From the Holiness of the Temple to the Figure of the Holy Individual: A Study of Hasidic Sources

Menachem Makover

For centuries, the Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of holiness for the entire Jewish world. Its destruction led to chaos and exile, spiritual as well as physical. But then from the void left in the wake of destruction, spiritual alternatives to the Temple emerged, most pronouncedly in the transition from the central role of spacial holiness to a sense of human holiness. Attention to this phenomenon, which scholars have termed mikdash adam, originated in the field of Religious Studies. The present discussion concerns the nature of the transition from holy place to holy individual, beginning with the roots of the concept in kabbalistic literature, and then focusing on its application and further development in Hasidic literature. Of particular interest is the figure of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai portrayed in the Zohar as a holy man (tsaddik) to whom people stream. Hasidic thought greatly amplified this notion of the tsaddik while conceiving of his court or place of residence as an actual substitute for the Temple and the Divine service that took place in it. We then turn to an additional and significant development in Hasidic thought that took place in the course of the nineteenth century in the Przysucha-Lublin school, with its renewed interest in the Temple as a central locus of holiness, and consider the connection between that trend and contemporary anticipation of the final Redemption.