In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the commandment to build a sanctuary in which G-d’s presence will rest and be felt. The Torah gives us precise details on how it should be built and which materials should be used. At first this temple was built in a temporary manner and in the times of King Solomon it was built in a permanent manner in Jerusalem. It stood for 410 years and was subsequently destroyed by the Baylonians. Seventy years later, it was rebuilt. This time it stood for 420 years and then was destroyed by the Romans. The Western Wall which exists today in Jerusalem, at which people from the entire world come to pray, is a miraculous still-existing wall of the original temple.
There is an argument between Maimonides and Nachmanides about what was the main purpose of building the temple? Maimonides states that the temple was built so the Ark, which housed the tablets given at Mt Sinai, would have a home. Nachmanides differs and says that the temple was built in order for the Jewish people to bring the various sacrifices on the Altar.
Their argument can be explained as follows: As we mentioned, the Torah states that in the temple G-d’s presence would rest. Therefore, Maimonides says that the Ark was the focal point of the Temple since the Torah teaches us that when G-d spoke to Moses the voice emanated from on top of the Ark, which was the holiest part of the temple. However, Nachmanides feels that although the divine presence rested in the Ark, if a person would not refine himself through the various sacrifices, he would not be able to properly access the divine presence. Therefore, he feels that the Altar is the focal point of the temple, since it enables the Jewish people to access the divine presence.