Masechet Tamid describes the goings on in the Beit HaMikdash specifically focused on the Korban Tamid – the daily morning offering. The masechet begins describing the shemira (guarding) performed by the kohanim (see volume 5 issue 37). The Mishnah then continues explaining that the kohanim that would be serving the next day would sleep over night in the Beit Ha’Moked. One of the details described is that if one of the kohanim had an emission during the night rendering him impure, he would proceed down the stairwell to the mikveh under the Beit HaMikdash.
After describing that underground location, the Mishnah writes, “he goes down, immerses, comes up and dries off and warms himself by the fire.” At this point, the kohen is considered a tevul yom. He is considered a sheni le’tumah (second degree tumah) and needs to wait to the next nightfall to be completely tahor. Since he is not able to work in the Beit HaMikdash that day, he waits in the Beit HaMoked till morning then leaves.
While masechet tamid is descriptive, was it necessary to teach that he dried himself off? We also find that in masechet Yoma the Mishnah also mentions that the kohen dried himself after each of the five immersions described in the Mishnah. The Mishneh Lemelech (Avodat Yom HaKippurim 2:2) explains that the drying was certainly necessary. The kohen gadol is not allowed to have any foreign object between himself and the bigdei kahuna – the special clothing he wears during service. This would constitute a chatzitza – an inappropriate separation. Consequently since there is a concern that during tevillah a hair or dirt stuck to his skin, he is obligated to towel off to remove any foreign objects.
He continues that even if one would think that we do not need to be concerned for such separations, the kohen still needs to be careful that the clothes are close to his body. The Rambam rules that the kohen should be careful that wind does not catch in his clothes pulling it away from his body. Consequently water should be not worse than wind and toweling off is required.
The explanation thus far only really applies to a kohen that is about to work in the Beit HaMikdash. The kohen in our case will leave for home come morning and will not be wearing the bidgei kehuna. The Mishneh LeMelech explains that here the mention of drying off is only “orcha de’milta” (what would usually be done). He points to where the Rambam codifies our Mishnah and omits the mention of drying off to support his position.
The Tifferet Yisrael however explains that even in our case, drying off is critical. Since, as we have described earlier, after immersion the kohen in our case is a tevul yom it means he is a sheini le’tumah. The water that is touching him when he comes out of the mikveh is a shelishi le’tumah. That water then can cause any kodesh, e.g. korbanot, to become a revi’i le’tumah thereby invalidating them. Since we are concerned that some water might drip when he returns to the beit ha’moked and cause a problem, he must dry off properly.
The Tifferet Yaakov however finds the Tifferet Yisrael difficult. The Rambam (Avot HaTumah 10:3) cited by the Tifferet Yisrael as the source that the water becomes a shlishi seems to suggest that while the liquids that touch a tevul yom become tameh, they do not transfer tumah to anything else. This is because Rambam teaches that terumah liquids would become shlishi and kodesh liquids that touch a tevul yom would become revi’i.
The Igrot Moshe (YD II, 86) explains that the specific mention of drying off is necessary and teaches a different chiddush. The novelty is that the kohen in this situation is able to use towels of hekdesh to do so even if he will not be serving the next day. It is as if it was stipulated by Beit Din that the hekdesh funds could be used even for this supposedly mundane purpose.
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