Latest update: July 16th, 2014
The Investment Of Sanctity
Our daf mentions the sanctification of the Beis Hamikdash. One of the components in building and maintaining the Beis Hamikdash was the investment of sanctity in its vessels.
Inaugurating The Altar
When the Greeks conquered Jerusalem, they defiled the Holy Temple and the altar with idols. When they were defeated, the Hasmoneans concealed the stones of the defiled altar and built a new one (Avoda Zara 52b). The Maharsha (Shabbos 21b) states that Chanukah (“inauguration”) derived its name from the fact that the Hasmoneans had the merit to build and inaugurate a new altar.
The Mishnah (Menachos 49b) explains that new objects in the Holy Temple had to be inaugurated through use. For example, the outer altar had to be inaugurated by sacrificing the morning tamidon it. If this was not done, the afternoon tamid could not be offered on it.
A Mitzvah On Its Own?
If we examine works by Rishonim listing the mitzvos, we find that some count inaugurating the altar as a mitzvah (Behag, Minyan Haparashiyos, os 4), but many others do not.
The author of Sefer Megillas Esther (shoresh 3) argues that the inauguration of the altar may not be a positive mitzvah. It could be that there is only a prohibition against offering sacrifices on a new altar (with the exception of the morning tamid). Furthermore, we do not offer a special sacrifice to inaugurate an altar; rather, its inauguration is done via the tamid. Even if, therefore, inaugurating the altar is a mitzvah, can it be said to be a new, independent, self-standing mitzvah?
To sum up the issue, Rabbi Yerucham Perla (on Rav Saadiah Gaon’s Sefer HaMitzvoth, parashah 49) states that inaugurating the altar is not an essential prohibition or mitzvah with its own content. Rather, the Torah states that an altar is not fit for its task if certain instructions are not observed.
Mashiach On The Eve Of Pesach
Rabbi Avraham Pardo (cited in Responsa Yosef Ometz, 6) wondered: If Mashiach comes on the eve of Pesach and the altar is built in the afternoon, after the time to sacrifice the morning tamid has elapsed, can the paschal sacrifice be offered? If we follow the opinion that an altar which has not been inaugurated is not an altar at all, the paschal sacrifice cannot be offered. But Rabbi Pardo maintains that the fitness of an altar does not depend solely on its inauguration. Therefore, offering the paschal sacrifice, which is a positive precept punishable by kares, supersedes the mitzvah of inaugurating the altar.
Other Acharonim believe likewise. (See Sefer Hamafte’ach on the Rambam, Hilchos Temidin U’Musafin 1:12, stating that the Netziv and Aruch HaShulchan opined similarly; see also Avi Ezri, ibid., who suggests that according to the Rambam, any sacrifice can inaugurate a new altar with the exception of an afternoon tamid.)
Sanctity Through Service
The Chazon Ish (Menachos 30:3-5) maintains that we have not fully comprehended the mitzvah. To understand his statement properly, we must first emphasize that Temple vessels become sanctified by being inaugurated at a service (Yoma 12b). In other words, a Temple vessel is sanctified when a kohen serves with it in the Temple with the intent to sanctify it.
Therefore, we must clarify whether the halacha of inaugurating an altar with the morning tamid stems from the altar’s task as a Temple vessel, which should be inaugurated with its first use like any new Temple vessel. If so, any sacrifice can inaugurate the altar. Or perhaps, the halacha of inaugurating the altar with the morning tamid stem from the altar being the component that completes the Temple’s structure, and when the new Temple is built, the altar should be inaugurated in this manner.
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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