Masechet Keilim begins by detailing the sources of tumah and how they differ from one another. After describing the differences in increasing grades of severity, the Mishnah then describes the different areas of Eretz Yisrael in increasing level of kedusha. The final Mishnah (1:9) records a debate regarding certain areas in the azara (Temple courtyard) and the region bein ulam ve'lamizbeach (between the entrance hall to the heichal and mizbeach) in particular. One point that is debated is whether a kohen who has not yet washed his hands and feet can enter that area, with R' Yossi maintaining he is forbidden.
Having just learn masechet Middot and Tamid, one would find the position of R' Yossi difficult. Recall that the kiyor, the basin from which the kohen washed his hand and feet, was located in that region. Consequently, if the kohen cannot enter that region without washing his hand and feet, but the basin from which to do so was located there, then how can any kohen every begin the avodah?
Note that the problem cannot be solved by moving the basin since the Torah is specific where the koyor must be placed. "You shall make a copper Laver and its base of copper, for washing; place it between the Tent of Meeting and the Alter, and put water there. From it, Aharon and his sons shall wash their hands together with their feet" (Shemot 30:18-19).1
The Tosfot (Zevachim 58b, s.v. ha) suggest that according to the opinion that the one cannot enter this area without washing one's hands and feet, the kiyor was not located exactly the mizbeach and ulam but shifted to the south and the mizbeach was located on the North side of the azara.
The Tifferet Yisrael discusses this at length. Ultimately, he suggests two possible answers. The first is that, considering that this prohibition is the subject of debate, it must be that the prohibition in this region is rabbinic in nature. That being the case, the Chachamim only forbade the region directly between the entrance to the ulam and the mizbeach itself. The kiyor was not located there, but rather between the ramp of the mizbeach and the ulam.
The Tifferet Yisrael also suggests a different explanation. Previously he had explained that in a situation of great need, someone who is tameh can even enter the kodesh hakodashim. Similarly, in our case, since entering that location was necessary, it would not constitute a violation of the prohibition.
The Raavad also suggests several resolutions. One is that in order to walk in that region one had to wash their hands and feet, but not necessarily from the kiyor. Consequently, this could be performed prior to approaching that region. Nevertheless, to engage in the avodah it was necessary to wash from the kiyor.
The Ramban (Shemot 30:19) however notes that while washing is a mitzvah, it could be done from any kli. The designation of the kiyor was to simply to facilitate this mitzvah. He cites the practice of kohen gadol that would wash his hands and feet from the golden kiton (jug) on Yom Kippur as proof. That being the case, if, according to the Raavad, the kohel would wash in order to reach the kiyor, it would have then made washing from kiyor unnecessary.
The Meshech Chochmah (30:18) explains that while any vessel could be used, the washing had to be performed in that location - bein ulam ve'lamizbeach. He cites the Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:5) in support of this position. He continues that it is for this reason that Torah states "and put water there." This then explains that Raavad. One set of washing was required prior to enter that region, yet an additional washing in that regions was still required in order to perform the avodah. 2
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