By Rabbi Aryeh Citron, Dean at Yeshivah College in Miami Beach, Florida
Since on this Shabbos we are shown a vision of the Bait HaMikdash, this article will focus on the miracles which occurred in the Bait HaMikdash on a regular basis.
The Mishnah says that ten miracles occurred to our forefathers in the Bait HaMikdash. The Maharal points out that since the Bait HaMikdash is a holy place and “the light of the world,” it is only logical that the laws of nature should not govern that space.
In addition, he explains, the number 10 represents the supernatural as well as something that is completely sanctified. (Since 10 is the first number that has double digits it represents something that is perfect and beyond the ordinary.) Thus, the fact that there were 10 regular miracles in the Bait HaMikdash symbolized its sublime nature and its being essentially a supernatural place.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains why it is that the Mishnah teaches us about these miracles: Firstly, by knowing the wondrous nature of the Bait HaMikdash it will increase our yearning to have it once again. This will cause us to correct the sins for which we were exiled from the land. Secondly, when we are aware that G-d treated our forefathers in a miraculous manner, this should inspire us to serve Him in an exemplary manner that goes beyond the letter of the law.
Below is a list of the ten miracles with a brief explanation of each one as well as a lesson in our Divine service that we can learn from each of them.
1. A woman never miscarried from the smell of the holy meat.
According to our sages, if a pregnant woman smells a particular food and desires to eat it but is unable to do so, this can cause her to miscarry. Yet it never happened that a pregnant woman smelled the delicious sacrificial meat and desired it and then miscarried as a result of being unable to eat it.
The Lesson: We see from this miracle that even the smell of a mitzvah cannot cause harm to a person. Certainly, the fulfilling a mitzvah completely will never cause a person harm. In addition, the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that a righteous pregnant woman might be particularly tempted to eat from the sacrificial meat so that her baby receive some of the sacrificial holiness. Yet the Mishnah teaches us that even this “holy yearning” would never cause a woman to miscarry. This is a lesson for women who wish to increase their holy activities and feel they should delay having children for this reason. The Mishnah teaches us that even the holiest of intentions should never hold back the birth of even one Jewish child.
2. The meat of the sacrifices never spoiled.
Although the meat that was to be burned on the altar would sometimes be kept there for several days before being burned, it never spoiled. Similarly, some of the sacrificial meat (e.g. the shlamim – the peace offering) could be eaten for two days and the night in between. With the summer heat in Jerusalem and the lack of refrigeration, one would expect that some of the meat would spoil. Yet that never happened. (See the lesson below after #3.)
3. A fly was never seen in the butchering area of the Bait HaMikdash.
There was an area near the altar where the kohanim would cut up the sacrifices and rinse their innards on marble tables. Despite the volume of animals processed, no fly was ever seen in that area.
The Lesson: The meat of a sacrifice is only holy because a person declared it to be so. Yet that holiness was so intense it prevented the meat from spoiling and flies from visiting the area. Certainly then the body of a Jewish person, which is sanctified by its Divine soul, can become so holy (through a person sanctifying himself) as to merit that it never rots in the grave. Indeed, our sages tell us of tzaddikim whose bodies remained intact in their graves.
4. The Kohen Gadol never experienced an emission that rendered him impure on Yom Kippur.
The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was sequestered for seven days before Yom Kippur to ensure that he not come into contact with any impurity which might render him unable to perform the service on the holy day. Yet there was one impurity that cannot be controlled – that of a seminal emission. If that would occur to the Kohen Gadol on the eve of Yom Kippur, he would have had to abdicate his position (for Yom Kippur) and have the Sgan Kohen Gadol (second to the Kohen Gadol) take his place.
In all the years that the Bait HaMikdash stood (830 between the two of them), such a thing never happened. It is recorded that a Kohen Gadol once became ritually impure due to the saliva of an idolater that fell on him. This is not particularly embarrassing, so G-d did not miraculously prevent it from happening. But were a Kohen Gadol to become impure from a nocturnal emission, he would feel very embarrassed, so G-d made sure it did not happen.
The Lesson: Since G-d “went out of His way” to ensure that the Kohen Gadol not be embarrassed, we too must go out of our way never to diminish the honor of our fellow.
5. The rain never extinguished the fire from the altar.
Although the altar was open to the elements, the rain never put out the fire, which according to the Torah is supposed to be “a continuous fire… (that) shall not go out.”
The Lesson: By nature, fire and water are opposites. Yet to do the will of G-d, they nullify their nature and make “peace.” This despite the fact that they are not rewarded for doing so. We, who are rewarded for our behavior, should certainly take a lesson from this and nullify our desires as needed to fulfill G-d’s will.
6. The wind never dispersed the pillar of smoke that ascended from the altar.
The smoke of the sacrifices would rise up in a column to the heavens and was never dispersed by all the winds of the world. The Talmud explains that sometimes, the wind would cause the column to turn towards one of the directions of the world. Yet, the smoke would remain in the column and not dissipate into the atmosphere.
The Lesson: Although the wind is a very powerful force and smoke is ephemeral, yet because the smoke was holy, the wind did not disturb it. This teaches us that even a person who feels weak should know that if he strengthens himself to fulfill G-d’s Torah and mitzvot, all the winds (i.e., the powers) in the world will be unable to stop him from doing so.
7. No disqualification was ever found in the Omer, the Two Loaves or the Showbread.
The Omer was the first barley sacrifice that was brought annually on the first day of Chol HaMoed Pesach. The barley was harvested the previous night. Were the barley to become disqualified during the day before it was sacrificed (for example, if it became ritually impure), it would be impossible to replace. This is because the barley must be harvested the previous night and not during the day. Similarly, it was necessary to bake the Two Loaves of the first wheat sacrifice which were brought on Shavuot, before the holiday began. Were the loaves to become disqualified on the holiday, they were irreplaceable since it was forbidden to bake them on the holiday itself. Finally, the showbread which was placed on the golden table in the sanctuary every Shabbat had to be baked before Shabbat. Were they to become disqualified on Shabbat, they could not be replaced, for it was forbidden to bake them on Shabbat. Since these three important communal offerings could not be replaced, G-d arranged that they never became disqualified.
The Lesson: The reason G-d specifically ensured that these offerings remain valid is that they could not be replaced. A person should learn from this that he should be very careful concerning something irreplaceable. Thus, if a person has a limited opportunity to a do a mitzvah, he should grab the opportunity as otherwise he may miss it. This lesson is especially relevant concerning the preciousness of time. If one wastes time it can never be recovered. Although he can accomplish many good things the next day, that would not make up for the things he could have accomplished in the time that he lost. “There is no loss like the loss of time, as it can never be recovered.”
8. They would stand crowded but had ample space to prostrate themselves
During the festivals, the crowd in the courtyard of the Bait HaMikdash was so large that they would overflow into the area reserved for the Kohanim and would reach all the way behind the sanctuary. (This was an area into which even a Kohen was forbidden to go unless he had a good reason to do so. This was allowed, out of necessity) In addition, the crowd was so packed that people’s feet would be lifted from the floor. (The word צפופים can be translated as “floating” instead of “crowded.”) Yet when it was time to bow to G-d and confess one’s sins, everyone miraculously had plenty of room to bow and confess their sins in their own private space.
The Lesson: We can learn from this that when a person is being “squeezed” with troubles (symbolized by the squeezing of the crowd), all he needs to do is to humble himself and return to G-d (symbolized by the bowing), and then his troubles will melt away (just as there was room when the people bowed). When a person follows this path, the salvation of G-d can happen in the blink of an eye.
9. No snake or scorpion ever harmed anyone in Jerusalem.
Although Jerusalem is a rocky and mountainous area where many snakes and scorpions naturally live, it never happened during the Temple era that anyone was killed by the bite of these animals.
The Lesson: The snake represents our evil inclination. A person should not say, “I can’t help myself, my desire for sin is overwhelming.” Rather, one should take a lesson from the snakes in Jerusalem who curbed their nature and didn’t harm people due to G-d’s will. So too we must (and can) curb our inner snake (desires) to the will of G-d.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the poison of a snake is hot while that of a scorpion is cold. The snake bite alludes to fiery arguments that sometimes break out between people while the bite of the scorpion alludes to the cool indifference people sometimes feel towards each other. The nature of Jerusalem was that when the Jews made their pilgrimage there, it united all the tribes (and, by extension, the members of each tribe) into one big family. Certainly we must learn from this and apply it to our families and communities.
10. No one ever said there is no space for me to sleep in Jerusalem.
Although Jerusalem had limited space, when the Jews would make their pilgrimage, there was miraculously enough room for all of them. In addition, no one ever said they had to leave Jerusalem to be able to support themselves and their families. Rather, everyone in Jerusalem miraculously managed to find work.
The Lesson: One should not say, “I have no time to study Torah as I must spend all of my time working or doing business to support my family.” Rather, one should realize that if we trust in G-d and fulfill His will, He can find a means for us to support ourselves comfortably without our having to leave “Jerusalem” (i.e., a lifestyle of Torah study and observing the mitzvot meticulously.)
May we once again experience all of these miracles very shortly with the coming of Moshiach!
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