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Posted on October 19, 2017 By Rabbi Dr. Azriel Rosenfeld | Series: | Level:

42. Temple Utensils and Servers – Kelei ha-Mikdash veha-Ovedim Bo

a) The Oil and Incense

We are commanded to make a special oil for anointing kings of the Davidic dynasty and high priests, as it says “And you shall make an oil for sacred anointing”,1 and it says “And the priest of his sons who is anointed in his place”2; [and it says “The priest who will be anointed… to serve in his father’s place”].3 This oil was made by Moses and has never been made since. It is forbidden to make oil exactly like it for purposes of anointing, as it says “[You shall not make its like…;] a man who makes its like… shall be cut off from his people”.4 It is forbidden to anoint anyone other than a king or priest with Moses’ oil, as it says “It shall not be poured on a man’s flesh…; a man… who puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people”.4,a

We are commanded to make a special incense to burn on the golden altar every day, as it says “Take spices… [and make incense]”.5 It is forbidden to make incense exactly like it for purposes of smelling, as it says “You shall not make its like…; a man who makes its like to smell it shall be cut off from his people”.6 It is forbidden to use the golden altar for any sacrificial purpose except the burning of this incense [and the sprinkling of blood during the Yom Kippur service], as it says “You shall not put on it strange incense or a burnt-offering or flour-offering or pour a libation on it; Aaron shall… [put] the blood of the atonement sin-offering on it once a year”.7,b

b) The Temple Utensils

The sanctuary utensils that Moses made were sanctified by being anointed, as it says “And he anointed them and made them holy”.8 From then on they become holy by being used, as it says “[All the service utensils] that are used in the holy place”9–use makes them holy. If they are damaged they can be melted down and used to make new ones; their holiness never departs from them.c

When the Ark is moved from place to place it must be carried on poles, as it says “Theirs is the holy work: they shall carry on their shoulders”.10 The poles must not slip out of their rings, as it says “The poles shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not leave it”.11,d

c) The Levites and Priests

The tribe of Levi is commanded to serve in the Temple, as it says “At that time Ha-Shem set aside the tribe of Levi [… to stand before Ha-Shem and serve Him”]12; and it says “And the Levite he shall perform the service of the tent”13; and it says “[and if the Levite shall come… to the place that Ha-Shem shall choose] he shall serve in the name of Ha-Shem his G-d”.14 They serve as guards, doorkeepers, and singers. Levites and Israelites also serve as musicians in the Temple, and on new moons and festivals the priests blow trumpets there, as it says “And on your festivals and new moons you shall blow the trumpets”.15 It is forbidden for Levites to do priests’ work or vice versa or for the Levites to do each others’ work, as it says “But they shall not come near the holy utensils or the altar lest both they and you die”,16 and it says “Each man on his task and to his burden”.17,e

We are commanded to set aside the priests [the descendants of Aaron] for service in the Temple and to honor them, as it says “And you shall sanctify him, for he offers your G-d’s sacrifices”,18 and it says “And Aaron was set aside to be sanctified as a holy of holies [he and his sons forever]”.19 The priests and Levites were divided by Samuel and David into 24 watches each of which serves for a week at a time in rotation; but on the festivals any priest can serve and can take a share of the festival sacrifices or showbread, as it says “And if the Levite shall come […to the place that Ha-Shem shall choose, he shall serve… like all his brother Levites]; they shall eat share and share alike except for the portions of the families”20 — i.e., except for the non-festival sacrifices, which belong only to the watch that is on duty. Similarly, any priest who is fit for service can offer his own personal sacrifices even if he is not on duty, as it says “And he shall come as his spirit desires… and serve”.20 When a priest first begins to serve he personally brings a flour-offering, as it says “This is the sacrifice of Aaron and his sons that they shall offer to Ha-Shem on the day of being anointed”.21,f

The high priest is anointed and wears special garments, as it says “And the priest who is greater than his brothers, on whose head is poured the oil of anointing and who is granted the power to wear the garments…”.22 He can be appointed only by the Sanhedrin and is given special honors. When he is first appointed he again personally brings a flour-offering and he continues to bring such an offering daily.g

The prophets instituted 24 groups of Israelites, one for each watch of priests and Levites, to be present at the communal sacrifices and to fast and recite special prayers during the week that their watch is on duty.h

d) The Priestly Garments

The priests wear four garments when they serve in the Temple: linen trousers, a tunic and cap, and a belt made of wool and linen. The high priest wears four additional garments: a coat of purple wool trimmed with red and purple threads and with bells; a skirt (ephod) and breastplate of red and purple wool, linen, and gold thread set with precious stones; and a gold forehead-plate; he also wears his cap like a turban.23 On Yom Kippur he wears garments like those of an ordinary priest, but all of linen.24,i

We are commanded to make these garments for the priests, as it says “And you shall make sacred garments for your brother Aaron”25; [and it says “And you shall make tunics for the sons of Aaron…”26;] and it says “And you shall bring his sons near and dress them in tunics…”.27 A priest is forbidden to serve without wearing the proper garments; if he does so he is like an outsider and his service is unfit, as it says “…And you shall gird them with belts… and priesthood shall be theirs”28 — when their garments are on them their priesthood is on them.j

When a priest’s garments become dirty or wear out they are used for wicks in the Temple; but when the high priest’s garments wear out they must be buried, and the garments that he wears on Yom Kippur can be worn only once.29 It is forbidden to damage or disarrange the priestly garments, as it says “It shall not be torn”,30 and it says “And the breastplate shall not slip off the ephod“.31,k


1. Ex. 30:25 a. 1:1,4-7
2. Lev. 6:15 b. 2:1,9-11
3. Lev. 16:32 c. 1:12-13
4. Ex. 30:32-33 d. 2:12-13
5. Ex. 30:34-35 e. 3:1-3,5,9-10
6. Ex. 30:37-38 f. 3:9; 4:1-8; 5:16
7. Ex. 30:9-10 g. 4:12,15; 5:3,16; see Temidin u-Musafin 3:18
8. Num. 7:1; see Lev. 8:10 h. 6:1-4
9. Num. 4:12 i. 8:1-3,11; 9:1-11
10. Num. 7:9 j. 10:4
11. Ex. 25:15 k. 8:5; 9:3,10
12. Deut. 10:7
13. Num. 18:23
14. Deut. 18:6-7
15. Num. 10:10
16. Num. 18:3
17. Num. 4:19; see 4:49
18. Lev. 21:8
19. I Chronicles 23:13
20. Deut. 10:6-8
21. Lev. 6:13
22. Lev. 21:10
23. See Ex. 28:2ff, 39:lff
24. See Lev. 16:40
25. Ex. 28:2
26. Ex. 28:40
27. Ex. 29:8
28. Ex. 29:9
29. See Lev. 16:23
30. Ex. 28:32; 39:23
31. Ex. 28:28; 39:21