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Torah Sparks

June 30, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 19:1-22:1; Hertz Chumash, p. 652
Triennial Cycle III: Num. 20:22-22:1; Hertz Chumash, p. 658
Haftarah: Judges 11:1-33; Hertz Chumash, p. 664

(19:1-22) The ritual of the red heifer: a perfect red cow is sacrificed outside the camp, and then burned down to its ashes, which were then used for ritual purification of someone who had touched a corpse. However, someone who is ritually pure and comes into contact with the ashes of the red heifer is rendered ritually impure. This paradox caused our sages to point to this passage as a prime example of a "chok", a Divine decree which cannot be rationally explained and simply must be obeyed.

(20:1-13) Moses brings water from a rock by striking it with his staff, contradicting God's instructions to talk to the rock. God tells Moses and Aaron that they will not lead the people into the promised land.

(20:14-21) Edom refuses to allow Israel to pass through its territory, forcing them to detour.

(20:22-21:3) The death of Aaron; an encounter with the Canaanites.

(21:4-10) The people complain against God and Moses. God sends poisonous snakes to punish them. Many Israelites die, but Moses intercedes with God for them. God tells Moses to set up a copper statue of a snake; when anyone was bitten by a snake, he looked at the statue and was cured.

(21:11-20) Further stages of the Israelites' journey through the Transjordan wilderness.

(21:21-22:1) The conquest of the land of Sichon and Og and all the Transjordan area, the first permanent possessions.

Theme 1: The Mountain Top

That shall be for them a law for all time. Further, he who sprinkled the water of lustration shall wash his clothes; and whoever touches the water of lustration shall be unclean until evening. (Numbers 19:21)

  1. This law has remained in force to this day. Since we all have become defiled by contact with a dead body at one time or another and cannot obtain purification because we do not have the ashes of the red heifer, anyone who sets foot on the actual Temple site on Mount Moriah is subject to the penalty of "excision," being cut off from his people. The fact that the Temple was destroyed does not mean that the site of the Temple has lost its sanctity. "The initial sanctification hallowed it for its own time and for all time to come" (Rambam, but see the Ravad on this, "Hilchot Bet HaBechira" 6:14) (S.R. Hirsch, Comment on Num. 19:21)
  2. Therefore it is permissible to enter the southern part of the Temple Mount, near the mosque of El Aksa, and the northern part, north of the elevated area of the Mosque of Omar. On the other hand everyone agrees that it is prohibited to enter the Mosque of Omar, and the middle of the Temple Mount, because this was the area of the Ezrat Israel and/or the Holy of Holies. Therefore it is preferable not to enter the elevated area around the Mosque of Omar at all. (Responsum by David Golinkin; Entering the Temple Mount in Our Day; Proceedings of the Vaad HaHalachah of Israel, Vol. 1 p .3-9)
  3. Our conclusion is that the sanctity which is spoken about in the Mishnah does not exist today regarding the place of the Temple. Therefore, there is no prohibition of entering the area of the (Temple) because of ritual impurity... How do we fulfill this commandment of revering the Sanctuary? A visit to the Temple Mount should not be just a sightseeing experience, but a pilgrimage to the place where the Temple stood. One has to behave there in a very respectful way, be dressed properly, and a Jew should not enter the area of the Holy of Holies (i.e. inside the Dome of The Rock), where only the High Priest was allowed. Moreover, one has to remember that in the days of the Temple, not only ritual purity was required to enter the Temple Mount but also moral purity. Therefore, one should read a Psalm, such as Psalm 15, upon entering the Temple Mount. (Reuven Hammer; Entering the Temple Mount; Proceedings of the Vaad HaHalachah of Israel; Vol 1 p. 11-13)

Discussion Sparks:

Does a place retain its sanctity once the structures on it are gone? We tend to visit famous historic sites even though there is not much left. Think of the Gettysburg Battlefield; is this a "sacred" place? How about the location of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1944 which is today totally gone except for a few monuments in the area. Is this a "sacred space"?

The Temple Mount has large signs telling Jews to stay off of the vast platform on top of it. It is, for the time being, a dangerous place for Jews to be due to the current conflict in Israel. But in good times, would you feel comfortable entering the religiously restricted area of the Mount which was once the site of the Beit Hamikdash? If yes, why?

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