The Place Where Yaakov Davened

Question #1: Ascending Har Habayis Today

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

Question #2: Non-Jews in the Beis Hamikdash

“Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

Question #3: Is Yaakov second rate?

“If Yaakov created the maariv prayer, why is his prayer treated as inferior to those created by Avraham and Yitzchak? After all, the Gemara’s conclusion is that tefillas arvis reshus, the evening prayer is optional (Brachos 27b).”

Introduction:

Our parsha opens: “Then Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, heading towards Haran. And he stopped at the place and spent the night there because the sun had already set.” Rashi raises the question that the posuk should say that he stopped at “a” place, not “the” place; it is clearly referring to a place with which we are already familiar. Rashi explains that this refers to Har Hamoriah, where Akeidas Yitzchok took place. We are more familiar with referring to this mountain as Har Habayis, literally, “the mountain of The House,” upon which the Beis Hamikdash was later built.

Chazal derive from here that Yaakov arrived at this holy place and instituted the prayer of maariv. Shelomoh Hamelech prayed that the Beis Hamikdash should be a place for both Jews and non-Jews to worship Hashem (see Melachim I 8:41), and this spirit is again emphasized in a later prophecy, ki beisi beis tefillah yikarei lechol ha’amim (Yeshayahu 56:8) “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

This provides an opportunity to discuss the laws mentioned in the Mishnah describing the different levels of sanctity that apply to the Land of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash area, all laws that we need to know today and will need to know even more thoroughly when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheirah be’yameinu.

The first chapter of Mesechta Keilim, which is an introduction to the entire seder and the concepts of Taharos, closes with the following: “There are ten levels of sanctity” germane to different places in Eretz Yisrael, and then the Mishnah enumerates the different levels. This article will list and explain these different levels, which should help us understand some of the laws that apply.

(1) Land of Israel

The lowest of these levels of sanctity is “the land of Israel itself, which is holier than all other lands” in that three offerings brought to the Beis Hamikdashkorban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves offered on Shavuos — can be brought only from produce of Eretz Yisrael.

There are many other halachos germane exclusively to Eretz Yisrael, such as that most agricultural mitzvos of the Torah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, at least min haTorah.

The special semicha given by Moshe Rabbeinu that is required for many halachic areas can be issued only in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:6). Another halacha that can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael is the appointment of a king over the Jewish people (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:6).

Eastern side of the Jordan

The eastern side of the Jordan became part of the Land of Israel in the days of Moshe, when the kings Sichon and Og attacked the Benei Yisrael, and they and their armies were annihilated. However, these lands were not originally part of the Land of Israel that was promised to the Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt. Can the korban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves of Shavuos be offered from produce of the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was not part of the originally promised Eretz Yisrael?

This is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim, in which Rashi (Sanhedrin 11b s.v. al shetayim and Menachos 83b s.v. kol ha’aratzos) rules that these korbanos can be brought from the eastern side of the Jordan, whereas the Ran (Nedorim 22a s.v. hahi) rules that they cannot.

(2) Walled Israeli cities

The next level of sanctity is that the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael, according to the Mishnah, are holier than other places in Eretz Yisrael in the following two ways:

(1) A metzora may not remain in these cities.

(2) Once a meis has been removed from these cities, it may not be returned. (And certainly if the person died outside a walled city, his remains may not be brought into the city). The Rambam and the Raavad disagree whether this ruling includes an absolute prohibition to bury someone in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:13) or whether someone who died within the walled city may be buried in the city (Rambam ad loc.). All agree that once the meis was removed from the walled city, it may not be returned to the city, and certainly may not be buried there.

Capital punishment

According to many early authorities, another law about the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael is that when a Beis Din carried out capital punishment, this was required to be performed outside a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Rash and Rosh, Keilim 1:7, based on Mishnah Sanhedrin 42b; see also Tosafos ad loc. s.v. beis).

Purim

An obvious question is — why did I not mention that there is a difference in that the walled cities celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, sometimes called Shushan Purim, whereas unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar.

The answer is that this has nothing to do with walled cities in Eretz Yisrael; even walled cities outside Eretz Yisrael that date back to the time of Yehoshua entering Eretz Yisrael would celebrate Purim on the 15th (see Ran, Megillah 2a s.v. kerachin, in the name of Tosafos).

(3) Yerushalayim

The third level is the walled city of Yerushalayim, in which it is permitted to eat maaser sheini, the meat of kodshim kalim (Keilim 1:8)such as korban pesach and shelamim, and bikkurim (see Bikkurim 2:2).

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. Without question, there are areas outside the current walls that did have the sanctity of Yerushalayim, and the walls probably encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and, therefore, do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim. When Moshiach comes, it will be necessary to determine exactly where the borders of the halachic “old city” of Yerushalayim are.

(4) Har Habayis

The fourth level is Har Habayis, beyond which many tamei people may not enter, including zavim, zavos, niddos and women after childbirth, until they have been able to complete the first stage of their taharah process. Because of space considerations, we cannot explain the details of these types of tumah, but our readers should be aware that, because of these laws, many people who ascend the Har Habayis today violate a Torah prohibition equivalent to eating treif food.

For clarification purposes: In addition to walls surrounding the city of Yerushalayim, there were also walls surrounding the entire Har Habayis. The Kosel HaMaaravi, where we daven, is part of the western wall of the Har Habayis. These are not the walls of the Beis Hamikdash. The Beis Hamikdash occupied only a small area of the Har Habayis. Although the Har Habayis has much more kedusha than that of Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash has much greater kedusha than that of the Har Habayis. Today when we are all temei’im, someone entering the area where the Beis Hamikdash once stood is chayov kareis, an extremely severe punishment (Kaftor Vaferech, Chapter 6; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14; cf. Ra’avad ad loc., who disagrees).

As we said, the Har Habayis has far less sanctity than the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, most contemporary poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis. A minority of poskim permit entering areas of the Har Habayis that are not part of the Beis Hamikdash, in order to daven or perform a mitzvah, but only after performing certain taharah procedures, including washing oneself thoroughly, making certain that there are no chatzitzos (intervening substances on one’s body), and immersing in a mikveh. All agree that it is prohibited to enter any part of the Har Habayis if one is tamei with what halacha calls tumah hayotzei migufo, which includes people who are baalei keri, zav, zavah, niddah and yoledes.

Ascending Har Habayis today

At this point, let us address our opening question:

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

The answer is that most people who ascend the Har Habayis are, unfortunately, violating major halachos, and, for this reason, the vast majority of contemporary halachic authorities rule that no one, except for security personnel when necessary, should ever ascend Har Habayis. Unfortunately, since it has now become “stylish” in many circles to ascend the Har Habayis, many people are violating halachos, somethingthat they would never have done on their own without encouragement.

(5) Cheil

The fifth level is the “cheil,” beyond which non-Jews may not proceed, nor Jews who are tamei meis. The word “cheil” means a wall or fortification (see Tehillim 48:14, Yeshayahu 26:1). Most authorities assume that the sanctity of the cheil over the Har Habayis is only a rabbinic injunction, and that min haTorah it is permitted to enter the cheil with this level of tumah, but prohibited from entering the Beis Hamikdash proper (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:16; Rash, Rosh and Gra, Keilim 1:8).

This is the first time the Mishnah has mentioned the category called tamei meis, tumah contracted through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) This status creates a major halachic concern, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis. Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling on the person who is tamei from the water in which was mixed ashes of the parah adumah (the red cow or heifer whose processing is described by the Torah in parshas Chukas and in mesechta Parah). Since we do not know where the remaining ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

The answer is that he may pray anywhere on the Har Habayis that he would like, as long as it outside the cheil area. Technically speaking, this means that he is praying near the Beis Hamikdash, but not inside it.

(6) Ezras Nashim

The sixth level is the Ezras Nashim. The term “ezras nashim” is used today to mean the area of a shul which is designated for the women to daven. The original term refers to an area of the Beis Hamikdash, or, more technically, the entrance area of the Beis Hamikdash. Beyond this area, only someone completely tahor may enter. It is called the Ezras Nashim because women usually did not enter past this point, although they could, if there was a halachic reason for them to do so.

We should note that the Beis Hamikdash is oriented westward. In other words, from the Ezras Nashim until the Kodesh Hakodoshim, which is the highest level of sanctity, we are entering on the east, and moving toward the west, with the Kodesh Hakodoshim being the western most area of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Beis Hamikdash was not centered in the middle of the Har Habayis, but on its west-northwest side (Rambam, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 5:6). The Ezras Nashim is the beginning of the Beis Hamikdash itself.

(7) Ezras Yisrael

The seventh level is the Ezras Yisrael, beyond which anyone tamei is prohibited from entering min haTorah. Even someone with a very mild amount of residual tumah, called mechusar kippurim, may not enter this area.

The term Ezras Yisrael does not mean “He who helps Israel,” or “the help of Israel” (as it does when used in davening) but comes from the word azarah, as it is used many times in Yechezkel and Divrei Hayamim, where it refers to the “courtyard,” the enclosed areas of the Beis Hamikdash that are outside the Kodesh or Heichal. The term Ezras Nashim that we mentioned previously also uses the word azarah in the same sense.

(8) Ezras Kohanim

The eighth level is the area called the Ezras Kohanim. Normally, only kohanim are allowed to enter past this point, although there are circumstances in which a Yisrael is permitted to enter past this area to carry out some halachic responsibility.

The Ezras Kohanim was a strip of area alongside the eastern side of the mizbei’ach.

At this point, it is appropriate to quote the words of the Rambam: “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact, and it may never be moved from its location… We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shelomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created….

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size” (Hilchos Beis Habechirah 2:1-3). Prior to building the second Beis Hamikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location of the mizbeiach (Zevachim 62a).

(9) Between the mizbei’ach and the Kodesh

The ninth level is the area past the mizbei’ach, to which a kohein with a blemish or one who has not had his hair cut properly may not enter.

As the Mishnah teaches, a kohein with either of these disqualifications may not perform the service in the Beis Hamikdash, and if he did, the korban that he worked with became invalid (Mishnah Zevachim 15b).

(10) The Kodesh

The tenth level is the Kodesh. In the Beis Hamikdash, there actually was an area in front of the Kodesh called the Ulam, which has the same level of kedusha as the Kodesh. The the ulam area did not exist in the Mishkan.

Inside the Kodesh area was where the menorah, the shulchan and the golden mizbei’ach stood. The golden mizbei’ach was used daily only for the burning of the ketores, although on Yom Kippur it was also used for some of the holiest of the korbanos, those that were brought into the Kodesh Hakodoshim.

(11) The Kodesh Hakodoshim

The highest level of sanctity is that of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. This was entered only by the Kohein Gadol and only on Yom Kippur. In actuality, the Kohein Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim four times on Yom Kippur: The first time was with the Yom Kippur ketores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering, and the fourth time, later in the day, to pick up the censer and the ladle with which he had offered the ketores when he first entered.

But one second; you told me that the Mishnah says that there are ten levels of sanctity, and then you listed eleven. This is inconsistent!

You are indeed correct. At the end of their commentaries to this chapter, the Rash and the Bartenura raise this question, to which there are many answers. The Rambam seems to understand that the first level that I counted, Eretz Yisrael, should not be included: The Mishnah is listing ten levels of sanctity above Eretz Yisrael.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov third rate?

At this point, let us return to the third of our opening questions: If each of our three daily prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why is it that two of these prayers are obligatory, and yet the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional – meaning that davening maariv is mandatory, but that it is more easily deferred – we want to know why Yaakov seems to get a second-rate standing. After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Penei Yehoshua (Berachos 26b s.v. mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night, but intended to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set, and it got dark early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, but not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening. Since his creation of maariv was unintentional, it shows no lack of respect for Yaakov to suggest that it may have more lenient rules than the prayers created by Avraham and Yitzchak, shacharis and mincha.

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