Positive Mitzvah Twenty-One

Revering the Temple [Mikdash]

VaYikra 19:30 My Sabbaths shall you observe and My Temple (Mikdash) shall you revere - I am Hashem.

We are commanded to be in exceeding great awe of the Temple, and to regard it in our hearts with fear and dread. The scope of that reverence is defined in the Sifra: "What does reverence mean? One may not enter the Temple Mount with his staff, or his sandals, or his wallet, or with the dust upon his feet, nor may he make of it a short cut; still less may he spit there." (VaYikra 19:30; Sifra)  It is explained in several places in the Talmud that it was not permissible for anyone to remain seated in the Court [of the Sanctuary] except only the Kings of the House of David. All this follows from His words (exalted be He), "And you shall reverence My sanctuary", the observance of which is binding for all time, even in our own days, when [the Temple], for our manifold sins, has been destroyed.

In the Mishneh Torah Maimonides explains the eternal sanctity of the ground on which the Temple stood:

'Now why do I maintain that in the case of the Temple and Yerushalayim their First Holiness [i.e. the holiness they attained at the time of the first Hebrew conquest of the Land of Yisrael] remains constant for all time to come...? It is because the holiness of the Temple and of Yerushalayim issued directly from the Shechinah [i.e. the Divine Presence], and the Shechinah is free from all transiency. Does not Scripture say, "And I will bring your sanctuaries unto desolation" (VaYikra 26:31) - which the Sages have expounded thus: "Although they be desolate they retain their sanctity [for ever]"?' (Mishneh Torah, Avodah, Hilchot Bet Ha-B'chirah 6.16).

It is for this reason that even today a Jew is not permitted to walk through those regions of the Temple Mount that he was forbidden to enter when the Temple stood. Moreover, since in view of the laws of cleanness and uncleanness - and of the impossibility of observing these in our days - we must all be adjudged unclean, Jews are altogether forbidden today to enter the Temple grounds. (See also Positive Mitzvah 31, and Negative Mitzvah 78.)

The Kotel (or Western Wall) in Yerushalayim, where Jews congregate for prayer, is merely the western part of the Outer Enclosure, which encircled the whole Temple Mount and is approached only from the west - the Temple Mount proper being situated to the east of the Kotel.

The synagogue of today being regarded in Jewish law as "the Little Sanctuary' - concerning which Yechezkel prophesied in the words, "Thus said Hashem G-d: 'Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come'" (Yechezkel 11:16) - it follows that the reverence spoken of in this Mitzvah is in a measure to be extended also to our own houses of worship (Megillah 29a).