The Midrash states: “There are three whose names preceded [their birth] – Yitzhak, Shlomo [King Solomon], and Yoshiyahu.” As Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz points out in his masterpiece, Worldmask (161-165), all three are conceptually connected to the Temple, the Beit Hamikdash. A fourth name appears, Ishmael, the main subject of this article, a link to the threat to Israel from Iran.
Names mean things
As students of the Hebrew Bible know, the names of biblical persons represent their essence and world-historical function. Yitzhak represents “sacrifice,” meaning drawing close to G-d. Rabbi Tatz writes: “[Yitzhak] was bound on the altar built on the site that would later become the Temple. He laid the foundation [the first stage] of the function of the Beit Hamikdash, the function of service and sacrifice, with his own being.”
King Solomon built the second stage – the actual structure – of the Temple. And he prepared a secret underground cavern with an entrance to the Holy of Holies so that when the destruction would later take place, there would be a place to hide the Aron, the Holy Ark.
King Yoshiyahu accomplished the third stage. He, prior to the Temple’s destruction, moved the Aron into its secret hiding place. Now let’s turn to Ishmael.
Genesis 16:11 records the naming of Ishmael, which in Hebrew means “consciousness of G-d.” In the next verse, however, Ishmael is called a “Pera Adam” – a “free man amongst men [whose] hand [will be] against everyman, and every man’s hand [will be] against him …” (Genesis 16: 12). A person conscious of G-d may become bellicose and kill others in the name of G-d. But what has Ishmael to do with the Temple Mount?
It was Ishmael’s descendants that built the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Whereas the mosque is circular or curvilinear, the Beit Hamikdash is rectilinear. It is well-known that circularity is representative of “Nature,” a word that does not occur in the Bible of Israel. Nature is the domain of determinism, the absence of free will. But Genesis 16:12 refers to Ishmael as a “free man.” How are we to explain this seeming contradiction?
First note that contrary to Hebrew usage, the adjective “Pera” precedes the noun “Adam.” This means that Ishmael’s humanity is inverse or misleading; he tends to behave like a savage. Hence Genesis 16:12 refers to him as a man whose hand will be against everyman. (This conforms to the description of Ishmael’s descendants by Ibn Khaldun, a 13th century Arab historian.) Moreover, we commonly refer to the behavior of savages as close to nature or as “natural.”
If Ishmael’s humanity is misleading, his “consciousness of G-d” may also be misleading. Perhaps his conception of G-d may be distorted, tainted by determinism. Perhaps this is why mosques are curvilinear, and why they are places of worship for people whose religion is fatalistic.
Iran and Al-Aqsa
Be this as it may, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the Temple Mount. What is its purpose? According to the Talmud, the descendants of Ishmael will prevent Jews from treading on and thereby violating the holiness of the Temple Mount until Jews have attained a certain spiritual purity. The Al-Aqsa Mosque also serves to remind Jews of the absence of the Beit Hamikdash, hence of what they most lack, the means of attaining the most profound closeness to G-d, which requires a ”straight” and not “curvilinear” or “circuitous” mind.
For this Israel requires purposeful direction and spiritual progress; it must transcend the meaningless circularity of Nature, which circularity traps the non-Torah world. Israel must therefore be true to its own name, whose prefix, “yashar,” means “straight”! To be straight, to direct one’s life to the service of G-d and thus to sanctify His Name – this is Israel’s world-historical function.
Today, Israel’s world historical function is under challenge from Iran, the Persians. Their leader, like Ahasuerus (the Xerxes of old), wants to wipe Israel off the map. Iran is in the trap of determinism; it cannot escape the path of nuclear destruction.◙
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