Turning Left

Midot (2:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 13 days ago

The Mishnah (Midot 2:2) teaches that everyone that entered Har Habayit would turn and proceed to the right. The exception however were a few unfortunate individuals who would turn to the left. They included the mourner and the menudeh (one who has been ostracised). The Mishnah explains that people would notice them, inquire what happened, and then offer words of comfort or encouragement.

Interestingly, Masechet Semachot (6:11) adds someone who was unwell or an individual who lost something would also progress in that direction. In summary those who experienced material or personal loss, or suffered physical or spiritual ailments would all stand out by walking against the flow.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains this practice based on Gemara (Shabbat 67a). When discussing one that is struck with the spiritual illness of tzaraat, the Torah writes "... and he shall cry, unclean, unclean." Based on this pasuk the Gemara explains that one who is suffering should make it known so that others will pray from them. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that their route was therefore to draw attention to their pain so that others pray from them.

The Tifferet Yisrael adds that since most people entered Har HaBayit from the south, anyone who turned left from that gate would head directly to the Beit HaMikdash. It would clear from their route that these individuals needed heavenly mercy. It is similar to a child that is upset and runs home and goes directly to his parent.

The Tifferet Yaakov, however explains that the right and left are associated with rachamim (mercy) and din (strict justice). By turning to the left, those individuals are demonstrating that their experience is one of din.

Perhaps a further reason can be found for this practice by contrasting our Mishnah with a teaching found in Pirkei De'Rebbi Eliezer. There it explains that Shlomo HaMelech understood how important gemilut chassadim (acts of kindness) are to Hashem. Shlomo therefore built two gates in the Beit HaMikdash, one for grooms and one for mourners and those placed in a nidui. They would bless those that entered through the groom's gate the Hashem should make him happy with children. Those that entered through the other gate, if their face covered, it was clear that they were mourners and others would provide them with comfort. The others that went through that gate were understood to be in a nidui and people would pray that Hashem should help him listen to his friends and his friend should forgive him and bring him close. In this manner everyone could fulfill their obligation of gemilut chassadim.

Two points can be gleaned from the Pirkei De'Rebbi Eliezer. The first is that it was critical for Shlomo HaMelech that the holiest place on earth should be one of gemilut chassadim. Consequently, the building of the Beit HaMidkash was such that it would guarantee it. This first point is in concert with our Mishnah.

The Pirkei De'Rebbi Eliezer however differs from our Mishnah. According to the former, it was immediately evident the issue that the individual was suffering. The comfort provided therefore could be provided immediately. In our Mishnah however, is not the case. Others observing those travelling in the opposite direction would need to ask them what was wrong. One might suggest that the practice in our Mishnah served to heighten the gemilut chassadim. In Pirkei De'Rebbi Eliezer, there was no interaction -- the victim was the passive recipient of the blessing. He could perceive he was simply an object for others to make a beracha. In our Mishnah, the observer would need to take interest and engage the individual asking what was wrong. Part of the comfort is not just that others pray for him, but that others care and are interested in his plight.

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