The Mishnah (5:5) lists ten miracles that occurred in the Beit HaMidkash. One of these was that when the people stood in the Beit HaMidkash they were cramped, yet when they bowed it was spacious. What is the nature of this miracle?
The Tifferet Yisrael writes that the Mishnah is referring to the three festival, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, when everyone would come to Yerushalaim. Given the number of people that came, it was surely cramped. Yet when they bowed, miraculously there was four avot space between each person. Why was the miracle necessary? The Tifferet Yisrael explains, when they bowed, they would confess or pray. The miracle therefore allowed them to open up without fear of embarrassment.
The Bartenura explains similarly, but only refers to confession and not prayer. Rashi (Yoma 21) also explains the necessity of the miracle in the context of vidui alone. Perhaps the Bartenura understands that this bowing was the one performed on Yom Kippur. People gathered in the Beit HaMikdash to witness the avodah of the kohen godel. When they heard the kohen say the explicit name of Hashem, those in the azarah would bow.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that there are two possible understandings of why they bowed on Yom Kippur. One possibility is that it was in reverence to hearing Hashem's name. If that were the case then they would have bowed each of the ten times the Name was uttered. The difficulty is that the Mishnah in Yoma only mentions the bowing in the context of the sin offering brought for all of Israel. Even in amitz koach that describes the order of the day and does mention bowing for the other offerings, does not mention it when recounting the lottery that determined the use of the two goats, which also included calling out Hashem's name.
The Rav therefore suggests, that the bowing was not out of reverence, but part of the obligation of vidui (confession). According to amitz koach, this was occured when the kohen gadol performed vidui by the korbanot, yet not required at the time of the lottery. The Rav continues that perhaps according to the Mishnah, the reason why the bowing is only mentioned once, is because the obligation to perform vidui was only when the kohen gadol performed vidui on the korban that was for all of Israel, but not the early korbanot that were for himself and the kohanim.
According to the Rav's explanation, the miracle was not one of convenience, but to help everyone perform vidui, that they were obligated to perform. Furthermore, it was not simply to provide room in what was the cramp space, but it provided them ample space to perform vidui properly, uninhibited.
Why is bowing such an integral part of vidui? Perhaps the answer is found in the comment of the Ruach Chaim on our Mishnah. He explains that while standing upright is a sign of arrogance, bowing is a sign of humility. While people were arrogant, they felt crowed, yet when humbled, there was room for everyone. Based on this comment we can understand, for vidui to be sincere and complete, it is necessary for it come from one in state of humility.
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