The Chofetz Chaim says: “That in every Shemone Esray we pray to Hashem that He should send Moshiach and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash speedily in our days. The purpose for desiring the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash is to reveal the honor of Hashem like in the Temples of yesteryear and to bring offerings as written in the Torah” (Ma’amri HaChofetz Chaim, maamar 6).
The first part of the concluding paragraph of Shemone Esray is based on a mishna in Pirkay Avos: “[Yehuda ben Tema] used to say, ‘The brazen goes to Gehinnom, but the bashful goes to the Garden of Eden. May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-D and the G-D of our forefathers, that the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt, speedily in our days, and grant us our share in Your Torah’” (Avos 5:24 in the siddur).
The Bartenura explains the connection between the first and second half of the Mishna: “Just as you graced us with this attribute, that the signs of the seed of Avraham are bashfulness, merciful, and do acts with kindness (Yevamos 79a), so to may it be Your will that Your city be rebuilt.” This means that just as the attribute of being shamefaced is one which is in the genetic makeup of every single Jew, Hashem made it part of our nature to act in this manner, so too the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and Yerushalayim should be a natural consequence of the world speedily in our days. This is what we pray for at least three times a day. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The last part of the paragraph in Shemone Esray is a quote from the beginning of this week’s Haftorah for Shabbos HaGadol: “Then the offering of Yehuda and Yerushalayim will be pleasing to Hashem as in days of old and in former years” (Malachi 3:4). The Yalkut Shemone, based on a Sifra says that “Days of old” refer to the days of Moshe Rabbeinu as it says by him: “And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.” (Vayikra 9:24). “And in former years” refers to the days of Shlomo HaMelech as it says: “And all the Children of Israel saw the descent of the fire, and the glory of the Lord on the House, and they kneeled on their faces to the ground on the floor, and they prostrated themselves and [said]: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His loving-kindness is eternal’" (Divrei HaYamim Beis 7:3). Rebbe says “Days of old” refer to the days of Noach as it says, “For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be wroth with you nor to rebuke you” (Yeshaya 54:9). “And in former years” refers to the days of Hevel when there were no idols in the world. (Yalkut Shimone within paragraph 589 and see Sefer Olas Tamid page 148.)
The Chofetz Chaim on the Sifra points out that by Noach’s offering after he came out of the ark it says: “And Hashem smelled the pleasant aroma” (Breishis 8:21) and about Hevel’s offering it says: “And Hashem turned to Hevel and to his offering” (Breishis 4:4). The Chofetz Chaim also points out that only by Hevel did the Sifra mention there were no idols because idolatry began in the days of Enosh (Toras Kohanim, mechilta dimiluim, paragraph 31 with biur of the Chofetz Chaim). (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
What is the difference between the first opinion and Rebbe? Also, why does the Chofetz Chaim say that there was no idolatry only in the days of Hevel? Wasn’t idolatry wiped off the face of the earth in the flood, and Noach brought his offering as soon as he left the ark when there was no idolatry in the world?
The difference between the two opinions is the relationship shown through the reaction of the giver of the sacrifice to Hashem versus the environment of when the offering was accepted by Hashem. By Moshe and Shlomo the awesome display of Hashem’s acceptance of the offerings, through fire coming down from heaven, generated great song and praise from the Jews, even though the rest of the world was flooded with idolatry. On the other hand, though we don’t see any reaction by Noach and Hevel, their offerings were given at a time when there was no idolatry in the world, an ideal state of existence. However, it would seem that even an imprint of idolatry, though non-existent, is not the most ideal, and that is why “when there were no idols in the world” was only mentioned by Hevel.
We should have in mind both opinions in our davening. That there should come a day, soon, when we will be able to sing praises to Hashem with the same excitement the Jewish people had in the times of Moshe and Shlomo, and also in an era where no idolatry exists, to the point that Hashem erases time and any imprint of idolatry in the world, may it come speedily in our days!