For the week ending 8 January 2011 / 2 Shevat 5771

Zevachim 58 - 64

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • The location of the altar in the Beit Hamikdash
  • The different degrees of holiness in the Courtyard
  • Sacrifices offered while altar was incomplete
  • The sizes of the altars of Moshe and of Shlomo
  • Whether the first sanctification of the Beit Hamikdashwas to last for all time
  • The expansion of the altar in the Second Beit Hamikdash
  • How those who returned from Babylonian exile knew where the walls and altar place should be
  • The parts and dimensions of the altar
  • The reprimand of "sons of Keturah"
  • Which service was performed at the southwest corner of the altar
  • The sin sacrifice of fowl

Search for the Altar Site

  • Zevachim 62a

When the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah set about constructing the second Beit Hamikdash, they were able to determine the exact location of the walls separating the different areas of the first Beit Hamikdah because their foundations were visible. But they had a problem in regard to the altar, which lacked such a visible foundation, so that its exact location remained a mystery.

A number of solutions to this mystery are suggested by various Sages.

Rabbi Elazar states that they were shown an altar in heaven upon which the Malach Gavriel was offering sacrifices, and they understood that the altar they were to build must correspond to the location of that one above.

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni's approach is that the fragrance of incense offered throughout the duration of the first Beit Hamikdash permeated the entire area except for one spot where it was dominated by the odor of burned flesh, which indicated that this was where the altar stood.

Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha says that G-d showed them the ashes of Yitzchak as an indication for where the altar must be built. Maharsha explains that this is in line with the Midrash that Rashi quotes in his commentary on the passage in Bereishet 22:14, which states that Avraham prophesied that G-d will each year see the mound of ashes of Yitzchak and will forgive his descendants.

Although Yitzchak was never actually burned on the altar that his father had prepared, his willingness to serve as a sacrifice was treated by G-d as an actuality and it was these ashes that showed where the altar was in the time of Avraham and where it should be in the Beit Hamikdash.

What the Sages Say

"The fire which came from Heaven in the days of Moshe did not depart from the Sanctuary altar until the days of Shlomo, and the fire which descended in the days of Shlomo did not depart until Menashe removed it."

  • Beraita - Zevachim 61b

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