Cheshvan: Mikdah vs. Mabul

Nov 24, 2014

by Rabbi Ron-Ami Meir

“In the eleventh year, during the month of Bul – which is the eighth month – the Beit Hamikdash was completed according to all of its details and halachot. It took seven years [to finish].” (Sefer Melachim I Chapter 6) Radak explains that the month referred to here is Cheshvan, the eighth month counting from Nissan. “It is called Bul,” writes Radak, “because during this month, the flood activity begins.”

Why does the Tanach refer to essential winter rain as a flood? Also – why does the pasuk use the short form of the word for flood – “Bul”? Why not simply call Cheshvan, “Chodesh HaMabul”?

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov cites midrashim that note that even after the Flood, heavy rains fell annually from the 17th of Cheshvan (the month of “the Flood”) to the 27th of Kislev. They were so intense, that people dreaded the onset of winter. Once the Beit Hamikdash was built, however, the storms abruptly subsided. Cheshvan thus became known as “‘Bul” – the word “Mabul” minus the Hebrew letter “mem” – the numerical value of which is forty.

How did the building of the Temple impact on world climate?

God promised Noach that if a given generation were ever worthy of destruction as was Noach’s, He would “look” at the rainbow and refrain from destroying the world. We should never rejoice when seeing a rainbow – it’s actually a sign that the world has no objective right to exist; God, because of his pledge, has simply held back. Mankind hardly reached spiritual perfection after the Flood: It was only God’s commitment not to bring another flood that prevented a repeat of the first one. Like rainbows, the forty days of intense rains were an allusion to mankind’s ongoing lowly moral state.

If the Mikdash eliminated these rains, it must have represented a “tikkun” or remedy of the spiritual underpinnings of these storms.

What were the root causes of the Flood? Rashi cites sexual immorality and idolatry. Following the Gemara in Sanhedrin, Rashi adds that “Hamas” or theft sealed the generation’s fate.

How did the Beit Hamikdash remedy these three sins?

As the central sanctuary for the worship of the single, indivisible, invisible God of history – the Beit Hamikdash clearly represents a blunt negation of idolatry, Avoda Zara. What part, however, does the Mikdash play in eliminating deviant sexual practices?

The answer may lie in the halachot of Sotah, aimed at discouraging marital infidelity. In response to a suspicious husband, the Torah creates a framework aimed at ultimately fostering peace between a man and wife; to this end, God even consents to have His holy name written, and then dissolved in the Sotah waters! If the wife is guilt-free, the Torah promises that the woman will now “produce seed”. Rebbe Yishmael explains this means that a once-barren woman will now be blessed with children. Rebbe Akiva says that a woman who had earlier experienced difficult labors would now deliver with ease. In another strong statement against promiscuity, the Torah (Devarim 23:19) invalidates a sacrifice purchased with money earned through prostitution.

We noted above that the Flood was ultimately a response to the sin of theft. In Vayikra 1:1-2, we read: “God called out to Moshe . from Ohel Mo’ed saying: Speak to B’nai Yisrael and tell them: ‘A person (“Adam”) who sacrifices from amongst you a korban to God – must choose it from cattle and sheep.’ ”

Why didn’t the Torah simply say “One who sacrifices”? Why insert the term “person”- “Adam”?

According to Rashi, the Torah is instructing us to offer Korbanot in the same fashion as Adam HaRishon. Just as he did not sacrifice to God from stolen property – since the whole physical world was his – we must not offer Korbanot from stolen property.

Several other halachot connected to the Mikdash discourage greed and encourage contentment. Jews are commanded, for instance, to bring their Bikkurim, “first fruits”, to the Temple. This mitzvah, writes Sefer Hachinuch, is designed to encourage us “to remember and understand that all of the blessings in the world come to us from Him; we were therefore commanded to bring those who serve Him in His House (the Kohanim) the first fruits that ripen on our trees..”

MarCheshvan may be “bitter” because it doesn’t boast any Yamim Tovim, but it has a lot to be proud of as well: It was in Cheshvan that the Beit Hamikdash – may it be built “Bim’hera Biyameinu” – brought the world “back to basics”: In Cheshvan, the Mikdash began to refocus man’s attention on the basics of morality sorely lacking in Noach’s generation and, despite the Flood, in the centuries that followed.

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