The Location of the Vessels According to Chazal (II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

 

LECTURE #120b: THE LOCATION OF THE VESSELS –
ACCORDING TO CHAZAL (Part II)

 

BY RAV YITZCHAK LEVI

 

 

THE TABLE AND THE CANDLESTICK

 

            The gemara states:

 

The table was to the north, two and a half cubits away from the wall; the candlestick was to the south, two and a half cubits away from the wall; the altar stood in the exact middle, extending somewhat outward. (Yoma 33b)

 

            Rashi explains (ad loc.):

 

“Away from the wall” – Two and a half cubits away from the northern wall, room for two priests, one next to the other, who arrange the two rows of showbread. The mitzva is to arrange [the new loaves] and remove [the old loaves] at the same time. Four [priests] go in – two on this side of the table to remove the old row of showbread, and two on this side to arrange the new [row].

 

            The gemara describes the precise location of the vessels in the Heikhal on the north-south axis, something that is not spelled out in the Torah:

 

·           The Heikhal is ten cubits wide.

·           The table is placed two and a half cubits south of the northern wall of the Heikhal.

·           The candlestick is placed two and a half cubits north of the southern wall of the Heikhal.

 

It may be suggested that these distances are a matter of aesthetics, but the Rishonim offer more practical and functional reasons.

 

Rashi explains that the position of the table was set in such a way that the priests who enter to switch the showbread on Shabbat can stand two on one side and two on the other, so that the new loaves can be put in place immediately after the old ones are removed.

 

As for the location of the candlestick, since the Torah says that it is set "against the table," its position parallels that of the table. Thus, the fact that the candlestick's distance from the southern wall is identical to the table's distance from the northern wall may be a matter of symmetry.

 

The Meiri explains this distance in a different manner, however:

 

Because when the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies, he passes between the candlestick and the wall, and he must pass comfortably without touching the wall or the candlestick.[1] (Meiri, Yoma 33a)

 

The source of the Rishonim’s explanation of the table's distance from the northern wall is the gemara in Menachot (99a), which also deals with the positioning of the vessels. Did they stand facing east/west or north/south?

 

According to the view that the table stood lengthwise from north to south, it could have been set against the wall, for the priests could arrange the showbread as they stood to the east and the west of the table. According to this position, the distancing of two and a half cubits is from the parokhet (see Rashi, Menachot 99a, s.v. ela le-man de-amar).

 

Beraita de-melekhet ha-Mishkan fills in what is stated in the gemara in Yoma:

 

From the boards on the south until the branches of the candlestick there were two and a half cubits; and from the branches of the candlestick to the table there were five cubits; and from the table to the boards on the north there were two and a half cubits. Thus, you learn that it was ten cubits wide. (chap. 4)

 

            The baraita here adds to what is stated in the gemara in Yoma by recording the distance between the table and the candlestick. (Obviously, this is the distance between the centers of the two vessels, or else the width of the Heikhal would be more than ten cubits.) It should be noted that nowhere does the Torah spell out the width of the Mishkan, and it is only by multiplying the number of boards by the width of each board that we know that it was ten cubits wide. If the table was two and a half cubits south of the northern wall and the candlestick was two and a half cubits north of the southern wall, the distance between the table and the candlestick was in effect five cubits.

 

            Thus, we can determine the precise location of the vessels along the north-south axis, the distance between the vessels and the walls, and the distance between the vessels themselves.

 

THE INCENSE ALTAR

 

            The gemara cited above locates the incense altar between the table and the candlestick, “standing in the middle” – in other words, in the middle of the Heikhal along the north-south axis. In addition, the gemara states that the altar extended somewhat outward – in other words, it was placed slightly to the east, in the direction of the door of the Heikhal.

 

            Later in the passage, the gemara states:

 

But let it stand with them? Since it is written: "And the candlestick over against the table" (Shemot 26:35), it is necessary that they should see each other. (ibid.)

 

            The gemara asks why the incense altar was not positioned in a straight line with the table and the candlestick, and it answers that the verses teach that there is a requirement that the table and candlestick “see” each other. Were the incense altar to stand between them, they would be unable to see each other, and therefore the altar is moved slightly outwards.[2]

 

            As we have seen, Chazal teach us the precise location of the vessels on the north-south axis. But where were they found on the east-west axis?

 

            The gemara hardly relates to this axis, except in noting the fact that the golden altar – the incense altar – was pulled slightly to the east of the table-candlestick axis. How much is "slightly"? Some Rishonim minimize this distance. The Ritva understands that the altar was as close to the table and candlestick as possible. According to Rabbeinu Elyakim, it was only necessary to pull the altar eastward according to the view in Menachot (98b) that the vessels stood in the Temple lengthwise from north to south. But according to the view that they stood lengthwise from east to west, the length of the table was two cubits, only one cubit of which was concealed by the altar, and so the candlestick could in any event see part of the table.[3]

 

THE LOCATION OF VESSELS IN THE WESTERN HALF OF THE HEIKHAL

 

            Several sources explicitly speak of the vessels as positioned in the western half of the Heikhal:

 

·           The gemara in Menachot brings beraitot that contradict each other with respect to the location of the vessels, and reconciles them as follows:

 

One [beraita] states that [the tables] stood in the inner half of the Sanctuary, while another [beraita] states that they stood in the inner third of the Sanctuary. This, however, presents no difficulty, for the one [beraita] includes the Holy of Holies in the term "Sanctuary," while the other does not include the Holy of Holies in the term "Sanctuary."

 

            The gemara hangs the difference between the beraitot on the question of whether or not the Holy of Holies is counted together with the Heikhal.

 

·           The Tosefta in Yoma states:

 

The table stood to the north in the inner third of the Sanctuary; the candlestick stood against it to the south in the inner third of the Sanctuary; the golden altar stood in the middle against the two poles of the ark and was pulled to the east; and all of them stood in the inner half of the Sanctuary. (2:12)

 

·           The Yerushalmi states as follows:

 

The golden altar stood in the middle of the Sanctuary, dividing the Sanctuary from the midpoint inwards, and pulled slightly outwards. (Shekalim 6:3)

 

·           The most explicit source regarding the location of the vessels on the east-west axis is once again Beraita de-melekhet ha-Mishkan, which states:

 

From the boards in the west to the parokhet was ten cubits.

From the parokhet to the table was five cubits.

From the table to the golden altar was five cubits.

From the golden altar to the pillars on the east was ten cubits.

Thus, you learn that its length was thirty cubits, and so the Heikhal was twenty cubits. (chap. 4)

 

            According to this beraita, the table (as well as the candlestick, which stood across from the table, although this is not stated explicitly) was located five cubits east of the parokhet, and the golden altar was positioned precisely in the middle of the Heikhal, at a distance of five cubits east of the table. (According to this understanding, the altar was pulled out about five cubits east of the table, this being the meaning of "slightly.")  From the altar to the door of the Mishkan on the east there were, therefore, ten cubits.

           

            According to these sources, the three vessels in the Heikhal were all located in the western half of the Heikhal.          This also follows from the words of the Rambam:

 

The three vessels in the Heikhal stood in the inner third of the Heikhal, in front of the parokhet, which divided between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.[4] (Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira 3:17)

 

            And so too in Torat Kohanim:

 

"Outside the parokhet of Testimony" (Vayikra 24:3). What does this teach? Since it is stated: "And he set the candlestick in the Ohel Mo'ed against the table," and I do not know whether it was close to the parokhet or it was close to the door. So when it says, "Outside the parokhet of Testimony in the Ohel Mo'ed," it teaches that it was closer to the parokhet than to the door. (Emor, parshata 13:8)

 

            Thus, by Torah law, the candlestick (and thus also the table) must stand in the western half of the Heikhal.[5]

 

            We have discussed at length the various proofs regarding the location of the vessels in the Heikhal. The conclusion that rises from all these sources is that the three vessels are found in the western half of the Heikhal, with the incense altar standing in the middle, and the other vessels – the table and the candlestick –  standing to the west of the incense altar (and according to the plain sense of the Rambam, in the western third).

 

            Does this conclusion have any spiritual significance?

 

            In last year's shiurim, we dealt with the question of the spiritual significance of the structure of the Mishkan. We suggested that the Heikhal, the length of which is double that of the Holy of Holies, should be seen as a place designated, as it were, both for the resting of the Shekhina and the service of man. While the Holy of Holies is the place that is meant to express only the presence of the Shekhina in this world, the Heikhal, which contains the table, the candlestick and the incense altar, is meant to express also man's service. These vessels themselves constitute a revelation of the Shekhina's presence in this world. They are like a homeowner's vessels that are found in his home; his servants are able and required to enter and serve him in his house and with his vessels.

 

Therefore, the vessels themselves represent the presence of the Shekhina, and the service with them represents the servants of the king who minister to him in his house.

 

The fact that, according to all positions, the vessels are found in the western half of the Heikhal supports this understanding that the vessels themselves represent the presence of the Shekhina in the half of the Heikhal that is adjacent to the Holy of Holies.  In symbolic fashion, the empty eastern half of the Heikhal represents the site of human service.

 

THE LOCATION OF THE OUTER ALTAR

 

            The Torah marks the location of the outer altar as follows:

 

And he put the altar of burnt offering by the door of the Mishkan of the Ohel Mo'ed. (Shemot 40:29)

 

            This verse seems to imply that the altar was located very close to the door, but the Torah does not spell out exactly where it stood. How far east was the altar from the door? On the north-south axis, was the altar opposite the door, or north or south of it?

 

            Chazal discuss the issue in two places, Zevachim (58-59) and in Yoma (16-17), and there are three main positions on the matter:

 

            1) R. Yehuda: The altar stood in the center of the courtyard, half in the northern part and half in the southern part. From where does R. Yehuda learn this? One possibility is that this is learned from the verse, "And you shall set the altar of the burnt-offering before the door of the Mishkan of the Ohel Mo'ed" (Shemot 40:6), which is understood to mean directly in front of the door.[6]

 

            Another possibility is that this is learned by logical deduction. It is possible that the altar stands precisely on the east-west axis, at the western tip of which stands the ark with the kaporet and the keruvim. In the Holy, in the middle of the Heikhal, stands the golden altar on which the incense is burned. And outside the structure in the courtyard stands the outer altar.

 

Beyond the beauty of this symmetry, the significance of this axis is that all of the main service is performed across from the site of the resting of the Shekhina. The outer service – the sacrificial service, and especially the daily offering which is brought every morning and every evening – is performed on the same axis as the daily inner service – the burning of the incense in the morning and in the evening. And both of them are performed directly across from the site of the resting and revelation of the Shekhina, above the ark containing the Written Law and above the two keruvim, the place where God meets with Moshe, the site of the giving of the Oral Law.

 

It is possible that according to this position we can learn from the verse, "And you shall sacrifice on it your burnt-offerings and your peace-offerings" (Shemot 20:21), that the northern half is fit for the slaughter of burnt-offerings – the holiest sacrifices – and the southern half is fit for the slaughter of peace-offerings – the sacrifices of lesser holiness.[7]

 

            2) R. Eliezer ben Ya'akov maintains that the altar stood entirely in the southern part of the courtyard. The gemara in Yoma (37a) adduces support for his position from the verse, "And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the Lord" (Vayikra 1:11), which is understood to mean that the entire northern half of the courtyard was clear of the altar.

 

            3) R. Yose the Galilean maintains that the altar stood entirely in the northern half of the courtyard. Even though this is not stated explicitly, the gemara in Yoma (37a) reaches this conclusion from his statement that the laver stood to the south of the altar so that it would not intervene between the altar and the door of the Heikhal. In order that the laver not stand between the altar and the door of the Heikhal, it had to stand south of the entire altar.

 

            Let us further expand on the precise location of the outer altar. The Tosefta in Zevachim states as follows:

 

The altar was entirely in the north, as it is stated, "And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the Lord" (Vayikra 1:11). (7:1)

 

The mishna in Middot (5:2) states that from north to south, the courtyard[8] measured a hundred and thirty five cubits:

 

·           The ramp and the altar – 62 cubits.

·           From the altar to the rings – 8 cubits.

·           The area of the rings – 24 cubits.

·           From the rings to the tables – 4 cubits.

·           From the tables to the dwarf pillars – 4 cubits

·           From the dwarf pillars to the wall of the courtyard – 8 cubits.

 

Altogether, this totals 110 cubits. The remaining 25 cubits were between the ramp and the southern wall of the courtyard and the area of the dwarf pillars.[9]

 

According to the mishna, the question is whether the entire altar stood in the south or only half of the altar, in which case these 25 cubits must be divided up differently.

 

There are two main positions in the Rishonim:

 

·           The altar stood entirely in the southern part of the courtyard (Rashi in his first explanation in Yoma 37a)

·           Most of the altar stood in the southern part of the courtyard (Rashi in his second explanation, Rambam, Rabbeinu Chananel, Rosh).

 

According to this position it is possible that the 25 cubits were evenly divided between north of the altar and south of it.

 

THE LOCATION OF THE LAVER

 

            The laver's location according to the Torah is "Between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar" (Shemot 30:18). This location is understandable in light of the fact that a priest is required to wash his hands and feet both before he performs service on the altar and before he enters the Ohel Mo'ed.

 

It should be noted here as well, as was emphasized with respect to the outer altar, that the location of the altar and the laver is not described in relation to the courtyard, but in relation to the altar.

 

The gemara in Zevachim says as follows:

 

For it was taught: R. Yose the Galilean said: Since it says, "And you shall set the laver between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar," while another verse states, "[And you shall set] the altar of burnt-offering [before the door of the Mishkan of the Ohel Mo'ed]," [it follows that] the altar was at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed, while the laver was not at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed. Where, then, was it [the laver] placed? Between the Ulam and the altar, slightly toward the south. (Zevachim 58b-59a)

 

            Rashi explains (ad loc.):

 

From the corner of the altar toward the south. It turns out that it does not stand against the altar at all, but rather it stands between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar. (s.v. heikhan)

 

            And in the continuation:

 

Since it says – regarding the laver, "Between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar," and another verse states that the altar of burnt-offering was set at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed, and the laver did not intervene between them. You learn from these two verses that the laver must be placed as close as possible to the space between the altar and the Ohel Mo'ed, provided that it not intervene between the altar and the door.

 

            According to Rashi, the laver must be as close as possible to the area between the altar and the Ohel Mo'ed, pulled slightly toward the south, so that it does not intervene between them.

 

            In the continuation, the gemara deals with this position in relation to the various views as to the location of the outer altar. Does it follow the view of R. Yose and R. Yose the Galilean – that it stood in the northern part of the courtyard; the view of R. Yehuda – that it stood in the center of the courtyard; or the view of R. Eliezer ben Yaakov – that it stood in the southern part of the courtyard? (According to several Rishonim, the mishna in Middot reflects a fourth view, according to which most of the altar was in the southern part of the courtyard.)

 

            In addition, the Yerushalmi states:

 

As it was taught there: The laver stood between the Ulam and the altar, pulled to the south. Was it really set between the Ulam and the altar? Rather it looked as if it stood between the Ulam and the altar. (Yevamot 12:1)

 

            From here it may be inferred that the laver stood to the south of the altar, and this is also its understanding of the mishna in Middot. In any case, it did not really stand between the Ulam and the altar.

 

            On the other hand, Beraita de-melekhet ha-Mishkan states:

 

The outer altar stood in the middle of the courtyard, the ramp to its south, the laver to its west, the slaughtering area to its north, and all of Israel to its east. (chap. 11)

 

            This implies that the laver was positioned across from the altar.

 

            It is interesting that according to the Yerushalmi in Yoma (4:5), "The laver and its pedestal are indispensible. This means their place is indispensible." That is to say, if the laver and its pedestal do not stand in their proper place, one should not wash his hands or feet with another vessel (as explained by the Korban Ha-eida, ad loc.). (Interestingly several Rishonim disagree with the Yerushalmi.)

 

            Thus, it turns out that the laver stood between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar, but not directly between the altar and the door of the Heikhal, but rather to the south of it.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LOCATION OF THE VESSELS

 

            The Ramban writes as follows in his additions to the negative commandments in the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot (commandment 3):

 

We are warned not to change the order of the setting of the vessels in the Mikdash, such as the table, the candlestick and the altars. This is what He (blessed be He) said: "And all things that I have said to you be mindful of" (Shemot 23:13). The traditional explanation is that this is a warning regarding that which He commanded with respect to the arrangement of the Mikdash.

 

            The Ramban asserts that there is important meaning to the setting of the vessels in their particular places.

 

            This is learned from the verse: "And all things that I have said to you be mindful of" (Shemot 23:13). Not only is there importance and significance to place, but according to the Mekhilta, which serves as the Ramban's source, if one changes the location, he transgresses a negative commandment.

 

            It may be proposed in general that the place that serves as the site of the resting of the Shekhina must be precisely as the Torah commanded, without change. Based on our assumption that all places have significance, the locations of the various vessels are exceedingly important for the resting of the Shekhina.

 

            The Rambam does not count this prohibition in his list of the negative commandments. It is possible that he relates to the verse, "And all things that I have said to you be mindful of," as a general instruction to properly observe the details of the commandments. But this does not mean that he ignored the Mekhilta's assertion that there is importance to setting each of the vessels in its proper place.

 



[1] The gemara in Yoma 51b brings three views on the course taken by the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies. None of these views maintain that he would walk between the candlestick and the wall, and the view of the Meiri therefore requires clarification.

[2] In a later shiur, we will discuss the spiritual meaning of this relationship between the table and the candlestick.

[3] The sources and the discussion thereof are clearly explained in Sha'arei ha-Heikhal on Tractate Yoma (Machon ha-Mikdash), 70, “Ha-Shulchan, ha-Menora ve-ha-Mizbe'ach ha-Penimi u-Mekomam be-Heikhal,” pp. 157-159.

[4] The Rambam's commentators discuss the question whether the reference is to the Heikhal including the Devir or not.

[5] According to the gemara in Zevachim 14a, the eastern half of the Heikhal is also fit for the table (as so too the Ulam, according to the view that its sanctity is that of the Heikhal), and apparently also for the rest of the vessels. It is possible that it is fit only bedi'eved.

[6] This suggestion is brought in Sha'arei Heikhal on Tractate Yoma, 24 – Mekom ha-Mizbe'ach ba-Azara: be-Tzafon, be-Darom o be-Merkaz, pp. 55-58.

[7] In Zevachim 58a, this is brought as a special Scriptural decree regarding the altar itself, irrespective of the altar's location in the courtyard.

[8] The mishna relates, of course, to the Second Temple, and not to the Mishkan.

[9] This calculation negates the possibility that the altar stood entirely in the northern half of the courtyard.