Rambam Summaries-Sefer Avoda-Hilchos Beis Habechira-Chapter 1: The Temple

Chapter 1: The Temple

Halacha 1: The Mitzvah to build a Temple

  • The Mitzvah and its purpose: It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God for a) the sake of offering sacrifices and b) for the Jewish people to visit it three times a year to celebrate there [by the Shalosh Regalim].
  • The Mishkan in the times of Moshe: Was merely temporary [and hence did not fulfill the above command for eternity, and rather the Mitzvah continues to apply until the Temple in Jerusalem is built[1]].

Halacha 2: The history of the Mishkan and Temple until the Temple was built in Jerusalem

  • Gilgal: After the Jews entered Israel they erected the Mishkan [of Moshe] in Gilgal throughout the fourteen years in which they conquered and divided the land.
  • Shiloh: From there, they came to Shiloh, and built a house of stone, and spread the curtains of the Mishkan over it.
    • It did not have a roof.
    • The sanctuary of Shiloh stood for 369 years.
    • When Eli died, it was destroyed.
  • Nov: Afterwards, they came to Nov and built a Mikdash.
    • When Samuel died, it was destroyed.
  • Givon: Afterwards, they came to Givon and built a Mikdash.
    • The Mikdash stood in Nov and Givon for 57 years.
  • Jerusalem: From Givon, they came to the eternal structure [in Jerusalem].

Halacha 3: Building a Temple in areas other than Jerusalem

  • Once the Temple was built in Jerusalem, it became forbidden to build a Temple for God and to offer sacrifices in any other area.
  • The Mikdash for all generations is only in Jerusalem, on Mt. Moriah.

Halacha 4: The scriptural sources detailing the building of the three Temples

  • The first Temple: The Temple that was built by King Shlomo [i.e. the 1st Temple] is described in detail [i.e. its dimensions, structure, and design] in Sefer Melachim [chapter 6-7].
  • The third Temple: The details of the third Temple which will be built in the Messianic era is partially mentioned in the Book of Yechezkal chapters 40-47, although it is not properly detailed and explained.
  • The second Temple of Shlomo: The Second Temple which was built in the times of Ezra was built according to the structure of the first Temple built by Shlomo, although incorporating in it certain aspects of the third Temple which are explicitly stated in Yechezkal.

Halacha 5: The main areas of the Temple

The followings are the essential areas of the Temple [which lack thereof invalidate it[2]]:

  1. The Heichal: The Heichal consisted of three parts:
    1. The Kodesh [A room was made that was called the Kodesh, and housed the Keilim to be enumerated in Halacha 6. This area is also sometimes referred to as the Heichal[3], even though in truth the Heichal incorporates all the parts.]
    2. The Kodesh Hakedoshim. [Is a room behind the Kodesh, to the west, behind the partition/Paroches of the Kodesh. This area is also known as the Devir.[4]]
    3. The Ulam: The Ulam was an entrance hall that preceded the Kodesh [to the east]. [The term Ulam and Heichal are used synonymously and contain the same level of sanctity[5], even though the term Heichal really refers to all three areas together.]
  2. The Chatzer-Courtyard/Azarah: A partition is made around the Heichal, at a distance from it resembling the curtains that surrounded the courtyard of the Mishkan in the desert [i.e. the Chatzer of the Ohel Moed]. This entire surrounding area [that is between the partition and the Heichal] is called the Azara [as the Jewish people would pray to G-d for assistance in this location[6]].
  • The term Mikdash: The entire area of the Heichal and Azara is referred to as the Mikdash. [This area is also known as Machaneh Shechina.]

Halacha 6: The Keilim of the Mikdash

The following utensils are made for the Mikdash:

  1. Altar for offerings: An altar for the burnt offering and other sacrifices.
  2. Ramp for altar: A ramp needed to be made for the altar, which would be used to ascend it.
    • Its position: It was positioned towards the south [of the Temple courtyard], in front of the [southern part of the] Ulam.
  3. Kiyor: A wash basin with a stand was made for the priests to sanctify their hands and feet for the Temple service.
    • Its position: It was positioned towards the south [of the Temple courtyard], between the [southern part of the] Ulam and the altar.
  • Which side is south? The southern part of the Temple is its left side when entering the Mikdash.
  1. Altar for incense: An altar for the incense offering was built.
  2. Menorah
  3. Table for the showbread.
    • The position of 4-6: The latter three vessels were placed within the Kodesh, in front of the Kodesh Hakedoshim.

Halacha 7: The position of the Keilim in the Kodesh

  • Menorah: The Menorah was in the south, to the left of one who entered the Kodesh. It was close to the Kodesh Hakedoshim on the outside
  • Shulchan: The Table of the Lechem Hapanim was to the right of one who entered the Kodesh. It was close to the Holy of Holies on the outside.
  • Incense altar: The incense altar was positioned between the Menorah and Shulchan, in front of them.

The boundaries of the Temple-Ezras Yisrael and Ezras Kohanim:

  • Boundaries are to be made within the Azara to indicate the maximum point of entry for Israelites [i.e. Ezras Yisrael], and the area in which [only] the priests can enter [i.e. Ezras Kohanim].

The Lishkaos/chambers of the Temple:

  • Within the Azara, rooms were built for the various necessities of the Temple. Each one of these rooms are referred to as Lishakos.

Halacha 8: The stones used for the construction

  • The stones used for the building: The Heichal and courtyard [i.e. Azarah] is to be built using large stones. If stones are not available, then it is built with bricks [made from cement].
  • Where to split the stones: The stones used for the construction may not be split on the Temple Mount. Rather, the stones are to be split and chiseled outside the Temple Mount, and only afterwards brought in.

Halacha 9: Using wood in the Temple construction

  • The building: There may not be any protruding wood in the building structure of the Temple. Only stone, bricks, or cement may be used [for the outside parts of the Temple walls]. [However, the inside of the Temple walls may contain wood, so long as it is coated with stone or bricks or cement.]
  • The rooms: The rooms and chambers in the Azarah [of the altar] may not be made of wood. Rather, it is to be made of stone or brick. [However, the rooms and chambers of the Ezras Nashim area may be made of wood.[7]]

Halacha 10: The stone floors of the Temple

  • The entire floor of the Azarah is to be made using heavy stones. The stones must be cemented well into the ground so that they don’t move.
  • The law if a stone tile came out of place: If a stone became uprooted from the floor [i.e. is shaky], it becomes invalid, even if it does not move out of its set place on the floor.
  • Doing Temple service on a shaky stone: Due to the above invalidation, it is therefore invalid for the priest to perform Temple service on the stone until the stone becomes fixed into the ground again.

Halacha 11: Making a beautiful building-Donations and gold coatings

  • It is a mitzvah Min Hamuvchar to build a beautiful and splendid structure, and to elevate its height.
  • Donations: The Temple is to be built and beautified in accordance to the affordability of the community which is to send donations for this purpose.
  • Gold coating: If the community can afford it then it is a mitzvah to plate the Temple with gold.

Halacha 12: When & Who did the building

  • Daytime: The Temple may not be built at night.
  • The time of day: The building may take place from Alos Hashachar until Tzeis Hakochavim.
  • Who must help build the Temple: Everyone is obligated to help build the Temple, both personally and financially. This applies to both men and women. However, children are not to be interrupted from their Torah studies for the sake of its building.
  • On Yom Tov: The construction of the Temple may not take place on Yom Tov.

Halacha 13: The stones of the altar

  • The Altar must be made from stone and may not be made of any other material.
  • Resting on earth: The altar must be in contact with the earth and not built on an arch or on a cave.

Halacha 14: The need for whole and undamaged stones

  • A damaged stone: Any stone which is damaged to the point that a fingernail would get caught in it when passing over it, is invalid for use for the Altar and for its ramp.
  • The area the stones were excavated from: The stones of the Altar were taken from virgin earth, from an area that was never yet used for work or building. Alternatively, the stones were taken from the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The stones of the Temple: The stones of the Temple and the Courtyard were also whole.

Halacha 15: The invalid stones for Temple and altar

  • The law of damaged or split stones: Stones from the Heichal and Azarah which have become damaged or split, are invalid, and one who initially builds using a damaged stone violates a positive command.
    • The above damaged stones cannot be redeemed [and then used for mundane activity] and rather must be placed in Geniza.
  • Stones which touched metal-Invalid for altar: Any stone which has touched iron is invalid for use for the building of the Altar or the ramp, and one who does so is liable for lashes. This applies even if the stone was not damaged as a result of the iron. [However, some learn that this only applies if the iron sliced the stone, and not if it merely touched it.]

Halacha 16: Maintenance of altar

  • Stone of altar became invalid: If a stone of the altar or its ramp was damaged or touched by iron then although that stone becomes invalid, all the other stones remain valid.
  • Cementing the altar: The altar is coated with cement twice a year, before Pesach and before Sukkos.
  • When they coated it, they used a cloth, and not with iron lathe, being that it is forbidden to touch the stone with iron, as doing so would invalidate it.

Halacha 17: The altar ramp

  • No steps: It is forbidden to make steps for the Altar and anyone who ascends the Altar with steps [is liable to receive lashes. Rather, one is to build a ramp, called a Kevesh, which diminishes in height as it declines from the top of the Altar until the earth.
  • Where: The ramp is to be built on the the southern side of the Altar.
  • One who destroys a stone of the Temple: Anyone who demolishes a single stone from the Altar, or from any part of the Temple building, or the floor of the Azarah between the Ulam and the Altar is liable for lashes,

Halacha 18: The material of the vessels of the Temple-Metal versus other materials

  • Metal: All of the Temple vessels may be made only from metal. This includes, the Menorah, and its utensils, the Shulchan and its utensils, and the [coating of the] Incense Altar, and all the other sacred utensils.
  • Other materials: If the vessels are made from wood, bone, stone, or glass, then they are invalid for use.

Halacha 19: The type of metal to be used-Gold

  • Poor: If the nation is poor and cannot afford to make the vessels of gold, then they may make them even of tin. If they later become wealthy and are able to afford it, then they should make new ones of gold.
  • Rich: If the nation can afford it, they should even make the basins, the spits, and the rakes of the altar of the Olah and the Temple’s measuring vessels, out of gold.
  • Coating the gates with gold: Even he gates of the Courtyard should be coated with gold, if they can afford it.

Halacha 20: Making the vessels Lishma

  • Lishma: The vessels of the Temple must be manufactured for the sake of Temple usage. If they were originally made for mundane purposes, then they are invalid for Temple usage.
  • Mundane use of Temple vessels: A vessel which was made for the sake of the Temple may be used for mundane purposes prior to it being used for the Temple for its first time. Once it has been used for the Temple even one time, it may not be used for mundane purposes.
  • Using for Temple materials prepared for a Shul: Stones or boards which were originally hewn for the sake of a synagogue should not be used for the Temple.

[1] See Even Haezel on Rambam ibid; Chidushim Ubiurim p. 17-18 footnote 36

[2] Rambam Le’am footnote 25

[3] See Rambam 6:4

[4] See Rashi Melachim 1 6:2; Metzudos Tziyon Melachim 1 6:5

[5] Zevachim 14a; Rambam le’am footnote 28

[6] See Aruch Erech Azara based on Tehillim 46:2; Rambam le’am footnote 29

[7] Raavad ibid

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