#11: What happens in the Mikdash (Temple) on Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month)?
The very process of Kiddush HaChodesh (the sanctification of the new month) takes place in the Mikdash. The witnesses who see the new moon arrive at Lishkat HaGazit, the room in which presides the Sanhedrin (high court). After the witnesses undergo interrogation and the court finally decides that it is Rosh Chodesh, the Av Beit Din (head of the court) declares the month: “Mekudash!” (sanctified) and the nation responds after him: “Mekudash Mekudash!” (sanctified sanctified). On Rosh Chodesh, the Musafei Rosh Chodesh (Rosh Chodesh offerings)- which consist of two bulls, one ram, seven sheep and one goat- are brought in the Mikdash. There are nine trumpet blasts sounded during the bringing of these offerings.
#12: Who eats the korbanot (offerings) in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple)?
There are three categories of korbanot when it comes to the obligation of eating:
- Korbanot that are not eaten at all, but rather are entirely burned on the mizbeach (altar)
- Korbanot of which certain parts are eaten by the Kohanim (priests) (eaten in the azara [priestly courtyard] and surrounding rooms) and other parts by the Israelite who brings the offering (eaten within the walls of Jerusalem).
- Korbanot that are eaten only by the Kohanim, in the azara and surrounding rooms.
The eating of the korban (sacrifice) is a mitzvat asei (positive commandment) from the Torah. Therefore, there is a special bracha (blessing) said upon eating a korban.
#13: What is/are “Urim V’Tumim”?
One of the garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) is the “choshen” (breastplate). The choshen consists of twelve precious stones, one for each one of the shvatim (tribes). On each stone is written the name of a shevet (tribe), and there is additional writing on some of the stones so that all of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are found on the choshen. These stones are used as a vehicle by which to ask God questions of national significance (for example,whether or not the nation should go to war). The king or leader of the Jewish nation at the time asks the Kohen Gadol the yes or no question, and the letters on the choshen light up with the answer. The Kohen looks at the answer and then passes it on to the asker. This process occurs at the entrance to the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies). There is a debate amongst the rabbis as to what the phrase “Urim V’Tumim” refers to. Some say that it refers to the stones with the letters written on them, while others say that it refers to another part of the choshen on which is written God’s explicit name.
#14: At what age do the Kohanim (priests) begin working in the Temple, and at what age do they finish their service?
According to Torah law, a kohen (priest) begins working when he becomes an “adult”, which according to Jewish law occurs at the age of 13. However, the practice was that a kohen only began the avodah (service) at the age of 20. The kohen needs to know all of the laws relating to the service, so it was customary to delay the beginning of his service even longer so that he could spend more time thoroughly learning the laws. According to the Rambam (Maimonides), a kohen enters the avodah for the first time during Shirat HaLevi’im (the song of the Levites) [pictured below]. In principle, a kohen works until he grows old. However, from the moment his hands and legs begin to shake, his service is invalid.
#15: What is inside the Aron HaBrit (Ark of the Covenant)?
The Aron HaBrit, which during Bayit Rishon (the First Temple period) sat in the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies) and is currently believed to be hidden under Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), contains a number of important items. The Aron (ark) was originally created as a chest to hold the luchot (tablets), and indeed contains both sets of luchot- the first (broken) set and the second set. There is a debate as to whether Moshe Rabbeinu’s Sefer Torah (the Torah scroll of Moses) is inside the Aron, was kept on a shelf or a box next to the Aron in the Kodesh HaKodashim, or was placed in a separate ark next to the Aron HaBrit. The Talmud in Bava Batra explains that there were two silver poles inside the Aron as well. Contrary to popular believe, the jar of Mann (manna), jar Shemen HaMishcha (anointing oil) and Mateh Aharon (Aharon’s rod that brought forth blossoms) were not placed inside the Aron, but rather sat next to the Aron in the Kodesh HaKodashim.
#16: What is the “Nivreshet Shel Zahav” (golden lamp) of Queen Helena?
The mishna in Masechet (tractate) Yoma lists Queen Helena of Adiabene has having donated a golden lamp to the Mikdash (Temple) that hung at the entrance to the heichal (sanctuary). This golden lamp was more than just a beautiful decoration- it served a very important purpose! The lamp hung in the west, at the entrance to the heichal. When the sun, which rises in the east, would rise in the morning, its rays would strike the lamp causing it to light up. When the lamp lit up, all of the Jews in Jerusalem knew it was time to recite the morning Shema [Yoma 37a-b].
#17: What are “Bikurim”?
Bikurim are the first of the fruits, which the Torah commands us to bring to “Beit Hashem” (the house of God, i.e. the Temple). This commandment applies to fruits of the Shivat HaMinim (the seven species which the Land of Israel is blessed with producing): wheat, barley, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives and grapes. How does one bring bikurim? One goes out to the field and marks the first fruits by tying a string or straw onto them. Once the fruit ripens, one uproots or cuts them and brings them to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). The bringing of the bikurim to Yerushalayim is a festive event- all gather in a central location, the Olei Regel (those who would go up to Jerusalem) being careful not to become impure. In the morning, it was announced: “ קומו ונעלה ציון אל בית ה’ אלוקינו”- “Let us get up and go up to Zion to the house of Hashem our God”. The olei regel are greeted by the national leaders and other important people of Yerushalayim, and enter Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and then the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). As they enter the Azara (priestly courtyard), the Livi’im (Levites) play their music and sing. The olei regel recite the “Mikra Bikurim”- passage of the first fruits- while still carrying their fruit baskets on their shoulders, and when arriving at the passage of “Arami Oved Avi” (“My father was a wandering Aramian”) the Kohen (priest) puts his hand under the basket and waves it (called “Tnufah”). One who brings bikurim is also obligated to bring a korban (sacrifice), and must sleep in Yerushalayim for the night after he brings his fruits. The fruits must be eaten by the kohanaim (priests) within the walls of Yerushalayim. Bikurim are brought between the holiday of Shavuot (Decalogue) and Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles). The bringing of bikurim reminds us that everything we have comes from Hashem (God), and proclaims to all that Hashem fulfilled His promise that He would bring us to the Land of Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey.
#18: What is the function of the Kior (washbasin) in the Mikdash (Temple)?
The kior, the copper washbasin that stands in the Ezrat Kohanim (priestly courtyard), is used as preparation for the avodah (service). Before the kohanim (priests) can begin the avodah, they must wash their hands and feet with water from the kior. They wash their right hand together with their right foot, followed by their left hand together with their left foot. The only specifications for this kli (vessel) that are listed in the Torah (Bible) are that it must be made of copper, with a copper base. The kior in Bayit Sheini (the Second Temple) had twelve faucets, one for each of the twelve kohanim who do the twelve avodot (parts of the service) of the Avodat HaTamid (daily service).
#19: What is “Birkat Kohanim” (the Priestly Blessing”) and when and how does it take place?
There is positive Torah commandment for the kohanim (priests) to bless the nation in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) on a daily basis, as part of Avodat HaTamid (the daily service). At the end of Avodat Tamid shel Shachar (the morning service), the kohanim stood on the steps of the Ulam (hall) to bless the nation with their faces to the nation and their backs to the Heichal (sanctuary) . During the bracha (blessing), the kohanim raise their hands over their heads in a special formation, except for the Kohen Gadol (high priest) who raises his hands until right below the Tzitz (golden crown). During Birkat Kohanim in batei knesset (synagogues) today, the congregation responds “Amen” after each pasuk (verse). In the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), all three pesukim (verses) are said together without pause between them, and do not answer “Amen”. There is a debate at to what exactly the nation says. Some say that the nation says: “ברוך השם אלהים אלהי ישראל מן העולם ועד העולם” - “Blessed is Hashem the God, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting”, and other says that the nation says: “ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד”- “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever”.
#20: Who was David HaMelech (King David) and how is he connected to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple)?
David HaMelech, the second king of Israel, was the first to attempt to build the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in “המקום אשר יבחר ה”- “the place which God will choose”, on Har HaMoriah (Mount Moriah) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). After finally transporting the Aron HaBrit (Ark of the Covenant) to Har HaMoriah, David exclaims to Natan HaNavi (Nathan the Prophet): “ראה נא אנכי יושב בבית ארזים וארון האלוקים ישב בתוך היריעה” - “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtains”. However, that night Natan receives a nevuah (prophecy) in which Hashem (God) tells Natan to tell David that David will not be the one to build the Beit HaMikdash. Rather, his son will be the one to ultimately build the house for God.
Despite the fact that David will not be the one to build the Beit HaMikdash, he merits to, physically and spiritually, set the foundations for its building. He picks the exact location of the Mikdash, prepares detailed plans for the building [pictured below], buys the plot of land on which the Mikdash would stand, brings the Aron HaBrit to Har HaMoriah, builds the Mizbeach (altar), specifies the mizbeach as the location of the bringing of korbanot (sacrifices) to Hashem in exclusion of other places, and prepares the physical foundations of the Mikdash.