The Vessels


The Menorah

The Menorah is one of the three vessels located in the Kodesh. The Menorah symbolizes spiritual blessing. The Talmud states: "Whoever wishes to become wise should go south... and this is alluded to by the location of the Menorah, in the south..." The Menorah features seven branches, and a lamp is on top of each branch. The "western lamp" is unique. According to the Rambam, the "western lamp" is the middle lamp of the Menorah. All six flames face the middle one, and the middle flame in turn faces west, in the direction of the Holy of Holies - hence its name, the "western lamp." Other opinions differ.

Ideally, the Menorah is to be made of one piece of gold. However, if gold is not available, it could be made of a different metal. If this Menorah is not made from gold, there is no requirement to make the various decorations of the Menorah, only the seven branches and seven lamps.

The Menorah stood in the southern part of the Kodesh next to the curtain. The Menorah was made of one piece of pure gold and forty-two decorations were an intrinsic part of its construction: twenty-two cups with almond shaped embellishments, nine flowers and eleven knobs - all integral parts of the body of the Menorah. The Menorah was eighteen handbreadths high (about 1.80 meters) - the height of an average person - from its base until the top. There is a difference of opinion regarding whether the Menorah stood parallel to the curtain from north to south or perpendicular to it, from east to west.

The Menorah was a sacred vessel, like the other vessels in the Temple. During the festivals, it was guarded to ensure that it did not become impure and thus be deemed unfit for the service.

The Menorah was lit each evening and the flames burned until the following morning. Each morning, the lamps were cleaned and filled with a measure of one half a "log" of olive oil each. The wicks were made of the priests' worn-out tunics and turbans.

The Menorah: Design

The Menorah had forty two decorations which were all an essential part of its body. When the Menorah is made of gold, it must feature these decorations. Even if even only one of the decorations is missing, the Menorah would be deemed unfit for use. However if gold were not available and the Menorah was made of a different metal, the decorations would not be required.

The Menorah design: On the middle branch of the Menorah, near the base was a flower and above it was a cup. Above these was a knob and then another flower. In the center of the middle branch were three knobs. From each one of these knobs, two branches extended, one to each side. At the top of each branch were three cups with almond shaped embellishments as well as a knob and flower. In total there were twenty two cups, nine flowers and eleven knobs.

The Menorah had seven branches. Each was of a uniform height. At the top of each branch was a lamp which was filled with oil and wicks.

The base of the Menorah is called the yerech in the Bible. At the base were three small feet. There are many illustrations which portray varying opinions regarding the design of these feet. The feet contributed to the stability of the Menorah.

The Menorah Lamps

Three stairs stood in front of the Menorah. These stairs, made of stone, were used by the priests who tended to the lights of the Menorah. Since the Menorah was the height of an average man, it was necessary to climb these stairs in order to reach the lamps of the Menorah conveniently. These stairs were especially necessary for the High Priest, since it was forbidden for him to raise his hands above the height of the golden crown he wore on his forehead, which bore the words kodesh L'Hashem, "Holiness unto HaShem." The tongs and the oil jar were placed on the second stair after the lamps were prepared. (Source: Tamid 3,9)

Seven lamps were placed at the top of the seven branches. Oil and wicks were placed in these lamps. The six lamps faced the "western lamp." There are various opinions regarding this expression. Some maintain that the middle lamp faced west toward the Holy of Holies, the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. All through the era that the High Priest Shimon HaTzaddik (Simeon the Righteous - at the beginning of the Second Temple period) was alive, the western lamp was never extinguished. "This was testimony to all that the Divine Presence dwelled in Israel." (Source:Menahot 86).

Each of the seven lamps contained one half a "log" of olive oil. This amount was sufficient for the flames to burn from "morning until evening" even on long winter nights. The wicks were prepared from worn out tunics and turbans of the priests. The lamps of the Menorah were similar to cups. They were not part of the body of the Menorah and were removable to facilitate cleaning.

Fresh oil and new wicks were placed in the lamps every morning to prepare them for the lighting of the Menorah in the evening.

The Menorah Cleaning Utensils

A number of utensils were used to clean (to "prepare") the Menorah and these were called the "tongs and shovels." The main such utensils were: the kuz - which was a golden receptacle in which the ashes from the burnt wicks were placed. Golden tongs were used to remove the burnt wicks. The cleaning utensils were placed on the second stair in front of the Menorah after the five lamps were prepared. (Source: Tamid 3,9 and 6,1).

The lamps of the Menorah were prepared each morning, with the aid of the kuz, the tongs and the other cleaning utensils This was part of the Tamid service. The cleaning and preparing of the lamps was divided into two stages. At first, only five lamps were prepared. The remaining two lamps were prepared after the blood of the Tamid offering was dashed upon the altar. (Source: Tamid 3,9 and 6,1).

The pictures on the left and right depict a kohen lighting the menorah lamps. He is standing on the three stone steps. Behind him, on a stand, are the oil pitcher and flask. On the floor, to his right, is the kuz vessel, and suspended from its handle are a brush and tongs. These three vessels, recreated by the Temple Institute, can also be seen in the photos in the center of the image.

The Showbread Table

The Showbread Table was one of the three vessels located in the Kodesh. It symbolized the material blessing G-d gives the world, as the Talmud states: "Whoever wishes to become wealthy should go to the north... and this is alluded to by the location of the Table of Showbread, in the north." On the Table of the Showbread, twelve loaves were constantly arranged. The loaves of the previous week that were taken off, were distributed on the Sabbath between the outgoing watch and the incoming watch that began its week of service in the Temple. A miracle occurred with regard to the Showbread - it never became moldy.

The sages also relate that after eating only a small portion of the bread (the size of an olive) "the kohen would eat and become satiated" as if he had eaten an entire meal. Around the top of the table was a garland of gold - representing the "crown of royalty."

The Table stood in the northern part of the Kodesh near the curtain. The base of the table was made of wood and was overlaid with gold. Its dimensions were one cubit by two cubits and it was one an one half cubits high. On both sides of the table were four branches. These were like tall columns made of gold and split at the top. There were two rows of six shelves each (including the table base). These shelves were formed by the golden half-tubes that connected between the branches opposite one another. New loaves of Showbread were placed on these shelves each Sabbath.

Once a week, on the Sabbath, the twelve new loaves of the Showbread were arranged on the Table. The Showbread remained there the entire week, until the following Sabbath, when new loaves were placed on the table. "The bread was hot as the day it was taken" - this verse, as explained by our Sages, describes the miracle of the Showbread - even after being on the Table an entire week, it remained hot and fresh.



Details of the Showbread Table

The Bible describes the Table in detail, including its legs and top. The top part of the table was the "frame." Above it was a garland of gold - representing the "crown of royalty," because the table represented material blessing and abundance in the world.

The table was constructed of acacia wood overlaid in gold. Its dimensions were two by one cubits, and one and one half cubit high.

Two of the twelve loaves of Showbread were placed directly on the table-top. Between these loaves two frankincense censers were placed.

Adjacent to the Table were four branches, two on each side from the floor of the Kodesh, rising above the table. In the language of the Torah these branches were called manikiot - See Rashi. (Note that according to the Rambam the branches were called the ksavot).

The branches were similar to columns. They stood on the floor of the Kodesh - adjacent to the Table - and rose a great deal higher than the height of the Table. The branches split at the top and between each pair, the kanim, (in the language of the Torah, or ksavot in the language of the Mishna), half-tubes were placed to form shelves on which the Showbread were placed.

The ksavot were like half tubes that formed shelves upon which the Showbread loaves were placed. The loaves were placed on these half tubes and "air could circulate" through and between them and the bread would not become moldy.

The Table had twenty eight ksavot - half tubes. The Showbread loaves were placed on the Table in two rows of six loaves each. Each of the two rows contained fourteen half tubes. The bottom two loaves were placed directly on the Table and between each additional loaf were three reeds, with the exception of the two top loaves which had only two half tubes supporting each one.

Twelve Showbread loaves were placed on the Table each Sabbath, in two rows, six loaves in each row. They remained on the Table for an entire week. After the loaves were removed, they were eaten by the priests on the following Sabbath. A miracle occurred regarding the Showbread loaves - they never became moldy. The Talmud relates that in the days of Simeon the Righteous (the beginning of the Second Temple period) a priest who ate the mere size of an olive (k'zayit) from the Showbread became satiated. After that time, "the modest would refrain" from eating, because there was not enough for all the priests.(Source: Talmud - Yoma 21.)

Each Showbread loaf was made of two "esronim" of fine wheat flour and water. This bread was unleavened. The loaves were each kneaded separately. They were then baked in pairs in the oven. Each loaf was placed in a pan called the "defus," which was a special mold. This mold preserved the unique shape of the loaves, described by the sages as being similar to "an open box." Its dimensions were ten handbreadths in length by 5 handbreadths in width before being folded. (Source:Menahot 11.)

The Showbread was baked in the sanctified area and it was eaten in the Court.

The Showbread was eaten by the kohanim. Each Sabbath the Showbread that was removed from the Table was distributed. The priestly watch that was commencing its week of service would receive six loaves in the northern part of the Court and the watch that completed its week of service received the remaining six loaves in the south. It should be noted that the High Priest was eligible to receive up to six loaves from the general number of Showbread loaves. (Sources: Succah 5:8; Yoma 17.)

Called "spoons" by the Bible, the frankincense censers were two small golden vessels in which the frankincense was placed. The frankincense censers were placed between the two rows of the Showbread on the Table. (Source: Menahot 11:5.)

The frankincense censers were placed on the Table together with the Showbread each Sabbath. On the following Sabbath, when the Showbread loaves were replaced with new ones, the frankincense was also replaced. Once removed from the Table, the frankincense was burnt on the incense wood pile on the outer mizbeach.

The Incense Altar

The Incense Altar, also called the Golden Altar, was one of the three vessels located in the Kodesh. The incense was burned twice each day on top of the Incense Altar, The altar symbolized the "golden mean" - the moderate path with regard to attributes and behavior. The altar is seen as representing the balanced combination of spiritual and material abundance. Surrounding the altar was a golden wreath - representing the crown of the priesthood.

The Incense Altar stood between the Table and Menorah, a bit to the east (according to one opinion it stood in the middle of the Kodesh). The Incense Altar was built of wood and overlaid with gold and was thus also known as "the golden altar." It was two cubits high and its length and width were one cubit squared. * At the top of the altar were horns that protruded from its four corners.

The Incense Altar was a sacred vessel like the other vessels in the Temple. There is an opinion of one of the commentaries that during the time of the First Temple the altar was part of the Temple structure.

Twice each day, in the morning and at twilight, one half portion (a pras) of incense was burnt on the altar. Additionally, the blood of the inner sin-offerings, such as the bull and goat that were chosen by lottery on Yom Kippur, was sprinkled upon the Incense Altar.

The Incense Altar, Part 2

The altar was made of wood and overlaid with gold. It was two cubits high and its length and width, one cubit squared. The Mishnah indicates that this cubit is a cubit of five handbreadths - the "vessel cubit" (i.e., the measurement used to determine the size of the vessels).

The top of the Incense Altar was made of pure gold, the thickness of a dinar (a coin). In the Talmud relates that it was a miracle that the coals did not melt the gold, despite its thinness. On the top of the altar, one half portion (a pras) of incense was burnt twice each day, in the morning and at twilight. When the inner sin-offerings (such as the bull and goat on Yom Kippur) were brought, the coals from the incense that was lit that morning were pushed aside before the blood of the inner sin-offerings was sprinkled seven times on the top of the altar.

Around the horns of the altar there was a golden wreath - symbolizing the crown of the priesthood. Four horns protrude from the top of each of the four corners of the altar. On these four horns, blood from the inner sin-offerings was sprinkled, starting with the northeastern horn and ending with the southeastern horn. (Source: Eruvin 19.)

The Two Golden Stands

Two golden stands were placed in the Kodesh near the curtain. During the service of Yom Kippur, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the bull inner sin-offering in the Holy of Holies and in front of the curtain. While the High Priest was performing the sprinkling of the blood of the goat inner sin-offering, he would place the vessel containing the blood of the bull on the stand, (and visa versa). (Sources: Yoma 5,3-4)

The Cubit of Separation

The phrase Ama Traksin (lit., the "cubit of separation") refers to the wall and the curtain that separated between the Kodesh and the Holy of Holies. In the First Temple, a wall one cubit thick and thirty cubits high separated between the two areas. This wall had an opening and a curtain was hung upon it. The two carrying poles of the Ark protruded on the other side of the curtain, (visible in top picture). On the festivals, the curtain at the entrance to the Ulam was opened so that the pilgrims could see the two united Cherubim that decorated the Ama Traksin wall.

During the period of the Second Temple, the Heichal was one hundred cubits high, so it was not possible to build a wall that high with a thickness of only one cubit, for such a wall would have been unstable. Therefore, two curtains were hung, with a distance of one cubit between them as an alternative to the wall. When the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies through these two curtains, he would enter on the southern side and walk between the two curtains. When he reached the northern wall, he entered the Holy of Holies. (Sources: Rambam Beit Habechira 4,2; Mishna ,Yoma 5,1; Gemara, Yoma 21)

The purpose of the curtain was to separate between the Kodesh and the Holy of Holies. The blood of the inner sin-offerings was sprinkled in front of the curtain. The bull and goat of Yom Kippur are examples of such offerings.