Zevachim 58 - 64
The Unaltered Altar Location
“How did they know the exact location for the mizbe’ach (altar)?”
This question is posed by the gemara in order to understand how the location of the mizbe’ach was determined in the Second Beit Hamikdash. In last week’s “Talmud Tips” column we discussed how the location for building the First Beit Hamikdash was correctly discerned by King David. This week we delve into a related topic, determining the exact location for rebuilding the mizbe’ach in the Second Beit Hamikdash.
Seventy years had passed since the tragedy of the Jewish People’s exile from the Land of Israel and the utter destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Now, Ezra and the Anshei Knesset Hagedola (“Men of the Great Assembly”) — who included the prophets Chagai Zecharia and Malachi — led the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. Our gemara points out that from the remaining foundations of the walls they could discern what area was holy for the azara courtyard and what area was holy for the heichal structure (Rashi). But there was no physical remnant at the site of the Beit Hamikdash to indicate the location for the mizbe’ach. So how did they know where to rebuild the mizbe’ach?
Rabbi Elazar said, “They saw an altar that was built, and the great ministering angel Michael was standing and offering sacrifices on it.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha said, “They saw the ash of Yitzchak, which was situated in that location.”
Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said, “From the rest of the area of the Beit Hamikdash they smelled the fragrance of incense, but from that one location they smelled burnt animal limbs.”
The Maharsha explains the meaning of each of these three opinions. According to Rabbi Elazar they were shown by
Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha said that they were shown the ash of Yitzchak Avinu, gathered together in a specific location. This was an indication for the location of the mizbe’ach. Although Yitzchak was not actually sacrificed, his willingness to serve
Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni's stance is not based on what they were shown by
There is additional historical significance to the place of the mizbe’ach, as the Rambam details there. It is of interest to note, as our Sages teach, that Adam was created from that spot and offered a sacrifice there. They state, “Man was created from the very place where he would find atonement.” (Ber. Rabbah 14:6)
- Zevachim 62a