Out Of The Box
‘All May Enter The Heichal To Build, Repair…’
It is forbidden for a blemished kohen or a non-kohen to go beyond the mizbeach in the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash or to enter the Heichal. Furthermore, anyone who is tamei – whether kohen or yisrael – may not enter the Temple courtyard under penalty of kares.
Two Conflicting Baraisos
Our Gemara cites a baraisa that states that anyone may enter the Beis Hamikdash to make (necessary) repairs or to remove tumah. Although kohanim should ideally perform these tasks, a levi or yisrael may also do them if no kohen is around. This baraisa indicates that a pure yisrael is preferred over an impure kohen.
However, Rav Kahana cites another baraisa that states that if there are no unblemished or pure kohanim available, a blemished or impure kohen should make the repairs. This baraisa indicates that an impure kohen is preferred over a pure yisrael – the very opposite of what the first baraisa indicated!
The Yad Dovid (in his novella) suggests that the first baraisa refers to entering the Heichal while the second baraisa refers to entering the Kodesh Kodashim.
With regard to the Heichal, a ritually pure yisrael takes precedence over an impure kohen because the sin of entering the Beis Hamikdash in a state of tumah carries the penalty of kares.
With regard to the Kodesh Kodashim, however, even a pure yisrael is potentially subject to kares for entering it. As Vayikra 16:2 states, “[Aharon] shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary within the curtain [except on Yom Kippur]…so that he shall not die.” Anyone – kohen or yisrael – who enters the Kodesh Kodashim without reason is liable to death the hand of Heaven. And since both kohanim and yisraelim are equally potentially subject to the death penalty for entering the Kodesh Kodashim, the impure kohen is preferred over a pure yisrael because kohanim are imbued with more sanctity.
How Repairs Were Done
The mishnah (on Midos 4:5) states that repairmen were not permitted to enter the Kodesh Kodashim in the normal manner. Rather, they were lowered from the roof in boxes (to ensure that would not gaze about the Kodesh Kodashim. The Rambam (Hilchos Beis Habechira 7:23) states that boxes were used when repairing the Heichal as well. However, he says that if making the necessary repairs were not feasible while standing in a box, the restriction was waived and they were allowed to enter the area normally to make the repairs.