The water used in the Temple was sourced from the nearby spring, Ein Eitam. Our sages identify Ein Eitam as being the highest point in Eretz Yisrael.
One of the Mikvaos in the Beis Hamikdash was built on top of the Water Gate. This Mikvah was used by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur for his first of 5 immersions.
The Temple gates were 20 Amos (approximately 10 metres) high. The measurements of a Mikvah are (minimum) 1 by 1 Amah with a depth of 3 Amos. Therefore, the water level in this Mikvah would have been 23 Amos above the courtyard floor.
The water would flow down from Ein Eitam towards the Beis Hamikdash and then brought up with an inverted siphon effect to fill this Mikvah. Due to natural pressure, water in an inverted siphon will always find a level. Since this level cannot be higher than the original source of the water, our sages deduce that the Eitam spring must also have been 23 Amos above the courtyard level.
If you want to raise water to a level higher than its source, an outside force, such as a pump, is required.
The Neshama, like water flowing downhill, descends from its lofty spiritual source into a body down here in the physical world. This descent is for the purpose of achieving an even greater elevation. But without any outside force, the Neshama cannot rise higher than the source from which it came.
Torah and Mitzvos act like a pump. When the Neshama keeps Torah and Mitzvos in this world and engages in refining the body and animalistic soul, it reaches levels of connection to Hashem which are far deeper than the Neshama would have otherwise experienced. This powerful G-dly force pumps the Neshama up to the highest of heights.
The Torah commands us that “a perpetual fire should burn on the Mizbeach and never be extinguished”. The Torah gives us the responsibility to maintain the altar’s fires. And so, in the Holy Temple, two blocks of wood had to be placed onto the altar each day to fuel its fire. The wood for the Mizbeach would be stored in a special-purpose store room in the Ezras Nashim.
Our sages tell us that fireball would fall from Heaven onto the altar to consume the Korbanos. Nonetheless, it was still a Mitzvah to place wood on the Mizbeach each day to fuel the fire in a natural way, through earthly, human effort.
The same is true in maintaining the love that the Neshama has for Hashem. Love is like a fire. The flames of passion burn with intensity. But if not maintained, the flames die down and the fire will go out.
Our relationship with Hashem has ‘fireball’ moments. We become inspired on the Yomim Tovim and Yomim Noraim. We may experience a personal awakening from Above where we feel connected and Hashem draws us close, through little or no effort of our own. This love comes to us as a gift from Heaven.
But to keep our love burning, we can’t rely only on these fireball moments to do the trick. Hashem wants us to feeding the fire on a daily basis through our own earthly efforts. We do this in study and prayer, by using our own minds and hearts to meditate on Hashem’s greatness and try to connect to Him and sense His presence.
The earthly fire, fuelled by the wood each day was the magnet that elicited the fireball from Heaven. When we try to cultivate and develop our love for Hashem through our own efforts, the fire from below, Hashem will respond with a powerful revelation of His presence within our lives with His fire from above.
The Torah teaches “you shall not ascend my Mizbeach with steps (מעלות) so that you do not reveal your nakedness upon it”. This is counted as one of the 365 prohibitions of the Torah. Instead, the Kohanim would climb the Mizbeach via a ramp (כבש).
The word for steps – מעלות – derives from the root עלה, meaning to go up. Maalos is used to describe a person’s qualities and accomplishments that elevate them to a particular level or status.
The Mizbeach represents the service of Hashem. The Torah is telling us that when we begin climbing the Mizbeach of serving Hashem, we should not focus on scrutinising our Maalos – our spiritual qualities and accomplishments.
The concern is that by doing this, we may come to uncover our ‘nakedness’. When we honestly reflect on our spiritual accomplishments and where we really stand, we can come to realise that we are in fact spiritually ‘naked’ and lacking; that we are lowly and not lofty. When we focus on our deficiencies, we may feel ourselves inadequate and unworthy to be able to serve Hashem or feel like a fake for trying to do so.
Despite where we are up to and what is going on inside, Hashem wants our service. We can and we must climb the altar of serving Hashem.
But how is it possible to advance in keeping Torah and Mitzvos when we don’t feel anything inside or if we feel spiritually low?
The answer is via a Kevesh. Kevesh, meaning ramp, comes from the word to conquer. When we feel spiritually low, we need to conquer our feelings of inadequacy and ‘throw’ ourselves into the Avodah. Even if we feel like a fake, we have to find the inner strength to keep the Mitzvos, because that is what Hashem wants. This is the Middah of Kabbolas Ol.
When we climb the Mizbeach with this approach, Hashem will help us, so that ultimately, we will attain true and genuine spiritual accomplishment.
~ Toras Menachem 5713 volume 2 p189
In the passage describing the building of the Mizbeach, there are 2 contradictory verses. One verse says “Make for Me an altar of earth (אדמה)”. The very next verse says “And if you make for Me an altar of stones (אבנים).”
The Midrash resolves the contradiction. The word ‘if’ in the second verse does not mean that it is optional. Building the Mizbeach out of stone is obligatory. When the Torah mentions “an altar of earth”, it is not referring to the construction material, but rather to the requirement that the Mizbeach sit directly on the ground and not be built over tunnels or columns.
This obligation to build the Mizbeach out of stone only began upon entering Eretz Yisroel. The Mizbeach in the Mishkan was not made of stone. It was built as a hollow wooden structure and covered with copper-plate. When they would camp, the hollow would be filled with sand and was literally “an altar of earth”.
The difference between earth and stone is that stone has greater strength and durability.
In our Avodah, the Mizbeach represent davening, which is in place of the Korbanos. Davening is called the ‘service of the heart’, an experience of emotion.
Chassidus explains that there are two modes of emotional connection to Hashem. One level is through the emotions that are developed through meditation. Limited by our understanding, this love is more external and weak and can therefore fade after davening is finished. A deeper level of emotional connection is through revealing the Neshama’s powerful desire for Hashem that transcends intellect and reason. This love is strong and lasting.
Being in the desert represents a state of spiritual infancy when we are at the beginning of our service of Hashem and not yet able to experience the deeper connection. And so the Mizbeach of the Mishkan, which was only a temporary structure, was an “altar of earth”.
Arriving in Eretz Yisroel represents a state of spiritual maturity and open G-dly revelation when we are able to experience the deeper and stronger emotional relationship with Hashem that transcends intellect. And so the Mizbeach in the Beis Hamikdash was “an altar of stone”.
~ Based on Sefer Hamaamarim 5658 ד"ה זה יתנו
The Navi Zechariah was shown a vision of a golden Menorah that was very different to the Menorah of the Beis Hamikdash.
In his vision, the Menorah had a bowl on its top. Coming out of the bowl were 7 pipes that fed into the 7 candles of the Menorah. On either side of the bowl stood an olive tree and an olive press.
Clusters of olives would fall from the trees into two golden presses which would crush the olives. The pure oil would flow into the bowl where it would collect. From there, it would flow through the 7 pipes to fill the 7 candles of the Menorah. All of this happened by itself without any human involvement.
The Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash needed human effort at each step. The olives needed to be harvested and pressed to produce the oil. There was no bowl and no pipes to automatically feed the candles. Every day the Kohen would have to refill the Menorah with fresh oil.
The difference between the 2 Menorahs reflects the difference between the experience of Geulah and during the time of Exile.
The Menorah of Zechariah was a Messianic prophesy. The G-dly revelations that we will experience in the time of the Geulah are so lofty that they are beyond our capacity to elicit. Like the oil in Zechariah’s vision, these revelations will flow by themselves from above, independent of our efforts. In Kabbalah this is called an Isarusa D’leila, an awakening that comes from above.
The Menorah of the Beis Hamikdash represents the pre-Geulah reality. This reality is a world of action where our efforts are imperative. During Golus, our work of refining physicality is constantly required to illuminate the world with the light of Hashem. This is referred to as an Isarusa D’lesata, an awakening elicited from below.
The Menorah of the Beis Hamikdash reminds us that while we are still in Golus, now is the time for action. What we do makes all the difference. Through our efforts, we will merit to experience the Menorah of Zechariah, when Hashem will fill the world with the light of the Geulah.
~ Based on Or Hatorah Vayechi p1120
The ramp used to climb up to the top of the Mizbeach is called the Kevesh. On the Eastern side of the main ramp was a smaller ramp which went to the Sovev. The Sovev (literally to go around) was a ledge, 1 Amah wide, that went around the Mizbeach. The Sovev stood 6 Amos above ground-level.
The Kohanim would climb up to the Sovev and walk around it, to apply the blood of the Chatas offering to the 4 corners of the Mizbeach, starting at the South-Eastern corner and finishing at the South-Western corner. The Kohen would then descend from the Sovev via another minor ramp on the Western side of the Kevesh.
Our sages describe this Avodah in the Mishna; עלה בכבש ופנה לסובב, “He would go up the ramp and turn to the Sovev”. We read this Mishna each day as part of the Korbanos in davening.
The word Kevesh also means to conquer. Our sages teach איזהו גיבור הכובש את יצרו, “who is strong? One who conquers their evil inclination”. The ultimate Avodah is not to destroy or crush the Yetzer Hara, but rather to conquer it. Our Yetzer Hara remains present, but we strive to restrain its negative expressions and impulses and instead harness its positive qualities to use in the service of Hashem.
In Kabbalah, Sovev (meaning surrounding), refers to the essential light of Hashem called the אור הסובב כל עלמין. This light is so lofty that it cannot be contained and manifest within the order of created worlds. Instead, it remains hidden and transcendent. Only a contracted ray of light (ממלא כל עלמין) filters into the worlds in the process of creation.
The inner meaning of the Mishna is; עלה בכבש, through every effort and ascent that a person climbs in conquering their Yetzer, פנה לסובב, they access and draw down Hashem’s transcendent light that would otherwise be beyond the worlds.
Our Yetzer Hara challenges us with negative impulse, including; anger, jealousy and unholy desires. Each time that we conquer one of these urges by not acting upon them and giving them expression, we connect ourselves to the highest levels of G-dliness and infuse them into our soul and into our world.
¬ Based on Maamarim Kuntreisim Beis ד"ה איזהו גבור
The Azarah (courtyard) of the Beis Hamikdash had 7 gates. Each of these gates had gold-plated doors (with the exception of the gate of Nikanor whose doors were of copper). These doors were closed each night. Each doorway also had a curtain which would be draped across the gate during the daytime when the doors were open. The purpose of these curtains was for privacy.
There were 6 other curtains in the Beis Hamikdash, including 2 curtains separating the Kodesh and Kodesh Hakodoshim.
In mystical teachings, a veil or curtain represents a restraint on intensity. Just like a curtain are used to filter light, blocking out its intensity and allowing a more tolerable level of light to enter the room, there is a need for ‘curtains’ in the spiritual sense as well.
The Kabbalists explain that the G-dly radiance of the Infinite Light was too powerful to be received by a created reality. And so Hashem veiled His light through a process of Tzimtzumim, contractions, which limited the intensity of the light in order to create finite worlds and be manifest within them.
The open doorways represent how the G-dly revelation that pervaded the Beis Hamikdash shone outwards. The curtains reflect how this light needed to be filtered to allow the wider-world to receive it.
In our interactions with others, we also need curtains and filters. Sometimes we may be too intense and overwhelm those around us by not give them enough space or consideration. We may come across too strong in our opinions. We may be too blunt and forward, saying things without filtration. Or we may share our emotions too intensely, smothering the other with our love and closeness or pushing them away with our anger or distance.
When our doors are open and we want to share our inner self with others, we need to think about the other with whom we are sharing our ideas and emotions and how we can share them in a way that will be best received. Like the Beis Hamikdash, our open doorways sometimes needs a curtain.
~ Based on Derech Mitzvosecha Mitzvas Milah
“This is the making of the Menorah, hammered out of gold, from its base (יריכה) until its flower (פרחה) it is hammered out” (Bamidbar 8:4)
The golden Menorah represents the collective of the Jewish people. The Menorah had to be made from one solid block of pure gold that was hammered into shape, reflecting the unity of the Jewish people.
This verse identifies two of the features of the Menorah, the base (or leg) and the decorative flower. The base represents people on a lower spiritual level. The flower represents the Tzaddikim whose service flourishes and blooms with beauty.
The prophet Zechariah was shown a vision of “a Menorah made entirely of gold ”. The Midrash connects this vision to Hashem’s description of the Jewish people in Shir Hashirim "You are entirely beautiful My beloved, there is no blemish in you ”.
The prophets Yechezkel and Yirmiyahu who foretold of the destruction of the Temple, castigated the Jewish people for their sins, likening them to silver, bronze and copper which have sediments and impurities.
But Zechariah saw the Jewish people like the Menorah that had to be made entirely of the purest gold; a people who are all beautiful and free from any sediment or imperfection.
Yechezkel and Yirmiyahu looked at the surface and saw their deficiencies. Zechariah looked deeper and saw the essential core of every Jew. This inner core is pure gold that cannot be tainted. The Menorah teaches us to see every Jew, be they a flower or a base, as a pure Neshama which fills the world with the light of Hashem .
~ Based on Likutei Torah Behalosecha ד"ה ראיתי והנה מנורה