So accustomed are we to reading the Megillas Esther year after year that people rarely pause to ponder a simple question. Why was Haman the instigator of the Purim plot? Were no other descendants of Amalek available to do the foul deed? What secret quality of Haman singled him out to act as the potential hangman of Klal Yisroel? The Medrash solves this mystery by suggesting that Haman’s appointment to the job was no coincidence but the consequence of a half-forgotten crime.
The Temple Connection
As mentioned last year, besides Purim’s genocide theme, another scarlet thread running through the Megillah is the nations’ struggle to stop the Jews from rebuilding the Bais Hamikdosh.
Five years before Achashverosh’s great banquet, King Koresh of Persia had granted the Jews permission to return to Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh, and a year later Yehoshua the Kohein Godol and Zerubavel were offering daily korbonos on the altar and beginning the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh proper.
Tragedy struck when the Jews rejected the local Kusim’s offer to help in the rebuilding. They complained to the authorities and construction ground to a halt until the days of Achashverosh. In addition to maintaining the anti-construction ban, Achashverosh celebrated the Temple’s continued ruin with the great banquet recorded in Megillas Esther. So staunch was his opposition to its rebuilding that we find him promising Esther anything in the whole world except one thing – “the middle of the kingdom,” which, according to Chazal, refers to the ruined Bais Hamikdosh in the middle of his kingdom.
The theme continues with Vashti who was punished “because she would not give Achashverosh permission to build the Bais Hamikdosh” (Esther Rabah 5:2). Hinting at this idea, the Gemara (Megillah 12b) tells us that the names of the seven ministers involved in her death penalty hinted at various aspects of the Temple service.
But Haman’s involvement in the anticonstruction project was the most fateful of all. The Medrash (Esther Rabah 7:2) tells us that if not for this involvement he would never have risen to greatness and gained the opportunity to plot against Klal Yisroel. Citing the verse, “After these matters, the king made Haman great,” the Medrash says that his promotion was in fulfillment of the verse, ‘When the wicked flourish like grass… this is in order to destroy them forever’ (Tehillim 92).
“Haman was made great only to his disadvantage,” the Medrash continues. “Why did Hashem make him great? This is like a lowly official who cursed the son of a king. The king said, ‘If I kill him, everyone will say that I killed a lowly official.’ Therefore, he appointed him as a high official, and then appointed him as a ruler and decapitated him. In the same vein, the Holy One said, ‘If Haman was killed when he went and advised Achashverosh to cancel the building of the Temple, no one would know him. Instead, let him become great and afterwards be can be hanged. Because of this, ‘He placed his throne above all the ministers,’ and afterwards, ‘They hanged Haman.’”
In other words, Haman’s genocidal scheme was an extreme case of sin begetting sin. As punishment for scheming against the Bais Hamikdosh, he received the power to plot the destruction of the Jewish people.
The theme of Haman’s involvement with the Bais Hamikdosh continues throughout the Purim story. After his downfall, we find Haman telling Mordechai that his studying of the laws of kemitza (the flour offerings brought in the Temple) was worth more than the huge bribe he had given to Achashverosh to gain permission to destroy the Jews (Megillah 16a). Why was Mordechai studying laws connected with the Temple service?
In order to raise an accusation against Haman who had halted its reconstruction. The Bais Hamikdosh theme continues when the Jews accept the Torah willingly and lovingly (Shabbos 88a). This is not a mere adjunct to the Purim story, but a necessity for its logical conclusion – the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. In his introduction to Parshas Terumah, the Ramban explains that an integral purpose of the Mishkan was to house the Divine Presence that had been present at Sinai. “The secret of the Mishkan,” he states, “is that the glory of Hashem’s Divine Presence that dwelled on Mounts Sinai, will dwell on it in private.”
In a similar vein, after Haman’s downfall it was time to get on with rebuilding the Bais Hamikdosh that would house the Divine Presence of Har Sinai. To deserve this, the Jews lovingly reaccepted the Torah, reaching such a high level that the Bais Hamikdosh may have lasted forever, as we will see from subsequent events.
The Purim miracle occurred in the year 3405/356 BCE. Seven years later the Jews completed the second Bais Hamikdosh on the 3rd of Adar 3412/349 BCE as Sefer Ezra (7:15-16) records, “This House was completed by the third day of the month of Adar, which was the sixth year of the kingdom of King Darius. The sons of Yisroel, the Kohanim, the Levites, and the other people of the exile, made an inauguration of this House with joy.”
The Malbim puzzles over the wording of these verses. Why do the verses refer to the Bais Hamikdosh as “this house” instead of simply “the House?” He answers that this hints that this brilliant day had a tragic fl aw.
“The earlier sages have already explained that when the verse says this house, it hints that had it been meritorious, the hour of future redemption would have arrived,” he writes. “Immediately after this building, a Bais Hamikdosh like the future Mikdash viewed by Yechezkel would have descended from heaven and they would have begun the second dedication described in Yechezkel. Meanwhile, they made a dedication of this House; the word this indicating the anticipation of the dedication of yet another House.”
Unfortunately, the Jews anticipated its arrival in vain and thousands of years later, we are still waiting for the third Bais Hamikdosh to descend from the heavens.
Two Temples in One
The Malbim’s scenario of the potential third Bais Hamikdosh seems puzzling.
“Immediately after this building,” he wrote, “a Bais Hamikdosh like the future Mikdash viewed by Yechezkel would have descended from heaven and they would have begun the second dedication described in Yechezkel.” Does this mean that the Jews would have had two Temples simultaneously? The Malbim does not elaborate.
Whatever his exact meaning, the Malbim’s concept of a dual Bais Mikdash is not unique because the sources mention two types of Temples in the end of days, one manmade, and one that miraculously comes down from the heavens.
Let’s start with the Gemara (Sukkah 41a) that mentions a possibility that the Mikdash might be built at night or on the 16th of Nissan, which is Yom Tov. Puzzled at this contradiction of the rule that the Mikdash cannot be built at night or on Yom Tov, Rashi answers, “This applies to a manmade building, whereas the future Mikdash we await will be revealed built and completed, and come from the heavens as it says, ‘Your hands will establish the Mikdash of Hashem’ (Shemos 15:17).” Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu (chapter 18) reflects the same idea, “Happy are the righteous, that no enemy has power over them or their handicraft. Thus, we fi nd that no enemy had power over the Mishkan Moshe made… but the enemy had power over the Mishkan Shlomo made. However, the last Mikdash which the Holy One will build… no enemy will destroy or control forever.”
On the other hand, there are sources that describe the third Bais Hamikdosh as built by man. For example, the Rambam (Melachim 11:1) writes, “The Messianic king will arise and restore the kingdom of Dovid to its prior state and build the Mikdash.” Verses of Yechezkel (43:10-11) describing the third Mikdash seem supportive of the Rambam’s position: “You, son of man, inform the house of Yisroel of the House… and measure its plan… its entrances and exits and all its form and all its rules… Inform them and write before their eyes and guard all its form and all its rules and do them.”
Seemingly contradicting what he wrote in Sukkah, Rashi comments here, “They should learn the matters of its measures from your mouth in order to know how to do them at the end of time.” There are many attempted resolutions to these contradictory approaches to the origins of the third Mikdash.
For example, the Aruch La-Ner (Sukkah 41a) raises a number of objections to saying that the Bais Hamikdosh will come from heaven including the text of our daily tefi llos where we pray that the Bais Hamikdosh be speedily “built” in our days. To solve this, the Aruch ha-Ner suggests a dual-Temple compromise.
“It seems to me that the actual future Temple will certainly be built by man’s hand,” he writes. “When the verse says, ‘The Mikdash of Hashem that Your hands establish,’ from where the Tanchuma derives that it will descend below, this refers to a spiritual Bais Hamikdosh that will enter the physically built one just like a soul enters a body. This is similar to the spiritual fire that descended into the physical fire that burnt in wood at the time of the Mishkan and the Bais Hamikdosh.”
In support of his conclusion, the Aruch La-Ner cites the Mechilta, which derives from the verse, ‘A place for Your dwelling that You made, Hashem,’ that a spiritual Bais Hamikdosh in the heavens corresponds to the Bais Hamikdosh below. This spiritual Bais Hamikdosh will one day descend into the physical Bais Hamikdosh built by man, the Aruch La- Ner explains. He also mentions the Zohar (parshas Vayeishev) that implies that just as a man’s soul cannot survive below without a body, so a spiritual Temple cannot exist without a physical counterpart.
This is only one of the many attempts to envisage a third Bais Hamikdosh built by the hands of both man and Hashem. Whichever way it happens, this scenario will be the final defeat of Haman’s plans.