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Thursday
Aug012019

Waiting For The 3D Beis Hamikdash

Eliezer Ben Chamu, an educator, musician, and one of the most outstanding 3D artists in Israel, tells Beis Moshiach about his newfound passion.

Zalman Tzorfati •

R’ Eliezer Ben Chamu’s day is packed these days. Every evening, he provides viewings of his production to members of kollelim, communities, shuls, women’s gatherings, etc. In the morning, he often appears before students in schools.

“There is an enormous demand to experience the Beis Ha’Mikdash,” he says, “especially these days. When people of all ages and types see the film, they immediately relate to the subject.”

Ben Chamu is an artist at heart and a veteran educator. Along with his work as a teacher for decades in Chinuch Atzmai, he is a musician and 3D artist. When he talks about “the film,” he is referring to a 3D film he initiated, produced, and constructed of the Beis Ha’Mikdash.

The 50-minute film draws the viewer to experience a very special Mikdash. The virtual camera hovers between the gates, courtyards and korbonos; all are in 3D and are brought to life in this high production value film.

It’s no secret that the Rebbe’s directive and request to study the Hilchos Beis Ha’Bechira have long since spread beyond Anash. The study of the avoda in the Beis Ha’Mikdash from every angle has gained traction in recent years within all streams of religious Jewry. However, up until a few years ago, the study of Hilchos Beis Ha’Bechira was the province of experts in the field, adults with understanding of maps and numbers, but this continues to change from year to year.

Every year, we hear about chiddushim that harness technology to illustrate the Hilchos Beis Ha’Bechira in the best possible way to broad audiences, from very young children to those who are first hearing about the concept of a Beis Ha’Mikdash.

“Learning from sefarim is abstract and very complicated for one who is not deeply involved in the material,” says R’ Ben Chamu. “All the more so for children and youth. Thanks to the technology we have today, primarily 3D, they can see, understand and literally sense the Beis Ha’Mikdash.”

Ben Chamu is exceptionally knowledgeable about the world of children and young people having being an educator for decades. A few years ago, he decided to acquire professional skills in 3D art while continuing his work as a teacher. He studied the field professionally and became a sought after artist.

How did you get to the Beis Ha’Mikdash?

Divine providence led me to the subject from several directions. Unlike the field of graphic design which has many religious people, 3D art is done in an atmosphere that, at least outwardly, is very removed from Torah and mitzvos. I worked with big imaging companies in Tel Aviv. The work conditions were excellent and I earned good money but the atmosphere, that was so different from what I was used to, bothered me. It kept on making me think that I had to use the talent Hashem gave me for kedusha.

One day, I came across a letter of the Chofetz Chaim in which he uses very strong language about the obligation to be involved in and expert in the Hilchos Beis Ha’Bechira, especially all the avoda of the kohanim and levi’im in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. This is so we won’t be taken by surprise and feel helpless when Moshiach suddenly appears. The wife of one of the members of the kollel where I occasionally learned had passed away. The kollel members divided Mishnayos between them, l’ilui her neshama and I took the tractate Yoma. I had a chavrusa with one of the members of the kollel and we delved into the mesechta; it was fascinating.

Some time later, my father passed away. I was very close with him and wanted to do something l’ilui nishmaso. I got the idea to bring to life the avoda of the Kohel Gadol on Yom Kippur which is described in meseches Yoma, using 3D film.

I contacted Rabbi Menachem Makover of the “Hareinu B’Vinyano” institute and Rabbi Daniel Maimon of Elad and told them my idea. Both of them urged me to start the project. “You have no idea how lacking this is and how needed it is,” they both said.

I got to work. At first, I worked alone and then I enlisted others. The work was very complex, for the avoda of the Kohen Gadol involves thousands of movements and actions so that constructing each one in 3D entails dozens of hours. Just to illustrate this, the creation of one 3D picture takes about half an hour and every 25 pictures equals one second of the film.

“There was a time when six computers worked day and night nonstop for four and a half months in order to create this. There were even days that we ran the air conditioners 24 hours a day, so that the little room wouldn’t, G-d forbid, go up in flames [from the intense heat of all the machines].”

The complexities and high costs of the project of the avoda of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur led Ben Chamu to shift the idea to building a model of the Beis Ha’Mikdash.

“The one who took on the entire project, financially, was a person who heard about the idea, loved it, and decided to get involved. After we began working, I brought him a more exact accounting of the projected costs for the project of portraying the avoda of the Kohen Gadol and the numbers were very high. He stated a sum and said this is what he could give; do what you want with it.

“I calculated that the project of the avoda of the Kohen Gadol was patently unrealistic and I suddenly had the idea of turning the project into an explanation of the Beis Ha’Mikdash. Portraying fixed structures and inanimate objects is much simpler and cheaper and we went with that.”

Did you have any background of involvement with the Beis Ha’Mikdash?

“Not at all. I knew what everyone else knows which is to say, very little. This was despite my learning in yeshivos. When I took on the project, I began learning in depth. I dove into the topic with the accompaniment of big talmidei chachamim who are experts in the subject, including Rabbi Yehuda Lichtenstein – a rav and melamed in the Gerrer community in Kiryat Gat and Rabbi Mordechai Ohayon, both of whom provided counsel from the initial idea until the end.

“Unfortunately, the more I encounter different communities the more I see how lacking is their knowledge of things having to do with the Mikdash, even the average Torah educated married man. I sometimes meet serious kollel students, talmidei chachamim who are very knowledgeable in halacha, but in this subject they are ignorant.  Maybe because these halachos aren’t needed in daily life during galus, it is less emphasized. But we are waiting for Moshiach to come every day and we believe that the Beis Ha’Mikdash can be built any moment, so are there halachos that are more relevant than these?”

***

When I come across a project about the Beis Ha’Mikdash that is not from Anash, the first thing I check is the shape of the menorah. Here I was happy to see the menorah with straight arms as it was in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. When I asked R’ Eliezer about this, he laughed. “That’s a special story,” he said.

“Back when I worked on the film, I made the menorah as I was familiar with it all my life, rounded. Then they came and told me that this wouldn’t fly in Chabad and if I wanted the film to be seen in Chabad, I had to change the menorah and make it straight.

“I didn’t want to do things on my own and I looked for a rav, a talmid chacham, who could guide me in building the menorah according to the Chabad way.  The only Chabad rabbi I knew that fit the bill was Rabbi Mordechai Menashe Laufer, the Chabad rabbi in Area 11 where we live in Ashdod. He is a serious talmid chacham and held in high regard in the neighborhood, and I knew he could help me.

“I have a friend who is close to him, and I asked him to speak with R’ Laufer to be so kind as to get involved in the project and explain to me precisely how to construct the menorah. It didn’t end up working out because R’ Laufer was very busy and this kept getting pushed off. One day, I got a call from a Lubavitcher I didn’t know. He asked whether I was the one who made the 3D film about the Beis Ha’Mikdash. I said yes, and he asked whether I could make a special model for him of the menorah according to the Chabad shitta.

“I told him I would be glad to but I didn’t know how. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I’ll send you a picture of a Chanuka menorah that was constructed exactly as the menorah in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. The Rebbe saw this menorah and affirmed that that it was constructed in accordance with the menorah of the Mikdash.’

“The man sent me the picture and disappeared, meaning, he never get back to me and I have no idea, till today, who he was. Maybe I will find out through your magazine. The man disappeared but he solved the problem for me. He left me with a picture according to which I constructed the model of the menorah with straight arms.

“After I built it, I showed it to several talmidei chachamim who are knowledgeable in the subject and they confirmed for me that it is exact, so I inserted it into the film in place of the rounded menorah that had been there. I believe the Rebbe sent me the man to help me …”

What are the reactions you get from viewers of the film?

“Amazing feedback. It’s not an ordinary film that provides an entertaining experience.  It is a truly educational film. It is literally to sit and hear an intensive shiur on meseches Middos, presented in a clear way that illustrates things experientially. Sometimes, when I see that the material is all new to the audience, I give an introduction and explain with maps what we are going to see. This makes it easier to understand the film.

“After the lecture, people come over to me and convey their amazement. For many, this is the first time they are studying the subject. Some tried to learn it before but this is the first time they are understanding it. I took the film to Tzfas and afterward, I got an email from the person who invited me to do the lecture, that the film was a hit in the community.

“In Elad, I showed the film just as they were making a siyum on meseches Middos. People told me that they learned the entire mesechta over a period of time and in one evening they understood it.

“I was in Maalot where three kollelim, an eighth grade and a hesder yeshiva joined forces. After the film was shown, the principal came over and pointed out that an explanation was missing about the southern and northern lishkos [chambers] like the Lishkas Beis Hamokad, Lishkas Beis Avtinas and the Lishkas Kohen Gadol. I told him we had no choice, due to lack of money. On the spot, he said he would try and get the funding so these parts could be added to the film.”

How did you decide on the length of the film?

“We made it 50 minutes long even though the original plan was really for 30 minutes, but many people said that the amount of material was too much, especially for someone unfamiliar with the material, so I slowed the film down and gave more time to digest and process the information so that it would be easier to actually learn the material.”

Along with the film, R’ Eliezer produced a slide-show of stunning pictures depicting the avoda of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. “Although the portrayal of all of the avoda in a moving film was too costly, I wanted there to be at least a slide-show of pictures, so we constructed the slide-show that brings to life the entire avoda of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur.”

What did you get out of this project?

“First, I got to do something for the elevation of my father’s neshama. I have no doubt that the fact that hundreds of thousands of Jews are learning the Hilchos Beis Ha’Bechira in experiential fashion, and understanding the material, causes a great nachas up Above.

“Second, it’s a great zechus for me to see the tremendous thirst people have, and the anticipation for the Geula. Whoever walks out after this film feels that something has moved inside him as far his ability to to relate to the Geula. It suddenly becomes more real. I see young children, high school kids, yeshiva students, kollel members, boys, girls, everyone riveted, interested, asking and probing.

“There’s no question that all the involvement and learning of this subject hastens the coming of Moshiach. We built the Beis Ha’Mikdash in three virtual dimensions. We are waiting for the fourth dimension, the physical dimension, to be built by Moshiach Tzidkeinu, may he be speedily revealed.”

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