Talmud Tips

For the week ending 16 June 2018 / 3 Tammuz 5778

Zevachim 51 - 57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Worth Losing Sleep Over

Rava taught: The verse (in Shmuel I 19:18) states, “Now David had fled… and he came to Shmuel to Ramah… and he and Shmuel dwelled in Nayot (see Maharsha).” What is the connection between Ramah and Nayot? They (David and Shmuel) were dwelling in Ramah (the city of Shmuel) and involved themselves in determining the location of the Neve of the world (the Beit Hamikdash).

The exact location where the Beit Hamikdash was to be built in the time of David was a puzzling matter. The Torah does not explicitly mention its place. Its location is simply mentioned as “the place that the L-rd your G-d will choose.” (Devarim 12:5 and in other verses) But where exactly was the correct site for the building of the Beit Hamikdash on Har Habayit (Temple Mount)?

Our gemara records that they began with a verse that refers to the place of the Sanhedrin court, that was to be located in the Beit Hamikdash, a verse which offers a fairly good indication of the correct location: “Then you shall rise and go up to the place that the L-rd your G-d will choose.” (Devarim 17:8) They explained this as follows: “This teaches that the Beit Hamikdash was higher than the rest of Eretz Yisrael, and that Eretz Yisrael is higher than all other lands.” (See Rashi, who writes that the source for Eretz Yisrael being higher than other lands is not the question here, and is not learned from this verse in Devarim, but rather from Sefer Yirmiyahu 16:14-15. The Maharsha, however, explains it from the fact that the mountain was called “noiyo,” meaning the most beautiful mountain in the world, which implies its being also the highest.)

However, they still didn’t know the exact location of this elevation, and determined it to be in the portion of Binyamin after carefully examining the descriptions of the boundaries of the portions of Eretz Yisrael as taught in Sefer Yehoshua chapter 15 (see Rashi’s detailed explanation). Therefore, they first thought to build the Beit Hamikdash at highest point in the land of Binyamin, at Ein Eitam. Nevertheless, they decided that it should be built at a slightly lower elevation, in Jerusalem, based on a different verse which tells the beracha of Moshe to Binyamin. This verse states that the Divine Presence “will dwell between his shoulders.” Just as the shoulders are lower than the head, the place for the Beit Hamikdash in the land of Binyamin should be lower than the top of the mountain. Another explanation the gemara offers for lowering the site is that there is an oral tradition that the Sanhedrin’s place is in the land of Yehuda, although the Divine Presence is in the land of Binyamin. Yehuda and Binyamin share a border, with Yehuda being to the south. If the Beit Hamikdash were to be built on top of the mountain, at Ein Eitam, it would be too far away for the Sanhedrin to be in Yehuda’s land inside the Beit Hamikdash.

The gemara concludes that David and Shmuel’s extraordinarily persistent efforts invested in analyzing the Torah to correctly determine the location of the Beit Hamikdash can be seen in King David’s heartfelt words in Tehillim (132:3-6): “I shall not come into the tent of my house, and I shall not go up on the bed that was spread for me; I shall not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my pupils, until I find a place for the L-rd, dwellings for the Mighty One of Yaakov. Behold, we heard it in Ephrat (Yehoshua, a descendant of Ephraim — Rashi); we found it in the fields of the forest (Binyamin, a devouring wolf — Rashi).” They toiled in quest for the location of the Beit Hamikdash for many days, weeks and years, and did not sleep until they successfully determined the place of dwelling for the Divine Presence amidst the Jewish People and the world.

G-d could have chosen to explicitly mention the precise location for the Beit Hamikdash in the Torah. Or He could have told it to a prophet, such as Shmuel Hanavi. However, it was the Divine Will that this location — the place for His Divine Presence to dwell in our midst — be determined from the Torah, using the same methodology of Torah analysis that our Sages have used throughout history. As the prophet Yeshayahu said in 2:3 regarding the essential relationship between the Torah and the Beit Hamikdash: “Torah will go forth from Tzion, and the Word of G-d from Yerushalayim.”

  • Zevachim 54b

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