Chapter 5, Mishna 7
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Ten miracles were performed for our fathers in the Temple: (1) A woman
never miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat. (2)
Sacrificial meat never became spoiled. (3) A fly was never seen in the
slaughter house. (4) The High Priest never had a seminal emission on Yom
Kippur. (5) Rain never extinguished the fire of the arranged wood [on the
Altar]. (6) Wind never prevailed over the pillar of smoke [that rose from
the Altar]. (7) The Omer offering, the Two Loaves, and the Show-bread were
never found to be invalid. (8) [The supplicants at the Temple] would stand
crowded together but would bow with ample space. (9) A snake or scorpion
never did harm in Jerusalem. (10) A person never said to his fellow, 'It is
too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.'"
This week's mishna contains another set of ten -- the ten miracles which
occurred in the Temple. I would like to first explain a number of them in
greater detail and then discuss the significance of the Temple miracles in
general. (I elaborate only on those miracles which require it.)
(1) "A woman never miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat:"
If a pregnant woman would have a craving for a certain food (as pregnant
women are known to do) ;-) the Sages believed it to be life-threatening (at
least for the fetus) to withhold from her the desired food (see Talmud Yoma
82). Sacrificial meat burning on the altar is forbidden to be eaten. Thus,
if a pregnant woman would crave it, her craving could not be satisfied. (I
assume other barbecued meat would not necessarily be immediately available.)
Nevertheless, this never occurred, and so a woman never miscarried on
account of the Temple service.
(2) "Sacrificial meat never became spoiled:" This was true even for
sacrifices whose period of consumption was two days and a night (Rabbeinu
Yonah), and even for limbs on the altar which were sometimes not burned
until days later (Rashi).
(4) "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. (See also Maimonides, Laws of De'os 5:4-5
(www.torah.org/learning/mlife/ch5law4-5.html) for a further discussion about
(7) "The Omer offering, the Two Loaves, and the Show-bread were never found
to be invalid:" These were all grain offerings which if missed, could not be
replaced. The Omer was a barley offering brought on the second day of
Passover. It was properly prepared only the evening before. The Two Loaves
were offered on Shavuos (Pentecost). If a problem occurred during the
holiday, new loaves could not be baked (unlike an animal offering which
could be replaced with a different animal). The Show-bread was a set of
twelve, specially-shaped loaves arranged on the golden Table in the Temple
every Sabbath. It too, if became invalid, could not be replaced.
(8) "[The supplicants at the Temple] would stand crowded together but would
bow with ample space:" Practically every adult Jewish male was required to
come to Jerusalem for the major festivals -- Passover, Shavuos, and Sukkos
(Tabernacles). Huge throngs crowded the Temple courtyard. Nevertheless, when
they bowed in prayer, all had sufficient space. Rashi adds (from an earlier
source) that this enabled them to utter their private prayers and
supplications to G-d undisturbed. Similarly, in spite of the huge national
pilgrimage, all were able to find lodging in the city (#10). (I can't
remember which religious shrine I was reading about in which would-be
visitors literally spent days waiting in line to enter. No such miracles for
The miracles of the Temple were an integral part of Jewish life in Israel.
As we discussed last week, when the Jews dwelt in the desert after the
Exodus, their lives were supernatural. They lived constantly with G-d -- who
sheltered them with Clouds of Glory, sustained them with Manna, and gave
them drink from a well which followed them in the desert.
When they entered the Land of Israel, they began to live more "normal" lives
-- plowing, planting, harvesting, fighting wars, levying taxes, collecting
the garbage, running businesses, haggling over prices, etc. In truth, Israel
was and is a land like no other. It is a land in which the physical realm
functions in complete consonance with the spiritual. If we serve G-d, the
rain will come in its time and the Land will yield its bounty. If we rebel
against G-d or serve Him with indifference, the Land itself will refuse to
respond to our needs -- and will eventually reject us as it "vomited out"
the wicked nations which preceded us.
Even so, Israel was not a place of open miracles. G-d's Hand was not
revealed to us as it had once been. We could see Him guiding and nurturing
us in our special and unique Land, but it would require some effort. We
would no longer see G-d as we once had -- and a person might feel G-d is
just a bit further removed from his or her life.
For this the Temple served as a reminder. Practically the entire Nation of
Israel was commanded to appear before G-d three times a year -- during the
festivals of Passover, Shavuos and Sukkos. We were commanded to come to the
Temple, bring special holiday offerings, and rejoice in our blessings. And
it was more than rejoicing; it was an encounter with G-d. We were to see and
be seen by G-d, in His revealed glory, and witness the open miracles which
occurred in the days when G-d chose to dwell among man.
But it was even more than just seeing miracles and wonders. We were almost
asked to propel ourselves to an *unnaturally* high level of closeness to
G-d. Man is not able to live in the presence of a G-d who performs open
miracles. It is too intense and overpowering, leaving man very little
breathing space of his own. And likewise, the miraculous experiences of the
Desert were not ones we were ever to return to -- in this world at least.
This is further evidenced in the Torah obligation that we leave our borders
unprotected while we're away in Jerusalem. *Every* Jew would come; there
were no soldiers stationed along the border while the rank and file were off
partying in the capital. How could we get away with this? How could we leave
ourselves so vulnerable? Did G-d really neglect such an obvious detail?
Yet the Torah promises: "No man will covet your land when you ascend to be
seen in the Presence of the L-rd your G-d three times a year" (Exodus
34:24). Our enemies would not dare touch the property of G-d's sacred
servants at so special a time. Thus, these three times a year we were asked
to commune with G-d in ways we would never imagine the rest of the year,
witness to His miracles and sheltered by nothing other His own protective
embrace. (Imagine, millions of Jews converging at the Temple with no
security guards and no baggage check at the entrance. No wonder so many
people were able to come on a single day.)
Thus, we would reach a "high" on our holidays, seeing visible demonstrations
of a living G-d dwelling among us.
But there was an additional obligation. The Torah commands us to "go home"
the morning after the holiday (Deuteronomy 16:7). Well, of course we'll go
home afterwards! Why would we have to be told?
I once heard R. Yitzchak Berkovitz (Jerusalem) explain that the Torah gave
us a special obligation to "go home:" to return after the holidays back to
our ordinary lives and routines. And this is no small feat. We must take the
lessons we have learned -- of a living, all-powerful G-d -- and bring them
home with us. As the months of the daily routine grind on, we may well
forget the G-d we saw in Jerusalem. Those Jews who were fortunate to live in
the days of the Temple -- and those of us who will merit to see the future
Redemption as well -- are thus given the occasional reminder of G-d's
Presence -- and are told to take it with them and to live with that G-d the
And in a way, I feel that this is one of the most important messages of the
Torah. We all have those greater-than-life experiences, those moments in
which we sense G-d's Presence in our lives. Sometimes it's that trying
moment when only Divine providence pulled us through, or sometimes we felt
that little tingle of inspiration, when G-d Himself was drawing us towards
Him. G-d *does* make appearances within our lives, but they are rare. Few
among us merit G-d's visible Presence at all times. But when we do
experience it, the Torah's obligation speaks to us: "go home." Don't pretend
you will be at this pinnacle at all times. Go home and continue with life.
But take that message and that sensation with you and make them a part of
your life. We will not always sense G-d's Presence as we do at such special
moments. But we can and must remember. Hold on to that memory. For it alone
can carry you through the easy and the difficult moments that life is sure
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.