A strange law prohibits Jews from planting trees by the Bet Hamikdash. LO TITA…KOL ETZ ETZEL MIZBACH HASHEM ELOKECHA…, “You shall not plant…any tree near the Altar of Hashem…” (Deut. 16,21) Why would this be prohibited?
When we build a synagogue today it is recognized by Chazal as a Mikdash Me’at, a diminutive of the Temple. We try to beautify it and make it pleasant for those who worship in it. Yet the Torah says not to plant trees, implying that one should not try to decorate it.
Perhaps the reason can be seen in the very name given to the synagogue by Chazal – Mikdash Me’at. It has a part of the MIKDASH, the holiness of the Bet HaMikdash. The beauty of the synagogue is not its walls and not its elaborate decorations. Its beauty lies in its holiness.
We are aware of “shtiblach”, Chassidic places of worship that are run down in need of repairs, of paint and of new furniture. Such a place is far from what we would call beautiful. Yet no one can deny that the holiness, the KEDUSHA, in this place cannot be equaled by most magnificent edifices where services take place. The beauty has to be inward. It has to be one of sanctity.
This does not mean we should not try to beautify our places of worship. On the contrary. We should make them as magnificent as we can. But we must remember that the sanctity is what creates the true beauty.