities,” she says. “My experience has taught me that the moment that children get involved and are creative in a given area, they internalize it more, take it to heart, and it becomes something that they own, far more than if it comes to them in the form of an idea that was just explained to them.

“Personally, I really love learning about the Beis HaMikdash. I learned the tractate of Middos several times, and all of the descriptions there became very real to me. I looked for a way to make it even more tangible and pass it on.

“About two years ago, it was a little before the Three Weeks, and since the topic of the Beis HaMikdash and creative crafts are real passions for me, I began to think about how I could bring it down into action and transmit the concepts of the Beis HaMikdash through creative means. Suddenly, I began to come up with all sorts of ideas, such as the choshen (breastplate), and weaving which is connected to the part that women have in the Beis HaMikdash, and many other ideas for activities.

“We started experimenting at home, with the living room turning into a studio, and we got to work. First, we did some pilot projects to see how they would play out in the real world. After that, there was the work of choosing the materials and what the actual activity would consist of, writing, photographing, and all the peripheral production aspects. We did it all on our own. And that is how the project was born.

“The responses started coming in fast and furious, and they were very enthused, because people really appreciated it as something special. Mothers began to send me pictures of their children working on the crafts, and girls, even older ones, came to tell me that they had sat and worked on it and really enjoyed it.

“The one who gave the final push to fully implement this idea was R’ Aryeh Kirshnzaft. He was very enthusiastic and loved the idea, and really encouraged us to continue and produce the crafts package for the wider public.”

Rinat is now busy putting out a crafts workbook for children that will cover the entire yearly cycle. “I once wrote to the Rebbe about the idea of putting out a booklet on the topic of the building of the Mishkan. At the time, I received an amazing letter from the Rebbe that was all about the work of the Mishkan. There were some laws mentioned, and the Rebbe writes there about the jobs that were specifically done by the women, and how they used to sew, and other discussions on the topic.

“That answer of the Rebbe encouraged me greatly to continue in this vein. I expanded on the idea and it turned into an entire book, which should be coming out in the coming months, entirely devoted to different creative activities for children throughout the yearly cycle.”

THE SONG OF THE LEVITES

We have gotten used to lectures on the subject of the Beis HaMikdash, some accompanied by slide-shows or brief films, but R’ Lev Leibman, a musician and music researcher, takes his audience on a fascinating encounter with the music of the Levites. They get to know the personalities behind the orchestra, its Heavenly sources, and where it can be heard today. All of this allows the audience to experience life in the Beis HaMikdash from a whole new and less well-known perspective.

“The field of the song of the Levites in the Beis HaMikdash has barely been explored to this day,” explains R’ Leibman. “This is a subject that is not familiar and not known to the public. Everybody knows that the Levites sang and played music in the Beis HaMikdash. Those who study Rambam or the tractates of Tamid and Middos know a few isolated details, but the larger picture is missing, and I would even say obscured.

“On the other hand, this is a very moving element of the Beis HaMikdash, which is highly experiential. In my lectures I see that this is a subject that fascinates the whole crowd. People are also very interested in any detail connected to ongoing traditions about the tunes used by the Levites that were preserved after the destruction of the Temple. I try to spice each lecture with explanations from Chassidus, which convey the relevance of the song of the Levites even today in each person’s Divine service.”

Can you get us into the atmosphere?

“Are you ready? Okay, the Beis HaMikdash is standing. Now we are coming for a first time visit to Yerushalayim, to see the daily proceedings in the Beis HaMikdash and to witness the offering of the Tamid sacrifice. The process of offering the sacrifice is coming to its conclusion, and now we are up to the final stage, the pouring of the wine libation. Suddenly, the Kohen standing at the edge of the Altar waves a cloth. Immediately, we hear the powerful sound of crashing cymbals, and an elaborate orchestra with over 100 players, along with the massive choir of Levite singers who are standing in front of the Altar, burst out into gorgeous song. All those present are completely mesmerized by the music, and it feels like the soul is about to leave the body from the sweetness of the melodies. The first part of the song draws to an end, and the Kohanim blow a majestic blast from the trumpets.”

R’ Leibman has been researching the field of Chassidic music for many years. This led him to the topic of the song of the Levites. “I began my research from the earliest sources regarding whatever we know about the music of the Beis HaMikdash. I researched the topic extensively and that became the genesis of my second book Lenagein Beheichalo.”

In his lectures, R’ Leibman provides a historic overview of the song of the Levites, from its beginnings in the Mishkan until the end of the Second Temple. He also touches on various aspects of the song of the Levites, from the perspective of homiletic works, philosophy and especially Chassidus, which describe the various intentions and feelings that the Levites experienced during the singing and playing.

“In general, we know that the third Beis HaMikdash will be larger and more extravagant than the first two. When it comes to the music we are told explicitly that the harp in the first two Temples had seven strings, whereas the harp of the Days of Moshiach will have eight strings. This statement expresses the upgrade in the song of the Levites in the future time, relative to what was in the past,” concludes R’ Leibman.

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