Ethics Now & Then 80 – Avot 5:7 (a)

(a) Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Holy Temple: No woman miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat; the sacrificial meat never became putrid; no fly was seen in the place where the meat was butchered; no seminal emissions occurred to the High Priest on Yom Kippur; the rains did not extinguish the flames on the altar-pyre;

(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.”

Star of David ENT

 

Avot 5:7 (a) Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Holy Temple:
1. No woman miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat; 2. the sacrificial meat never became putrid; 3. no fly was seen in the place where the meat was butchered; 4. no seminal emissions occurred to the High Priest on Yom Kippur; 5. the rains did not extinguish the flames on the altar-pyre…

Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Holy Temple.

Miracles, by definition, are rare and unusual occurrences. A supernatural wonder breaks into the natural course of events. The evidence of a miracle should cause people to stop and enlarge their vision with the awareness of the reality of the Divine that infuses the mundane, physical realm. We know that the “heavens declare the glory of God” and every new day is a miracle, as is every breath we take due to the wondrous mechanism and workings of our human bodies. These “natural” and constant miracles we take for granted unless, God forbid, something goes wrong and stops working.

Perhaps the people of Israel took these ten miracles for granted after a while as they were in operation for the entire time the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem.The miracles, in fact, enabled the functioning of the Temple’s sacrificial ritual in whatever natural conditions prevailed. Every miracle caused by the Almighty is a form of Divine communication and carries a deeper message and significance. Do these lessons for our forefathers also carry meaning for us today?

1. No woman miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat.

As part of the sacrificial system, much meat was burnt on the altar. The aroma of the roasting meat would have permeated the Temple precincts, if not further. There were certainly many pregnant women who entered the courts of the Temple, to pray or to bring offerings or to participate in the Festival celebrations. The aroma of barbecuing meat might well have caused them to have food cravings, which, if they were unable to gratify, could cause much distress that apparently, in extreme cases, could lead to a miscarriage.*

This first miracle, then. was an asuurance that pregnant women, who were fulfilling two mitzvoth [good deeds; commandments of God] – to be fruitful and multiply and to worship God, would suffer no harm when they entered the Temple. The Sages reinforce this by stating:  “Messengers (or agents) sent for a mitzvah will not be harmed, either coming or going.”**

2. …the sacrificial meat never became putrid

The weather in Jerusalem is very hot for a good portion of the year. Meat left outside for hours begins to putrefy and rot.  As there was no refrigeration in Temple times and the meat would stand piled at the altar for two or three days at times of many sacrifices it was indeed a miracle that it did not decay.

This miracle seems to teach that …”holiness has the power to transcend death and decay.” *** The Sages actually say, in regard to Proverbs 6:22, “When you die it [Torah] will watch over you,” that the body of a person who has devoted his or her life to the study and embodying of Torah will not decay in tthe grave. We have an example of this in the Brit Chadasha (NT) when Yeshua raised Lazarus from the dead for days and his body had not suffered any decomposition.****

3. …no fly was seen in the place where the meat was butchered

The place of the slaughter of sacrifices was an outdoor open area to the north of the altar in the Court of Israel. This scenario would naturally attract many flies, particularly in the heat of summer. Yet, miraculously, it remained a fly-free zone!

A fy is a small insect and yet it carries bacteria that can cause disease. Interestingly, the Sages describe the fly as a symbol of evil in the heart. “The evil inclination resembles a fly, and it dwells between the two openings [valves] of the heart.”***** The Sages also tell us that “…the Holy, Blessed One loves whoever has a pure heart, for ‘the heart is the Holy of Holies in a person.'”******  Our goal is to overcome this fly – the evil inclination – and our constant prayer should be, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

4. …no seminal emissions occurred to the High Priest on Yom Kippur

The many services on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, were all performed by the High Priest. In order to do so he needed to be in a state of total ritual purity as it was the one day in the year that he would enter the Holy of Holies. If any ritual impurity occurred he would be disqualified. Great precautions were taken , including the prevention of the emission of semen while he slept. With the aid of young priests and scholars he would stay awake the whole night and pray and study.

This particular form of ritual impurity and the resulting disqualification from performing the Yom Kippur services would have been highly embarrassing, thus, by this miracle, the Almighty made it very clear that He does not will for a person to suffer public shame or embarrassment. So should we be careful in guarding the feelings of our fellow human beings.

5. the rains did not extinguish the flames on the altar-pyre…

The altar of the Temple was exposed to the elements. The fire needed to remain constantly burning in order to offer the sacrifices (Leviticus 6:6). The priests could do their part to tend the fire but heavy rain, beyond their control, could put it out!

Miraculously, rain never extinguished the fire. What can we to learn from this? Faithful obedience to, and trust in, our God should be a constant flame in our hearts. When we tend and constantly refuel this flame then, in His faithfulness, no “rains” of adversity or sorrow will be able to quench it.

Star of David ENT

Footnotes:

* Irving M. Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol. 3, 61
** Ecclesiastes 8:5; Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 8b
*** Irving M. Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol. 3, 63
**** John 11:43-45
***** Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 61a
****** Midrash Rabbah Gen. xli:8; Zohar III 283

 

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