Parsha Halacha

Parshat Va’et’chanan/ Shabbat Nachamu

Why the Beit HaMikdash Is Called Lebanon: Six Reasons

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The Torah portion of Va’et’chanan begins with the prayer of Moshe Rabeinu – that he be allowed to cross the Jordan River and “see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.”[1] Although the word Lebanon in the Tanach usually means the cedars of Lebanon[2] or a forest,[3] in this context the commentaries say Moshe Rabeinu is referring to the Beit HaMikdash.[4]

Why the Beit HaMikdash Is Called Lebanon

I have found six reasons as to why the Beit HaMikdash is called Lebanon: [5]

1)     Cleanses Sins

The Beit HaMikdash whitens (cleanses) the Jewish people from their sins (lavanmeans white), as it says,[6] “If your sins will be like scarlet, I will make them as white (pure) as snow.”[7] This was accomplished by the many sacrifices offered in the Beit HaMikdash.[8]

2)     Made Out of Cedars

The Beit HaMikdash was made out of the cedars of Lebanon.[9]

3)     Was Near a Forest

The Beit HaMikdash was located near a forest made up of cedars of Lebanon.[10]

4)     Frankincense Was Offered There

One of the important services in the Beit HaMikdash was to offer incense and meal offerings in which Levonah/frankincense (similar to the word Lebanon) was an important ingredient.[11] In this sense, the name “Levanon” is like the name “Har HaMoriyah” (Mount Moriah) in that both refer to the incense burned in the Beit HaMikdash.[12] (Moriah alludes to the Myrrh, another spice that was in the incense.)

5)     An Elevated Place

The Beit HaMikdash was elevated (spiritually) above the rest of the world just as trees are elevated above the ground from which they grow. (See above that “Lebanon” can mean cedars.) This is why the Jewish people received atonement through the Beit HaMikdash, for by visiting and worshipping there, they would be elevated and removed from their sins just the trees are elevated. [13]

6)     Divine Wisdom and Knowledge Was Found There

The word לבנון/Lebanon is made of two words – לב, which is the gematriyah of 32 and נון, which (as a letter) has the gematiryah of 50. This refers to the 32 paths of chochmah (Divine wisdom)[14] and the 50 gates of binah (Divine understanding) that were revealed in the Beit HaMikdash.[15]

Sins of Scarlet and of a Worm

The full verse quoted above (as to how the Beit HaMikdash would atone for sins) is “If your sins are like scarlet, they can turn white as snow; if they are red like תּוֹלָע (wool dyed with the blood of a worm) they will become like fleece.”


The Meshech Chochma explains[16] that the double expression is referring to the sins of the eras leading up to the destruction of the first and second Beit HaMikdash respectively. The sins of the era of the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash were major (murder, idolatry and immorality) but they were only on the surface level as deep down the people desired to do the right thing.

For example, Achav, King of the Ten Tribes, was an idolator and a murderer but was willing to risk his life rather than allow the Amonites to desecrate the Torah.[17] This can be compared to scarlet dye which dyes the material but does not change its essence.

On the other hand, the sin of the people in the era of the destruction of the second Temple was baseless hatred. This is an internal sin which is much harder to root out. It can be compared to a worm whose blood (very essence) is red.

Despite this, the Beit HaMikdash atoned for both types of sins (to a certain degree) while it stood.[18]

What Did Moshe Want To Do There?

The verse says that Moshe wanted to “see… the Lebanon (Beit HaMikdash).” There are various explanations as to what he wanted to do there.

  • Bless It

According to the Seforno, Moshe wanted to simply see it with his own eyes. This would bring it an everlasting blessing.[19]

  •   Build It

The Me’am Lo’ez says that Moshe wanted to go to the site of the future Beit HaMikdash so that he could be involved in building it just as he had been involved in the building of the Mishkan.

  •    Bring Down the Shechinah

The Vilna Gaon says that by seeing the place of the Beit HaMikdash, he would draw down the supernal Beit HaMikdash into that spot as it will be in the Messianic era when “the glory of G-d will shine on it.”[20]

When Would It Happen?

The implication of the verse is that Moshe wanted to cross the Jordan River and see the Beit HaMikdash immediately (“Please let me cross over and see… the Lebanon).[21] This is difficult to understand since building the Beit HaMikdash was an enterprise that took many years. King Solomon had the first Beit Hamikdash built in seven years[22] using tens of thousands of workers. This is in addition to the work his father, King David, did in preparing the finances[23] and plans for that Beit HaMikdash.[24]

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains this[25] based on the verse in the Song of the Sea that the Beit HaMikdash will be made with both of G-d’s Hands.[26] Rashi says that this verse teaches us that the Beit HaMikdash is more precious to G-d than the entire world. We see this from the fact that He created the world with one Hand, as the verse says, “My own Hand founded the earth”[27] but will make the Beit HaMikdash with both Hands.

When G-d created the world, He did so in an instant, as Rashi writes[28] “All of the aspects of heaven and earth were created on the first day, and each element was placed [where it belongs] on the day that G-d decreed.” So, if the Beit Hamikdash is even more beloved to G-d than the entire world, certainly it, too, will be built in an instant.[29]

The reason that the building of the first Beit HaMikdash took so long is because Moshe did not come into the land, and they therefore did not merit to have the deepest Divine revelation in that Beit HaMikdash (both “Divine Hands”). This will only be fulfilled when Moshiach comes.[30] Had Moshe’s prayers been answered, he would have gone into the land,[31] and the Beit HaMikdash would have been built on the Messianic level and would have thus been built instantaneously by G-d. Thus it would have made it possible for Moshe to enter the Beit HaMikdash almost immediately.


May we soon see the revelation of the Third Beit HaMikdash, built by both of G-d’s Hands!

[1] Deut. 3:25

[2] See Metzudot David on Psalms 29:6

[3] See Metzudot Tziyon on Kings I, 7:2

[4] Rashi (and other commentaries) based on Sifri on the verse and on Bereishit Rabbah 15:1

[5] See Gittin 56b where Raban Yochanan ben Zakai told Vespasian that he must be a king since he had besieged Jerusalem, and the Beit HaMikdash could only be destroyed by a king, as the verse says, “Lebanon will fall into the hands of a mighty one (Isaiah 10:34).”

[6] Isaiah, 1:18

[7] Sifri on the verse and Yoma 39b quoted in Aderet Eliyahu by the Gaon of Vilna, on the verse

[8] See Bamidbar Rabbah 21:21 that no man ever slept in Jerusalem with a sin “in his hand” as the Tamid (daily sacrifice) would atone for their sins on a daily basis.

[9] Chizkuni on the verse. See Kings I, 5:20.

[10] Ralbag on Kings I, 7:2

[11] The Lubavitcher Rebbe in HaMa’or Shebatorah on the verse (from Sichat Parshat Vaet’chanan 5737). See Rashi on Gen. 22:2 in explanation of the name “Mount Moriah.” See Exodus 30:34, Levit. 2:1 and in many places

[12] See Rashi on Gen. 22:2 “[It is called Moriah] because of the service of the ketoret(incense) which had Myrrh and other spices.”

[13] The Maharal in Gur Aryeh

[14] לב also means heart as the 32 paths of wisdom are supposed to reach one’s heart.

[15] Nachal Kidumim

[16] Devarim 16

[17] See Sanhedrin 102b

[18] Rabbi David Falk in Iyun HaParsha on the Haftorah of Devarim.

[19] See Horayot 12a “When you sit in front of your teachers, see their face, as it says, ‘Your eyes shall see your teachers (Isaiah 30:2).’”

[20] A paraphrase of Isaiah 60:2

[21] But see Tagum Yonatan who says that Moshe wanted to see “the mountain of Levanon on which the Beit HaMikdash would be built.”

[22] See Kings I, 6:1 (“in the fourth year of his reign over Israel, Solomon began to build the House of the L-rd” ) and verse 38 (“and in the eleventh year… the House was completed”).

[23] See Kings I, 7:51 (“When all the work that King Solomon had done in the House of the L-rd was completed, Solomon brought in the sacred donations of his father David—the silver, the gold, and the vessels—and deposited them in the treasury of the House of the L-rd”). See Radak on the verse.

[24] See Chronicles I, 28:19 where King David tells his son Solomon before he passes away, “All this that the L-rd made me understand by His hand on me, I give you in writing—the plan of all the works.”

[25] Sichot Kodesh, 5737 vol. 2 page 376.

[26] Exodus 15:17 as explained by Rashi

[27] Isaiah 48:13

[28] On Gen. 1:14. This is based on the first verse in the Torah where the word “אֵת /et” is taken to mean something secondary. Thus, “in the beginning G-d created ‘אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם /et hashamyim’ means “the heavens and everything that is secondary to it” while ‘וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ/ ve’et ha’artez’” means “and the earth together with everything that is secondary to it.”

[29] See Kings I, 7:1 with commentaries that King Solomon took 13 years to build his own home but only took seven years to build the Beit HaMikdash which was more important to him.

[30] As Rashi says (on Exodus 15:17) “When will it be built with two hands? When ‘G-d will reign forever’ – in the future when all dominion will be His.”

[31] See Rashi (ibid) that this verse is spoken (prophetically) on the assumption that Moshe will not be entering the land of Israel.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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