Parashat Ekeb: The Synagogue and the Bet Ha’mikdash
Parashat Ekeb includes the second paragraph of Shema, which ends with the promise, "…in order that your and your children’s days will be increased on the land which G-d has promised to your forefathers…" (11:21).
This verse indicates that the Land of Israel has the special quality of "Arichut Yamim," of prolonging life. And thus, as the Gemara (Berachot 8) relates, Rabbi Yohanan was surprised when he heard that there are elderly Jews living in Babylonia. If G-d promised Am Yisrael long life specifically in the Land of Israel, he wondered, then how could there be Jews in Babylonia living long lives? He received his answer when he was told that the Jews of Babylonia would arrive early in the synagogues and remain late, rather than rushing home. It is because of this practice, Rabbi Yohanan realized, that the Jews there enjoyed longevity.
The question, however, remains, how did they enjoy long life if the Torah promises long life only in Eretz Yisrael? The Torah does not make an exception for Jews who arrive early in the synagogue and stay late. Why, then, did Rabbi Yohanan make this exception?
The Maharsha (Rav Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631), in his commentary to Masechet Berachot, explains by citing the Gemara’s comment elsewhere, in Masechet Megilla (29), that in the future, when Mashiah comes, all the synagogues and study halls in the Diaspora will be miraculously transported to Eretz Yisrael. Every synagogue in the Diaspora will one day be relocated in the Land of Israel, and thus those who spend time in synagogues outside the Land of Israel receive the special blessing of longevity that is granted to those who live in the Land of Israel.
In his commentary to Masechet Megilla, the Maharsha elaborates further on this concept. He cites a passage from the Midrash that in the future, the Bet Ha’mikdash will be exceptionally large, the size of the entire city of Jerusalem, and the city of Jerusalem will be the size of the entire Land of Israel. The reason for this remarkable expansion, the Maharsha explains, is because all the synagogues and study halls from around the world will be made part of the Bet Ha’mikdash. In his understanding, the synagogues and study halls of the Diaspora will not merely be brought to the Land of Israel, but will actually be incorporated into the Bet Ha’mikdash, resulting in an unimaginably large edifice.
On this basis, Rav Pinchas Friedman (contemporary) adds further insight into Rabbi Yohanan’s remarks regarding the aged Jews of Babylonia. The Gemara in Masechet Sukka (52a) teaches that at the time when Mashiah comes, G-d will destroy the Yeser Ha’ra. As we know from other sources, the Yeser Ha’ra, the Satan, and the Angel of Death are all one and the same. Thus, at the time of the final redemption, death will be defeated, for the downfall of the Yeser Ha’ra means the downfall of the Angel of Death. Hence, Rav Friedman explains, Diaspora Jews who spend time in synagogues and study halls are rewarded with long life. The synagogues and study halls have an element of the sanctity of the third Bet Ha’mikdash, which will be built at the time when there will no longer be death. Therefore, they experience longevity and live for many years.
Rav Friedman cites in this context a passage from the work Arbeh Nahal stating that one who donates money towards the construction or maintenance of a synagogue is considered to be donating money towards the construction of the third Bet Ha’mikdash. Since today’s synagogues are endowed with the sanctity of the third Bet Ha’mikdash, supporting synagogues is akin to supporting the third Bet Ha’mikdash.
Some people mistakenly assume that praying with a Minyan in somebody’s home is just as significant and valuable as praying in a synagogue. Based on what we have seen, this is not the case at all. Synagogues have a special dimension of sanctity – similar to the sanctity of the third Bet Ha’mikdash. It is an especially important and precious Misva to support and attend synagogues, in order to experience this unique Kedusha. We pray several times each day for the rebuilding of the Bet Ha’mikdash, but even as we long and yearn for this to happen, we still have the opportunity to experience, to some extent, the special sanctity of the Bet Ha’mikdash, and the special blessings of Eretz Yisrael, by regularly attending the prayers and classes in our synagogues.