For the week ending 23 November 2013 / 20 Kislev 5774

Yoma 16 - 22

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Where in the Beit Hamikdash was the office of the lambs
  • How the kohen burning the Red Heifer on Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives) saw the entrance to Sanctuary
  • Length and width of the Beit Hamikdash courtyard and where the altar stood
  • Privileges of the kohen gadol and the division of the lechem hapanim (showbreads)
  • Preparation of the kohen gadol for Yom Kippur through study and diet
  • Talmudic Sages and their sometimes unusual marriages
  • The oath imposed on the kohen gadol and why
  • The two offices of the kohen gadol and the functions of the other offices
  • Are the kohanim our agents or agents of Heaven
  • The fate of the kohanim gedolim who deviated from the proper service
  • What was read for the kohen gadol who could not study himself
  • How the kohen gadol was kept awake and the tragedy of later imitation
  • Timing of the tithing of the altar ashes
  • The cry of the kohen and the crowing of the rooster
  • The mysterious interpreter who refused to quit
  • The miracles of the Beit Hamikdash
  • Noises, fires and smoke
  • The race up the altar ramp and why it was abandoned
  • The lottery for choosing kohanim for the sacred service
  • Counting Jews and the sins of the kings Shaul and David

Miracle of the Expanding Floor

  • Yoma 21a

One of the miracles that took place in the Beit Hamikdash was the expansion of space. When Jews came there on the festivals they were so crowded in the Temple courtyard that many of them did not even have room to put their feet on the floor, so that they gave the appearance of floating in the air. But when the time came to prostrate themselves the floor space miraculously expanded, so that there was a separation of four cubits between each of them. Thus no one would hear the confessions of sin made by his neighbor and cause him embarrassment.

Two challenges are raised by Maharsha to this gemara. In a later mishna (Yoma 35b) we learn that when the kohen gadol made his confession on Yom Kippur, he did so standing and not prostrated. The reason given by Rashi for the separation seems to be unnecessary since a human prostrated takes up four cubits, and this alone would have necessitated a miracle without the reason for confessional confidentiality.

In response to the first challenge we may suggest that the kohen gadol made his confession with his hands on the animal that he would sacrifice for his atonement, and this required standing. For the Jews confessing their sins during their festival visits, it was more proper to do so in the humble posture of prostration.

As to the need for mentioning the separation of four cubits as being based on confessional confidentiality, it must be noted that even if a person’s outstretched body anyway took up four cubits, this would only remove his mouth from the earshot of the fellow ahead or behind him. In order for the fellow alongside him to be unable to hear his confession there had to be another separation of four cubits, which made the miracle even greater.

What Our Sages Say

“Every turn you take in performing the sacred service in the Beit Hamikdash should be to the right.”

  • Rabbi Yehuda, quoted in Yoma 17b

“When Jews act in accordance with the Will of the G-d they will be so great in number that it will be beyond the ability of man to count them.”

  • Rabbi Yonatan and the Sage Abba Yossi ben Dostai (Yoma 22b)

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