Shiur #07: The Functions of the Mikdash (Part III) - The Connection Between Man's Service of God and the Resting of God's Shekhina on the Temple Service

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #07: The Functions of the Mikdash (Part III)

The Connection Between Man's Service of God and the Resting of God's Shekhina on the Temple Service


Rav Yitzchak Levi



            It is my intention in this shiur to examine several aspects of the combination of the two main dimensions of the Mikdash - man's service of God and the resting of God's Shekhina.  We will see this combination in several aspects of the Temple service, and we will study the overall significance of the connection between them. 


With respect to the Patriarchs, we find a clear connection between Divine revelation and the construction of altars (Bereishit 12:7-8; 26:24-25; 35:1, 3, 7).  There is certainly room to consider whether there are modes of service in the Mikdash as well that give expression to the combination of these two dimensions.  The principle that will guide us in this shiur is that the Shekhina reveals itself in the Mikdash because of man's actions and in their wake.




The earliest Divine revelation on Mount Moriya – the revelation that accompanied the Akeida – is already impressed with the seal of this guiding principle, as is indicated by the plain sense of Scripture.  Avraham must first go "to the land of Moriya" (Bereishit 22:2), and only then will God show him "one of the mountains" (ibid.).  Avraham goes, and "on the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off" (v.  4).  Chazal explain that he "saw a rainbow on the mountain" (Bereishit Rabba 56, 1), that is, a sign of the Shekhina's presence in the place.  Avraham and Yitzchak totally dedicate themselves to God's command:


And Avraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.  And an angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven, and said, "Avraham, Avraham." And he said, "Here I am." And he said, "Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me." And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and looked and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns.  And Avraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in place of his son.  And Avraham called the name of that place "Ado-nai Yir'e," as it is said to this day, "In the mount the Lord will appear." (vv. 10-14)


            Avraham's readiness to sacrifice his son led to the angel's call and to the Divine revelation, in the wake of which the place was established as a site for Divine service for all generations.  From the time that the place was first revealed, there was already a strong connection between man's actions and the Divine revelation there.




The combination of the two dimensions of the Mikdash finds clearest expression at the dedication of the Mishkan, at the conclusion of the service performed on the eighth day:


And Moshe and Aharon went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.  And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which, when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.  (Vayikra 9:23-24)


            Moshe and Aharon prepare the Mishkan for dedication and offer that which they had been commanded to offer, and a fire issues forth from before God and consumes the sacrifice, thus indicating that their service was favorably received.


            The continuation of this revelation is clearly expressed, linguistically and content-wise, in the dedication of the first Temple in the days of Shlomo:


Now when Shlomo had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house.  And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord's house.  And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves, and praised the Lord, saying, "For He is good; for His steadfast love endures for ever." (II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:1-3)[1]


            It is not by chance that it was specifically at the dedication of the Mishkan and the Mikdash that the resting of the Shekhina revealed itself so clearly before all of Israel.  This alludes to the essence of the Mishkan and the Mikdash: the place where Divine revelation takes place as a direct result of human action.[2]


During the intervening period between these two dedications, another revelation of a similar nature took place, when the site of the Mikdash was revealed to David in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi:


And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord; and He answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.  (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:26)[3]


            This revelation clearly parallels the revelations at the dedication of the Mishkan and the dedication of the Mikdash – a fire descending from heaven and consuming the offering – but it also has many parallels to the Akeida story (as we saw in our shiurim on biblical Jerusalem, Year I, shiur 9).  Like the revelation to Avraham in that place, the revelation to David also came in the wake of his readiness to give up his life.




            The mitzva of maintaining a fire on the altar, which is binding upon later generations, also combines a human act – bringing a man-made fire – with the Divine fire that was always on the altar.  Chazal write:


"And the sons of Aharon the priest shall put fire on the altar" (Vayikra 1:7) – even though fire descends from heaven, there is a mitzva to bring a man-made fire.  (Yoma 21b)




The shofar used on Rosh ha-Shana was of a wild goat's horn and straight, and its mouth was overlaid with gold.  There were two trumpets, one on each side of it.  The shofar gave a long blast, and the trumpets a short one, since the mitzva of the day was with the shofar.

On [communal] fast days, they used two curved shofars of rams, the mouths of which were overlaid with silver.  There were two trumpets between them.  A short blast was made with the shofar, and a long one with the trumpets, since the mitzva of the day was with the trumpets.  (Rosh Hashana 3:3-4)


            The Gemara (ad loc.) explains that the practice of combining a shofar and chatzotrot was unique to the Mikdash:


Where do these rules apply? To the sanctuary; but in the provinces, where the trumpets are in place there is no shofar, and where the shofar is in place there are no trumpets… What is the verse for this? As it states: "With trumpets and the sound of the shofar shout you before the king, the Lord" (Tehilim 98:6) – before the king, the Lord, we require trumpets and the sound of the shofar, but elsewhere not.


            The shofar and the chatzotrot have different meanings.  Rav Kook discusses this issue in his article "Ha-Shofar Ve-ha-chatzotrot" (Ma'amarei Ha-Ra'aya, pp. 146-147).  According to Rav Kook, the combination of the shofar and the chatzotzrot in the Mikdash symbolizes the combination of the natural, Divine reality, represented by the shofar, and artificial, human reality, expressed by the chatzotzrot.  On Rosh ha-Shana the day on which the world was created and the day on which God is crowned as king – the shofar, which represents the natural, Divine dimension, sounds the longer note, and the chatzotzrot, which express the human dimension, sound a shorter note.  On fast days, which primarily express man's turning to God, the chatzotzrot sound the longer note and the shofar the shorter note.  Rav Kook adds that the superiority of the shofar lies in the fact that it can withstand the destruction of the Temple; the destruction may silence the artificial, human chatzotzra, but not the shofar that symbolizes the natural power of God.




Ten miracles were performed for our fathers in the Temple: No woman miscarried from the scent of the sacrificial meat; the sacrificial meat never became putrid; no fly was ever seen in the slaughter house of the Temple; no unclean accident ever befell the High Priest on Yom Kippur; the rain never extinguished the fire on the wood pile on the altar; the wind did not prevail over the column of smoke that rose from the altar; no disqualifying defect was ever found in the Omer, in the two Shevuot loaves or in the showbreads; the people stood closely pressed together and yet found ample space to prostrate themselves; no snake or scorpion ever did injury in Jerusalem, and no man ever said to his fellow: There is too little room for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.  (Avot 5:5)


            The mishna describes miracles in various realms: the sacrifices, the fire on the altar, the High Priest's service on Yom Kippur, the communal offerings brought to the Temple, and the people and the pilgrims in the Temple courtyard and the city of Jerusalem.  The common denominator between them is that they all express God's response, attention, presence, and resting of His Shekhina in our deeds and service.  Furthermore, most of them involve an intervention intended to prevent mishaps or imperfection, and thus make possible whole and perfect service.


other miracles and Phenomena in the second Temple


Although, generally speaking, the Shekhina did not rest in the second Temple, there were, nevertheless, certain signs of the resting of the Shekhina.  A baraita in Yoma (39a) lists some of these signs, which were a fixed feature during Shimon the Tzaddik's term as High Priest and afterwards appeared from time to time.[4] These signs include:


1-2. "The lot would come up in his right hand… and the crimson-colored strap would turn white." These phenomena, which appeared on the day of Yom Kippur and informed the people that their sins had been pardoned, are perhaps the clearest signs that God continued to reveal Himself in the second Temple.


3. "The western lamp would burn." Rashi comments: "After all the other lamps were extinguished.  Even though it was from that lamp that [the priest] began to light in the evening, that was the last lamp that he trimmed in the morning… And we said in tractate Shabbat (22b): 'It serves as testimony for all the people in the world that the Shekhina rests in Israel… This is the western lamp, into which he puts oil in the same amount as the others, and with which he began and with which he ended.'"


4. "The fire of the pile of wood kept burning strong, so that the priests did not have to bring to the pile any other wood besides the two logs, in order to fulfill the command about providing the wood intermittently."


            The burning of the western lamp and the flaring up of the fire on the altar give expression to the assistance provided, as it were, from above with respect to the Temple service.


5. "A blessing was bestowed upon the omer, the two breads, and the showbread, so that every priest, who obtained a piece thereof as big as an olive, ate it and became satisfied with some eating thereof and even leaving something over."




The Torah commands:


Three times in the year all your males shall appear (yera'e) before the Lord God.  (Shemot 23:17)


According to the keri ­– the way the word is read, yera'e – the mitzva is to be seen, that is, that God should see us.  Chazal, however, also interpreted the word according to its ketiv - the way it is written, yir'e:


Yir'e – Yera'e: As he comes to see, so he comes to be seen.  (Chagiga 2a)


And Rashi explains:


The word is written yir'e, but we read it as yera'e.  "All your males shall see (yir'e) the Lord God" implying that man sees the Shekhina.  "[All your males] shall appear (yera'e) before the Lord God" – implying that the Lord comes to see you.


            A parallel is drawn here between human vision and Divine vision: Man undertakes a pilgrimage in order to be seen by God, but also to see Him, as it were.  I already discussed this issue at length in shiur no. 3.




            The gemara in Bava Batra (99a) discusses how the keruvim stood:


How did they stand? Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elazar [disagree].  One says: "They faced each other" (Shemot 25:20; 37:9); and the other says: "Their faces were inward" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 3:13).

But according to him who says that they faced each other, [it may be asked]: Is it not written: "And their faces were inward"?  [This is] no difficulty: The former [was] at a time when Israel obeyed the will of God; the latter [was] at a time when Israel did not obey the will of God.  [Rashbam: They turn their faces toward each other like a man and woman who love each other, as a sign that God loves Israel… and when they fail to do the will of God, they turn their faces inwards by way of a miracle.]

And according to him who says that their faces were inward [it may be asked]: Is it not written: "With the faces one to another"? They were slightly turned sideways.  For [so] it was taught: Onkelos the proselyte said: The keruvim had the form of babes and their faces were turned sideways as a student who takes leave of his master.  (Bava Batra 99a)[5]


Rav Chayyim Volozhiner offers a wonderful explanation of the position that the keruvim's faces were turned sideways towards each other:


The generation of the wilderness, who merited to eat from Heaven's table daily bread from heaven, and whose clothing did not grow old upon them, and who did not need any worldly support whatsoever – all agree that they would not be called "obeying the will of God" unless they looked heavenward with absolute uprightness and subjugated their hearts exclusively to Torah and service and to the fear of God, blessed be His name, day and night, not departing from their mouths, literally, without turning aside whatsoever, for even a short moment to occupy themselves with their livelihood.  And as the Sages said: "The Torah was only given to those who eat the manna" (Mekhilta, Beshalach 17, and elsewhere).  Therefore, the keruvim were made to stand then in accordance with the way that they were obeying the will of God, the one actually facing the other, to show that "the upright shall behold His face," blessed be He, face to face with His holy people.

In the days of Shlomo, however, the masses of Israel were forced to turn a little sideways to earning a living, at least to the extent of maintaining themselves, this being the fundamental truth of His will, blessed be He, according to Rabbi Yishmael, who maintains that for the masses it is better to act in this manner.  As they said in Avot: "Torah study together with an occupation is an excellent thing… any study of Torah without some kind of work…" (Avot 2:2).  And all the words of Avot are words of piety.  Only that even when they engage in an occupation, their hearts should be turned to wisdom in contemplation of the words of the Torah.  Therefore the keruvim were made to stand from the outset, in accordance with the way they were obeying the will of God, their faces turned a little to the side, but nevertheless… with an affectionate face, to show His love for us, this being His will, blessed be He, as stated above.  (He agrees with Rabbi Yishmael, and the one who says that even the keruvim of Shlomo were set from the outset, in accordance with the way they were obeying the will of God, the one actually facing the other, agrees with Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai.)

The question remains: why was it necessary to stand the two keruvim turned to the side? Surely the one keruv which alludes to Him, blessed be He, should have been made to face forward.  Rather, it is as we wrote, that His connection, as it were, to all the worlds and all the powers … is in accordance with the movement and stirring coming from our actions below, and in that measure His smiling and gracious face devolves also down to us.  Therefore, even the keruv that alludes to Him, blessed be His name, had to be set turned to the side to the same degree as was the keruv that alludes to us.  (Nefesh Ha-Chayyim, gate 1, chap. 9)


            Rav Chayyim Volozhiner notes an important principle regarding the position of the keruvim: The fact that the keruv that represented the Shekhina stood a little to the side teaches us that God's governance of Israel corresponds to the movement and stirrings coming from our actions below; the keruv that represented the Shekhina related to the keruv that represented Israel, and their standing sideways was mutual.




            In conclusion, let us reflect upon the overall meaning of the combination of these two dimensions of the Temple.


            First of all, it points to the fact that the Mikdash is essentially the meeting point of heaven and earth – and therefore it joins together man's worship of God with God's resting of His Shekhina.  Through his actions in the Temple, man elevates all of creation and reveals its connection to God and its belonging to Him ("For all things come of you, and of your own have we given you" - I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:14).  This leads to a clarification of the unmediated connection between matter and spirit; between the finite and the Infinite; between the world and its Creator, who maintains and watches over it.


            This connection leads us to the profound understanding that the Mikdash is not merely God's house and the resting place of His Shekhina, but also the place where we can meet Him.


            In today's shiur we have seen that the strong connection between the place of man's service and the place of the resting of the Shekhina reveals the mutuality in the relationship between God and the people of Israel.  To the degree that the people of Israel turn to God and seek His closeness, He answers them and reveals His closeness.  The position of the keruvim in the Mikdash expresses this point in a most profound manner, but the principle applies to the entire Divine service performed in the Mikdash: the service itself invites and makes possible the closeness of God.  That is to say, the essence of the Mikdash allows for the actualization of the mutuality of the relationship; the greater Israel's yearnings and striving, closeness and purity, the greater God's response and reply.




            In the next shiur I will complete this discussion with an examination of the essence of the ark and the keruvim, and through this begin to consider the Mikdash as the site of God's kingship and the site of the love between God and Israel.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1]  Chazal took note of the connection between the two revelations when they said: "The fire that descended in the days of Moshe did not leave the bronze altar until they came to the Temple.  The fire that descended during the days of Shlomo did not leave the burnt-offering altar until it left in the days of Menashe" (Sifra dibura de-nedava, parasha 4, perek 5; parallel in Zevachim 61b).

[2]   One of the expressions of the absence of the Shekhina in the second Temple was that a fire did not descend from heaven (Yoma 21b).

[3]  Why do the detailed descriptions of the revelation in the threshing floor of Aravna and at the dedication of the first Temple appear only in Divrei Ha-yamim, and not at all in Shemuel or Melakhim? It is possible that this is part of the tendency of Divrei Ha-yamim, which was written at the beginning of the second Temple period, to describe the full majesty of the first Temple.

[4]  In the continuation (39b), it is said about three of them – the lot coming up in the right hand, the crimson-colored strap turning white, and the burning of the western lamp – that they ended forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple.

[5]  The simple resolution, which is not suggested in the gemara, is that "They faced each other" refers to the keruvim in the Mishkan, whereas "Their faces were inward" refers to the keruvim added by Shlomo in the first Temple.  It seems that, this notwithstanding, the Gemara wanted to contrast the two positions as it did.