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The Beis HaMikdash

Laws of The Holy Temple

Jewish teachings explain that when we learn the laws of the Holy Temple, its structure, the services and sacrifices practiced there, it is as if we are building it. This study should be carried out in anxious anticipation of the Holy Temple being rebuilt. We should study about the Holy Temple with the awareness that in the very near future we will see what we are studying about in actual reality.

The Mitzva to Build

When the Jews received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, they were commanded to build a Holy Sanctuary for G-d, called in Hebrew, a Mikdosh. The purpose of the Mikdash [Temple] is to provide G-d with a place to dwell in this world, a House to which offerings may be brought.

Men and women must help to build the Temple. It is a mitzvah to build it as beautifully as possible. If money is available, one should even cover the whole structure with gold! However, children may not be taken away from learning Torah, even for the sake of building the Temple. We do not build the Temple on Shabbat or on Yom Tov.

A person is meant to go to the Temple three times a year, to celebrate the Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot.

A Bit of History

The first Sanctuary was built by Moshe and the Jews. It was movable, and could be transported with the Jewish people from place to place in the Wilderness.

Nearly 400 years later, King David, designed a permanent Temple for G-d in Jerusalem. It was built by his son, King Solomon. This was the first Holy Temple. It stood in the holy city of Jerusalem for 410 years. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who cast the Jews into exile.

After 70 years in Exile, the Jews were at last able to return to Eretz Yisrael, under the leadership of Ezra the Scribe. He supervised the construction of the Second Temple. This occurred soon after the story of Purim took place. The Second Temple was larger than the First, and stood for 420 years. It was destroyed by the Roman armies led by Titus.

The Third Temple will be rebuilt on the same spot that the first two Temples stood, when Moshiach comes, may it be very soon!

The Structure

In building the Temple, large, expensive stones were used. Some were used in their natural form, others were shaped with tools, such as the huge stones still standing in the Western Wall.

On the Temple Mount itself, however, no iron tools could be used. Even to hear the sound of an iron tool was forbidden, because iron (as used for weapons) shortens the life of man, and the Temple is meant to prolong it.

The Temple Mount

The entire Temple area was built on a mountain slope, not on flat ground. When a person would enter the Temple, he would have to walk up Mt. Moriah, mounting steps from level to level as he went. It is no accident that the Temple is built on a mountain. On a mountainside it is very hard to stand still. You always have to keep climbing. When it comes to learning Torah and doing mitzvot, it is the same. We must also keep climbing--by learning and doing more.

The Temple Mount is called Mount Moriah. The word moriah is from the word yirah, meaning "fear" and "awe." When the Temple was standing, the world was filled with fear and awe of G-d. The word moriah is also from the root ho-r'ah, which means "teaching." This is because the highest court in all Israel, the Sanhedrin, used to sit in the Temple, so that teaching and instruction would go out from there to all the Jewish people.

The Sanhedrin, The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of seventy-one Sages (The Sanhedrin) had its chambers in the Temple. Here they would judge the people, and teach them to go higher and higher in Torah and mitzvot.

The room in which the Sanhedrin would meet was called the Chamber of Hewed Stone. It was called by this name because the chairs for the judges were carved out of solid stone.

The wisest and most righteous judges in Israel used to meet there, right by the Temple, so that when they were deciding the most difficult problems of the Jewish nation they would always think of G-d, and explain His Torah correctly.

When Moshiach comes - may we merit this speedily - and the Temple will be rebuilt, the great Sanhedrin will once again meet in the Chamber of Hewed Stones in the Temple. At that time, peace will reign, and the city of Jerusalem will expand to include all of the Land of Israel!

To Hold The Temple in Awe

We are commanded to hold the Temple in awe, and to revere it. Of course, it is not only the building that we revere, but the One who commanded us to build it.

How do we revere the Temple? We are not to enter the Temple Mount holding a staff, or with sandals on our feet, or dressed in informal clothes, or with dust on our feet, or money in our hands. Needless to say, we should not spit.

A person should not take a shortcut through the Temple Mount, entering on one side and going out the other, just to make the way shorter. Rather one should walk around the outside, and enter only for the sake of a mitzvah.

When leaving the Temple, a person should not turn around and walk away. He should go backwards slowly, and then turn to his side until he is out of the courtyard.

A person should not act frivolously or joke around opposite the eastern gate of the Temple, for it is directly opposite the Holy of Holies.

Even though the Temple is now in ruins because of our sins, a person must hold it in awe and behave in a dignified manner at all times, just as when it was standing.

The Mitzvah To Guard The Temple

It is a mitzvah to station guards around the Temple, just as a king would have guards around his palace. Not that we have to protect G-d, for He is mightier than any army, rather we station guards to show Him honor.

Every night, 24 guards would take up their positions around the Temple. The Kohanim (Temple priests) stood guard inside, and 21 Levites stood guard on the outside.

The Vessels

The following vessels must be in the outer courtyard:

1. The Great Altar

The Great Altar was made of stone. It was for burnt offerings, such as animals, birds, flour baked into matzos, and libations (pourings) of wine.

On top of the Great Altar three fires were kept burning: one was for the daily offerings, one to provide coals for burning the incense on the Golden Altar, and one just to fulfill the commandment of always having a fire burning on the Altar of G-d.

The kohanim (Temple priests) were not allowed to go up on the Altar by means of steps, nor was it permissible to build steps for the Altar. Only a ramp was allowed.

The Great Altar of the Temple was in a very precise place, which may never be changed. This place is so holy that even non-Jews recognize its holiness and have never worshipped idols on the spot.

The Great Altar was built on very holy ground. It is the same place where our forefather Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac (Yitzchok). Noah had made offerings to G-d there after the flood. Even Adam had made his offering to G-d there. In fact, our Sages tell us it is the very same spot G-d had taken the earth with which He created man Adam, the first human being.

The Altar of our Third Temple will also be built exactly in this same place.

Large amounts of wood were used for the fire on the Great Altar.

Kohanim who could not serve in the Temple, either because of age or some other reason, would check all the wood for worms before it went to the outer Altar. They did this in a chamber called the Wood Room.

2. The Kiyor, Wash-basin

The Kiyor (Wash-basin) was a large vessel full of water, used by the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet, before beginning their service in the Temple.

The Kiyor, originally had only two taps [faucets], but later it was redesigned by one of the High Priests called Ben Katin, to have twelve taps. This enabled all the twelve priests who participated in the daily offering to wash their hands and feet at once, before they began the Temple service.

In the inner Holy Chamber, there are three vessels:

1. The Small Golden Altar

The small Altar was made of pure gold, and was for offerings of sweet smelling incense.

2. The Menorah

The menorah was made of pure gold. It had three feet, and seven straight branches. On each branch there were three upside-down cups. Near the base was another cup, bringing the total to 22 cups--exactly equal to the number of letters in the aleph bais, the Hebrew alphabet.

There were also 9 flowers and 11 egg-shaped bulbs decorating the menorah. The flowers were a symbol of the world's potential for growth and development. The bulbs were a symbol of limitless spiritual pleasure.

The menorah was lit by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, every day toward evening.

All the flames in the menorah faced the central lamp. This lamp was called the nair ma'aravi--the western lamp--because it faced the Holy of Holies. This lamp was the first one kindled every day toward evening, and it would burn miraculously long after the others had burned out, until it was time to rekindle the menorah the next day. This was a sign to the entire world that G-d dwelt with the Jewish people.

3. The Shulchan, The Table

Twelve specially baked "loaves" were placed on this golden table every Friday before Shabbat. They stood in two rows. Between each tray was an air-space, the "loaves" were called the lechem hapanim, because they were shaped like a barge, facing in 2 directions at once.

The Kodesh HaKodashim

The holiest part of the Temple was in the west. It was called the Kodesh HaKodashim - Holy of Holies.

In it stood the Aron [ark], in which the Tablets with the Ten Commandments were kept. This box was square, just as the tablets were square and made of wood, with a layer of gold inside and a layer of gold outside. There were really three boxes, one within the other.

The cover of the Ark - the Kapo'res - was solid gold more than 6" thick.

On top of the Kapo'res were two golden figures, a boy and a girl. Like soldiers they stood guard over the Torah. G-d spoke to Moshe through their wings.

Our Sages tell is that when G-d was pleased with the Jewish people, these figures would face towards each other with love.

Beside the Ark was the legendary staff of Moshe's brother, Aaron, the first high priest, which once miraculously sprouted almond blossoms overnight, and a flask containing manna, a memorial from the time of Moshe and from the time the Jews were in the wilderness. This was to remind Jews how G-d sustained our ancestors for forty years in the desert, and how surely, He can sustain us now and at all times!

No one was ever allowed into this Holiest Chamber except the Kohen Gadol - the Hight Priest - and he could only enter once a year, on Yom Kippur - the holiest day of the Jewish Year, to pray for the welfare of the Jewish people.

To clean the Holy of Holies, men were lowered from above in special baskets. The baskets faced the wall, so that the men could do their job without looking into the room itself.

When King Solomon built the Temple, he knew that it would ultimately be destroyed. He built secret underground rooms in which to hide The Ark with the Ten Commandments, as well as Aaron's staff, the small vessel with manna, and the oil for anointing.

Before the First Temple was destroyed, King Yeshayahu commanded that the Ark be placed in these secret passageways. He also hid the staff of Aaron, the bottle of manna, and the oil for anointing.

None of these things were found again, not even in the time of the Second Temple, but they will all be returned in the time of Moshiach, when the Third Temple will be rebuilt, may it be speedily NOW.

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