Clearly the Holy Temple was special place. A place where time, nature, and even life stood still.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
On Sunday, July 18, the Jewish world will mark Tisha B’av, the national day of Jewish mourning. On this day we mourn the destruction of the two Temples that once stood in Jerusalem along with the general destruction of the Land of Israel and subsequent exile of the Jewish people. It is a day of mourning and fasting.
But let’s face it, many people have a hard time relating to, let alone mourning, a Temple they know nothing about. We never saw the Temple. We never basked in its holiness. We never saw the service of the priests, the singing of the Levities, the offerings of the nation.
In this article I am going to try to give you a glimpse into the excitement and holiness that we are missing. Perhaps by understanding what we are missing, we may be able to better mourn its loss.
The Mishna (Avot 5:5) tells us that 10 miracles were performed in the Holy Temple. Let’s see what they were, along with a bit of explanation of each:
‘No woman ever miscarried due to the aroma of the sacrificial meat’
As we know, pregnant woman often get wild cravings for food that they must have immediately. Our sages tell us that a pregnant woman who craves food can miscarry if she is not given some of it to eat. This is so serious that feeding a pregnant woman food that she craves is permitted even on Yom Kippur!
For those who love barbecues, imagine the smell of barbecued meat filling the air of most of Jerusalem every day due to the many sacrifices that were offered. The problem is, most sacrificial meats were forbidden to be eaten by just anyone. Hence, since a pregnant woman would not be able to eat of the sacrificial meat should she crave it, a miracle occurred and no woman, even the best barbecue hobbyist, ever craved the sacrificial meat.
‘The sacrificial meat never became spoiled’
This was a miracle as some sacrifices were eaten over a period of several days or weren’t even placed on the altar until several days after slaughter. Considering the Middle East climate along with no refrigeration facilities, it was a miracle that this meat, sacrificed for holy purposes, never spoiled.
‘A fly was never seen in the slaughterhouse’
Usually flies and insects are common in areas with raw meat. Nevertheless, the butchering area of the Temple never had a single unwanted pest. We are told that the flies themselves were given an instinct that this meat was off limits and they’d have to go pester someplace else. This is similar to the story of Daniel when the lions knew that Daniel was not for lunch and kept away accordingly.
‘The High Priest never had a seminal emission on Yom Kippur’
An emission on Yom Kippur would have invalidated the High Priest from performing the Temple service. For this reason, a special diet was implanted in the days before Yom Kippur, and the High Priest did not go to sleep on the night of Yom Kippur either. No one is immune from such mishaps, not even the holiest person in the world, yet a miracle occurred, and it never happened.
‘Rain never extinguished the fire of the Altar’
Pretty self-explanatory. It kinda’ reminds me of the burning bush: on fire but not consumed.
‘The wind never blew the pillar of smoke that rose from the Altar’
This one is probably my favorite, and if I had the opportunity to be able to experience one of these 10 miracles, I would choose this one. Even the strongest winds couldn’t budge the column of smoke. It was a sign of approval from God that He was pleased with the Temple service.
‘The Omer offering, the Two Loaves, and the Showbread were never found to be invalid’
These were all grain offerings which had to be done right the first time. There were no second chances with this one. The Omer was a barley offering brought on the second day of Passover. It was only prepared on the evening before. The Two Loaves were offered on Shavuot. If a problem occurred in the preparation, the new loaves could not be baked. These offerings were distinct, and unlike animal offerings that could be redone if found to be invalid, there was no such dispensation with these.
‘People would be crowded together tightly, but when it came time to bow, everyone had space to do so’
Almost all adult males were required to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the major festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The crowds were huge. Nevertheless, when they bowed in prayer, everyone had sufficient space.
‘A snake or scorpion never did harm in Jerusalem’
Jerusalem, especially in ancient times, was both mountainous and rocky, ideal homes for snakes and scorpions. But those who are involved in mitzvot (Torah commandments) and holiness were protected from this threat. To this day, there may not be a single recorded case of a snake bite in the area of the Old City.
‘A person never said to his fellow, ‘It is too crowded for me to spend the night in Jerusalem’
A travel agent’s dream: send as many people as possible you can to a single city, and no need to worry about there not being enough hotel rooms!
Like the miracle of “Crowding and Bowing” mentioned above, so too, no matter how many people came to spend the holidays in Jerusalem, nobody was left to sleep on the streets. Miraculously there was always room for everyone.
There you have it folks, the 10 miracles that were a daily and integral part of Jewish life in ancient Israel. Clearly the Temple was special place. A place where time, nature, and even life stood still. It was the opportunity to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the material and spend some time in the spiritual. The Temple was always there for everyone to enjoy, for anyone who needed to recharge their spiritual batteries.
While this article cannot do justice to the magnitude of Tisha B’av, I have no doubt that keeping this article in mind will add meaning to this difficult day.