“Where’s the Oil?” Parashat Tzav 5776

The second half of Parashat Tzav describes the consecration ceremony of the Mishkan. The culmination of the ceremony is described next week in Parashat Shemini, in which Hashem’s presence envelopes the Mishkan, with the finite somehow housing the infinite. Part of the consecration ceremony [Vayikra 8:10] involves anointing the Mishkan and its various components with “shemen ha’mishcha” –anointing oil created specifically for this purpose. Rav J.B. Soloveichik, writing in “Shiurei HaGri’d al Kritut”, compares the consecration of the Mishkan with the consecration of the Beit HaMikdash as described in the Mishna in Tractate Shevuot [14a] and codified by the Rambam in Hilchot Beit HaBechira [10:11] “One must not add on to the city [of Jerusalem] or to the Beit HaMikdash without [these four things]: [1] The King, [2] the express word of a prophet, [3] the Urim v’Tumim, and [4] a court of seventy-one elders, as the Torah says [regarding the building of the Mishkan in Shemot 25:9] ‘Just like all that I am showing you… so must you do [when you build the Beit HaMikdash]’” Wait a minute – there’s something missing here. Where is the anointing oil?

Rav Soloveichik answers by noting that the sanctity of the Mishkan is inherently different than the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash. The sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash is a function of location (“kedushat haMakom”). Its sanctity stemmed from where it stood – on the Temple Mount – and not from any inherent sanctity of the building itself. The sanctity of the Mishkan, however, sprang from the structure of the Mishkan (“kedushat haGuf”). The Mishkan as an object was holy. Rav Soloveichik brings a proof: The Mishkan was mobile – it travelled along with Am Yisrael, both in the desert and after they entered the Land of Canaan. And yet none of the places in which the Mishkan resided retained any holiness after it was torn down and moved, meaning the location of the Mishkan was irrelevant to its holiness.  The anointing oil was used to sanctify an object and not a place. Hence it was used in the consecration of the Mishkan but not in the consecration of the Beit HaMikdash.

The classification of the holiness of the Temple Mount after the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash nearly two thousand years ago has been a perpetual bone of contention: Does the Temple Mount retain the same holiness it possessed when the Beit HaMikdash was standing, or did its holiness evaporate when the Beit HaMikdash was turned to ashes? The answer to this question concerns a rather famous disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad[1]. The Rambam writes in Hilchot Beit HaBechira [6:14-16] “How was [the Second Temple] consecrated? [It was consecrated] via the first consecration performed by Solomon, for he consecrated the Temple Courtyard and Jerusalem for that time and for eternity (kidsha le’sha’ata v’kidsha le’atid lavo). Therefore, we may offer all the sacrifices [on the Temple site], even though the Temple itself is not built. Similarly, sacrifices of the most holy order (kodshei kodashim) can be eaten in the entire [area of the] Courtyard, even though it is in ruin and not surrounded by a divider… Why do I say that the original consecration sanctified the Temple and Jerusalem for eternity… Because the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem stems from the Shechinah (Divine Presence), and the Shechinah can never be nullified”. According to the Rambam, once the Beit HaMikdash was built, the Temple Mount was imbued with sanctity that it never relinquished.” The Raavad has no idea where the Rambam got this “ludicrous idea”, and suggests that the Rambam made the whole thing up. As far as the Raavad is concerned, once the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, the Temple Mount went back to being just another mountain, and it is permissible for any mortal to walk around the entire Temple Mount[2].

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, writing in Mishpat Kohen [96] was asked to adjudicate on the matter. Before giving his answer, he writes in the most unequivocal terms that he is not going to stick his head in an argument between two of the greatest scholars ever to walk the earth, especially after the accepted custom had been not to ascend the Temple Mount, in deference to the Rambam. Rav Kook had no intention of saying “We’ve been overcautious all these years. Last one up is a rotten egg!”[3]

After this preface, Rav Kook attempts to offer a metaphysical interpretation for the Rambam’s opinion. Rav Kook asserts that the Beit HaMikdash is comprised of two independent types of sanctity: sanctity of location (kedushat haMakom) and sanctity of the walls (kedushat haMechitzot). Neither one of these sources of sanctity can work by itself. If you build a Beit HaMikdash in Crown Heights, even if you build it precisely as prescribed in the Torah, it will not be any holier than any other building in Crown Heights. Alternatively, before the Beit HaMikdash was built, the Temple Mount was just another mountain[4]. However, continues Rav Kook, when the Beit HaMikdash was built on the Temple Mount it caused both sources of sanctity – location and walls – to become activated, and their latent sanctity to be released. According to the Rambam this reaction was irreversible, such that even after the Beit HaMikdash has been destroyed the sanctity of the Temple Mount remains, and it is still forbidden to ascend the Temple Mount.

Comparing the words of the Rav Soloveichik and Rav Kook, it is clear that they disagree regarding the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash: Rav Soloveichik says that it has no inherent sanctity and Rav Kook says that it has “kedushat haMechitzot”. If so, how, then, does Rav Kook explain why the Beit HaMikdash did not require anointing oil for its consecration?

There is a well-accepted misconception that the Beit HaMikdash was essentially a larger and more permanent version of the Mishkan. While this is in some ways true, it is not true in one very important way: The Mishkan was primarily the domain of the Kohanim who were busy administering the daily service, such as lighting candles, offering sacrifices and burning incense. The only time a regular Israelite would enter the Mishkan was to offer a personal sacrifice. Things were different in the Beit HaMikdash. In the first verse after the Beit HaMikdash has been completed we are told how [Kings I 8:2] “all the men of Israel assembled themselves”. A purpose of the Beit HaMikdash – one that was not present in the Mishkan – was to serve as an assembly point for the entire nation. The Beit HaMikdash was the world’s first synagogue. Indeed, the word “synagogue” comes from a Greek word meaning “assembly”[5]. And so while the Mishkan served as a kind of receptacle for the Divine Presence, the Beit HaMikdash served as a receptacle for Am Yisrael. For this reason, the Beit HaMikdash defined Am Yisrael: When Am Yisrael assembles together, we do so to worship Hashem.

According to Rav Kook the Mishkan is anointed and the Beit HaMikdash is not, even though both are holy: The Mishkan is sanctified by Hashem’s presence. It is anointed as a physical reminder of its holiness. The Beit HaMikdash is holy because it is the place where Am Yisrael meet each other and together extend our hands skyward. Each and every time we assemble in the Beit HaMikdash, or in any other shul for that matter, we testify to its sanctity. Oil is not required. Try thinking about that next time you’re in shul.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka.

[1] The Raavad (or the “Rye-ved” in the Yeshiva world) is the acronym for Rabbi Avraham ben David of Posquieres (modern-day Vauvert in France). The Raavad wrote a gloss on the Rambam’s Yad HaChazaka and he had no problems in vociferously disagreeing with the Rambam.

[2] Those that ascend the Temple Mount today are careful not to traverse areas upon which “sensitive sections” of the Beit HaMikdash once stood. Even the Rambam would permit their actions.

[3] Rav Kook was also afraid that a lenient ruling might result in an uncontrolled flood of people ascending the mount.

[4] Midrashic stories aside.

[5] The Hebrew “Beit Knessset” means “House of Assembly”.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
Related Topics
Related Posts