ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם כה:ח There is a mitzvah to build a Mikdash, an abode, as it were, for the Shechinah. The Rambam, in Sefer Hamitzvos (mitzvah 20), describes the mitzvah as follows: “We are commanded to build a house of worship in which there will be sacrifices and a constantly-burning fire, and [will serve as] a central, go-to place [for] festival pilgrimage and [general] gathering year-round. As it says (Shmos 25:8), ‘and you shall make for Me a Mikdash’. This pasuk is referring to the building of the Mishkan, but it equally applies to the building of a Beis Ha’Mikdash as well.” This wording is a classic example of the Rambam’s style in which he enumerates the mitzvah and succinctly describes its practical application.
The Rambam singles out three, possibly four, items that the Beis Ha’Mikdash is intended to provide. The chief function is to serve as a location in which we can worship Hashem through sacrificial service. That is quite understandable. But then the Rambam continues by saying that there has to be a fire burning all the time. This is a tremendous chiddush! It does not appear in the Yad Ha’Chazakah. In the first halacha in Hilchos Beis Ha’Bechirah, the Rambam delineates that there is a mitzvah to build the Beis Ha’Mikdash in order to bring korbanos and to celebrate the three Yamim Tovim with aliyah l’regel. (Parenthetically, there is a question regarding what exactly the Rambam meant by the expression “chogegin eilav.” The simple understanding is that it means that the Beis Ha’Mikdash serves as an assembly point. According to this understanding, it is another way of saying yearly gathering as he mentioned in Sefer Ha’Mitzvos.) Of course, the Rambam does codify the law that there must be a fire constantly burning on the mizbeiach (altar), but he puts it, as we would have expected, in Hilchos Temidin U’musafin, the section which addresses the laws of sacrificial service. This clearly indicates that the constantly-burning fire is not an essential part of the actual Beis Ha’Mikdash, but merely a specific detail of the sacrificial service upon the mizbeiach. How to resolve this difficulty in the Sefer Ha’Mitzvos requires further work.
The third aspect of the Beis Ha’mikdash which the Rambam delineates, both in Sefer Ha’Mitzvos and in Yad Ha’Chazakah, is the matter of aliyah l’regel (the thrice-yearly pilgrimage on Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos). This is another fascinating issue. Some Achronim question if the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel even needs a Beis Ha’Mikdash. Perhaps, those Achronim probe, the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel is completely independent of whether or not there is a Beis Ha’Mikdash, and there may have been a mitzvah of aliyah l’regel in the times that one could bring korbanos on a bamah gedolah (the public mizbeiach that was in use prior to the construction of the Beis Ha’Mikdash). Clearly, according to the Rambam, this is not reasonable; since one of the main purposes of having a Beis Ha’Mikdash is to facilitate aliyah l’regel, it would be illogical to posit that aliyah l’regel could exist without a Beis Ha’Mikdash. In Shiloh (which served as a permanent location of the Mishkan), perhaps there was a mitzvah of aliyah l’regel. At the beginning of Sefer Shmuel, Elkanah is described as making a yearly pilgrimage. There is a discussion if this was an individual, personal custom of his, or if there was actually a statutory mitzvah of aliyah l’regel at that time. (Editor’s note: See Ramban at the end of Parshas R’eigh, and Maseches Makkos 10a. For dissenting views, see Keren Orah, Zevachim 116b, Shu”t Maharatz Chayos #7, and Chazon Yechezkel Zevachim 58.)
In contrast to the Rambam’s assertion that the Beis Ha’Mikdash is a place for us to carry out our responsibility to worship Hashem with sacrificial service, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchek pointed out that the Ibn Ezra seems to maintain that the main purpose of the Beis Ha’Mikdash was to serve as a dwelling place for the Shechinah. The Ramban seems to take this approach as well.
The Rambam continues and explains that the construction of the keilim (vessels) of the Mikdash are not counted as separate mitzvos because they are included in the overall mitzvah of building a Mikdash. They are amongst the details of the mitzvah of building the Mikdash. This follows a general rule that the Rambam espouses in his lengthy introduction to Sefer Ha’Mitzvos (Shoresh #12) that only mitzvos as a whole are counted and not the various, component parts of the mitzvah.
The source of this assertion of the Rambam, that having keilim in the Mikdash is part of the mitzvah of building a Mikdash, is a Gemara in Maseches Shekalim, Talmud Yerushalmi. The Gemara there even discusses how it was permissible to lower the washing basin into the well every evening (to prevent the water therein from becoming disqualified by dint of staying overnight), seeing that doing such could possibly render the basin as no longer in the perimeter of the Beis Ha’Mikdash; and its absence, in turn, would constitute a violation of the mitzvah to have a Beis Ha’Mikdash – which includes, of course, having all the requisite keilim thereof as well.
The Ramban, despite agreeing to the premise that details of an overall mitzvah are not enumerated separately in the list of the 613 mitzvos, argues on the Rambam regarding the reason why the command to fashion each vessel is not counted as its own mitzvah. In Mitzvah 33, the Ramban writes that the mitzvah to fashion keilim is a separate, independent mitzvah from that of building the Beis Ha’Mikdash. However, asserts the Ramban, they are still not enumerated because the mitzvah of fashioning each vessel is subsumed under the mitzvah that is carried out with that particular vessel. The shulchan (table), for example, is included in the mitzvah of lechem ha’panim (showbread). Having a shulchan is merely a facilitator for the mitzvah of lechem ha’panim. The Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark), however, avers the Ramban, must in fact be counted separately since there is no service that it is meant to facilitate. Even the act of sprinkling the ketores (incense) and blood in front of the Aron Kodesh on Yom Kippur, continues the Ramban, cannot be understood as the service that the Aron Kodesh is meant to facilitate, as evident from the fact that these sprinklings were executed even in the period of the second Beis Ha’Mikdash from which the Aron Kodesh was absent.
Interestingly enough, the Rambam, both in Sefer Ha’Mitzvos as well as in Yad Ha’Chazakah, does not include the Aron Kodesh in his list of the Temple vessels. The Brisker Rav used to say in the name of Rav Moshe Soloveitchek that the Aron Kodesh is not an essential component of the Mikdash. It was a vessel whose assigned place was in the Mikdash – similar to the way the staff of Aharon and the jug of mahn were assigned to be kept in the Mikdash - but it was not an integral part thereof. In stark contrast, Rabbeinu Bechaya writes at length that the primary purpose of the Mishkan was to house the Aron Kodesh which contained the Luchos Ha’Bris! The Rambam doesn’t enumerate fashioning an Aron Kodesh as one of the 613 mitzvos because he holds that there is no such mitzvah! If there are Luchos, then they belong in an Aron; but, according to the Rambam, there is no specific mitzvah to make an Aron.
Quotables: “Remember, nowhere do we find a source that would indicate that the goal of life is to get your picture on the cover of a magazine.”
Vignettes: “After the Mercaz Harav Massacre, I had heard a lot of questions and explanations of how this tragedy could have happened. People were bothered by the question, “Isn’t Torah study supposed to serve as a protective shield?”. Furthermore, people wondered, how could it have happened right around the time of mi’sheh’nichnas Adar marbim b’simcha? For some reason, the questions being floated didn’t quite ring true to me, and the various answers being offered I found even more troubling. When I got the opportunity, I unburdened myself to Rav Twersky, hoping to receive some authentic guidance and perspective. He told me something I will never forget. “If we are going to start asking such questions,” he said, “then I have two thousand years’ worth of questions, of cruelly spilled Jewish blood, to add. But the truth is that our job is not to ask such questions. Our job is to humbly accept the Divine Will with full submission, and have bitachon that everything is done by Hashem for our ultimate good even though we don’t understand it. Without a doubt, we have to be nosei b’ol im chaveiroh and feel the pain of the victims and of Klal Yisrael as a whole. But without questions. Our job is to strengthen our commitment to Hashem without needing to understanding why or how it could happen.” I left feeling very calm. If Rav Twersky could feel at ease without grasping why Hashem allowed such a tragedy, then so could I.” (Reb Chaim Rosen)
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