Ethics Now & Then 81- Avot 5:7 (b)

In a continuation of the ten miracles that occurred in the Holy Temple while it stood in Jerusalem, we find…

(b)…the wind did not disperse the vertical column of smoke from the altar’ ; no disqualification was found in the Omer, in the Two Loaves or in the Showbread; the people stood crowded together yet prostrated themselves in ample space; neither serpent nor scorpion ever caused injury in Jerusalem; nor did any man say to his fellow, “The space is insufficient for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem.”

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Avot 5:7(b) 

6. …the wind did not disperse the vertical column of smoke from the altar

Due to the considerable elevation of Jerusalem above sea level, the city often is assailed by strong winds from both the direction of the Mediterranean Sea in the West and the desert areas in the East. Yet, although it was exposed to the elements in the Temple Court of Israel, the continual smoke from the altar of sacrifice always rose straight into the air no matter the turbulence of the weather. As recorded in Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan (A 35): “When the column of smoke emanated from the altar of burnt-offerings, it would rise up straight as a rod, until it reached the sky.”

7.  …no disqualification was found in the Omer, in the Two Loaves or in the Showbread

On the second day of Passover an omer (specific measure; a sheaf) of newly harvested barley would be brought to the High Priest in the Temple and he would wave it before the Lord (Leviticus 23:10-11,14). If, during the transport from field to Temple it would, for example, touch a dead creature, it would be rendered ritually impure. Great care was taken, as only after this offering was made could the grain of the harvest be used for consumption.

Seven weeks later, after counting the 49 days of the Omer, the festival of Shavuot is celebrated. In Temple times two freshly baked loaves, using flour from the new wheat crop that followed the barley harvest, were brought and waved as an offering by the High Priest (Leviticue 23:15-17). Again, great care needed to be taken that no ritual impurity occurred during the process.

Every Erev Shabbat the priests would take the showbread, lechem panim, baked during the day, and place the twelve loaves in two rows on the gold table in the Holy Place of the Temple (Leviticus 24:5-6, 8). Again meticulous care had to be taken with this special bread. The priests would replace the former loaves, which they then would share among themselves. Miraculously, the bread remained as fresh as when it was placed there the previous week.

The importance of these offerings is stressed in the Talmud: “Said the Holy, Blessed One: Bring the omer before Me on Passover that the grain in the fields may blessedly prosper. Bring the two loaves before me on Shavuot that the fruit of the trees may blessedly prosper” ( Talmud Bavli, Rosh HaShanah 16a). The commentary Ruach Chayim describes that as long as the twelve loaves appeared on the table in the Sanctuary, there was no lack of bread in Israel, and all blessings from Heaven descended first to this table and from there spread to the people of Israel.*

As the harvests that provided food for the people depended on these weekly and festal offerings and the blessings that resulted, it was appreciated as Divine providence that no ritual impurity ever occurred in their preparation that would disqualify them.

8. …the people stood crowded together yet prostrated themselves in ample space

“Three times a year shall your males appear before the Lord your God at the place which He shall choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Passover), at the Festival of Weeks ( Shavuot), and at the Festival of Booths (Sukkot)” (Deut. 20:19). The place He had chosen was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and Jewish men, together with whoever was able from their families, would make the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. Avot d’Rabbi Nathan (A 35) also describes: “Miracles occurred in the Temple courtyard: Even if all the people Israel entered it, the courtyard contained them all.” In addition, “At the time that the people of Israel went to prostrate themselves before their Father in Heaven, [although] …no one could insert a finger between them …when they stood in prayer. Yet, when they bowed to the ground, they had ample room for the full height of a man.”

The same miracles occurred on Yom Kippur, when the people would prostrate themselves each time the High Priest would pronounce the ineffable Holy Name of God.

9.  …neither serpent nor scorpion ever caused injury in Jerusalem

Together with the intense heat of the long summers and the rocky hills upon which Jerusalem stands, many creatures including snakes and scorpions abounded. And yet it is recorded that no person was ever fatally bitten or stung by them. The holiness of the Presence of God was a protection, just as it had been on the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness.

The special holiness of Jerusalem is indicated in its name. The Sages note that Melchizedek, (whom they consider to be Noah’s son Shem, the righteous teacher and priest of God) originally called it Shalem (Salem), meaning Peace or whole, while Abraham, after the binding of Isaac, called it HaShem yir’eh (God sees). The two were combined as Yiru’shalaiim.**  It carries the plural form because it connects Heaven and earth. It is a city designed for the wholeness of peace and worship before God, whose eyes are continually upon it. In its high degree of holiness, Jerusalem provided protection for His people and it was called “a joyous town.” Indeed it is destined to be “the joy of the whole earth.”***

10.  …nor did any man say to his fellow, “The space is insufficient for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem.”

Although the city would throng with people and visitors during the Festivals there would be place for all and no one lacked accommodations.  Everyone found a bed and a meal. All were united in the service and worship at the Holy Temple and the joy experienced infused everything. People shared all they had in a spirit of harmony and cooperation, which was indeed miraculous.

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Irving  Bunim makes an interesting comparison between the place of the Holy Temple and the Garden of Eden. The curses that mankind endured as a result of his sin and expulsion from the Garden are miraculously revoked in the holiness of His Presence in His House.**** When man responds in obedience to God’s Word, there Eden begins to reappear.  Crops are blessed, bread remains fresh and plentiful, meat does not decay, the serpent cannot injure, women give birth naturally, and joy and harmony are enjoyed together in His Presence.

We can look forward to the day that fullness will be restored with Jerusalem at its center, as the prophet Isaiah foretells: “”They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (11:6-9).

Footnotes:

* Irving M. Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol. 3; 70
** Ibid., 76
*** Psalm 48:2
**** Irving M. Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol. 3; 70

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