Saturday, June 15th 2024   |

I wonder about the Temple

By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF

I think G-d has a sense of humor. Pardon me if you think that’s blasphemous, but until I learn more – when I stride through those pearly gates – I’ll stick with that theory.

Ted_RobertsLet’s take one example. Our Creator, when he first meets up with our forefathers – especially Moses – plays one theme over and over. Do not, He says, mingle with the people of the land I shall give you. It is a repetitive theme. Don’t eat with them (especially at the annual Canaanite Carnival). Stay away from their cheeseburger booth; don’t eat their fat pork cutlets. In fact, eat none of their improperly slaughtered livestock.

But that’s just the prelude to the ban on any cultural co-mingling. Obviously, stay away from their women. The point is non-arguable – treat the people of the land as though they are all infected with the plague. Separation is the theme. I am a jealous G-d, says the author of the Chumash. Don’t mess with these barbarians and especially their gods. He obviously abhors their multiple deities. Stick with me, says the creator of Jews and Canaanites.

So many of the mitzvahs have as their purpose a fence between us and them. And it’s not because Joe Phililstine and Jimmy Jebusite are inferior creatures – it’s because their god is not our G-d. Their religious system is barbaric; involving multiple sins such as Temple prostitutes, child sacrifice, idolatry, and other assorted immoralities. And besides that, remember – and you should have no trouble, since it’s repeated eight times in our book – remember, says the Chumash, “I am a jealous G-d”.

Having said this, let’s flip a few pages further in our Chumash and what do we find, but page after page of detailed instruction as to the home that our G-d shall occupy and detailed instructions on sacrifice. A Temple – like a celebrity’s mansion in Hollywood Hills. It’s a 20 million shekel spread – like Brad Pitt or George Clooney would order from some architect to the stars. Do you really believe that pleases Him? And in His insistence on sacrifice, it smells of paganism. Their hilltops and groves are polluted with temples.

Waitaminute – I thought we were supposed to stay away from this kind of theological excess. Our G-d is everywhere: and invincible since he is invisible. The aforementioned Temple sounds like the kind of residence that would please Baal and all his idolatrous kinfolks. And this estate is manned by a thousand man union of Levites. Hmmm, besides the smell of barbecued beef, I also smell the strong possibility of graft. I give you a lamb to sacrifice and you take the tenderloin home for supper and maybe the smoke of chuck steak ascends to Heaven. And remember only the smoke goes to Heaven. The chuck steak still sits – all crispy and juicy (unless you overcooked it) on the grill. It’ll make a fine supper. If I was a Levite in 900 BCE, I would take a large cooler to work.

But, there’s an anomaly here – or more acutely an evolution of Judaism. The overall irony is that the recipient of lamb smoke, ox smoke, and other delicacies tells us not to behave like Jebusites and their kin and then tells us in the case of sacrifice HOW to behave like the Jebusites and their kin.

Flip some more pages to the Psalms and prophets and we get sarcastic lectures on sacrificial ceremony, biting sarcasm about our perception of a G-d who likes barbecue! For example, read Psalms Chapter 50 that constantly dins into our ears a civilized doctrine of a G-d who delights in goodness, not lamb smoke, and needs no physical home other than your heart.  We find our Creator in a highly sarcastic mood about this imperial “House” that he so painstakingly described earlier. Time has passed and man has intellectually matured.

First of all, he derides sacrifice. He says things like: I will not accept your bulls, your goats. “For every beast of the field is mine, the cattle on the hills”. He doesn’t stop there. With a burst of ironic humor, He who hung the planets says: “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” And he finishes his tirade with a zinger of a quote: “He who brings Thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me.” Ah, the core of Judaism, not sacrifice, not even prayer, but deeds and repentance.

Was a playful G-d being ironic when He specified his Hollywood hilltop accommodations? The prophets certainly think so. Maybe that’s why we don’t rebuild the Temple now. Maybe its day has faded in the light of today’s Judaism. Ask your rabbi how the Temple, in the face of such biting criticism, has attained such shining, historical stature in our dazzled eyes.

Why?

And in line with today’s rabbinical instead of Temple-based morality, why not substitute goodness for barbecued chicken and livestock. A good deed instead of a guilt offering. Generosity to our fellow man to please our G-d. A specific list of golden deeds to make amends for specific errors. Which do you think would please the Master Magistrate more – lamb smoke or goodness. We have transcended barbecue grills, don’t you think?

 

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