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Racing to the Mizbeach

Yoma (2:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 4 days ago

The first activity in the Beit HaMikdash was the Terumat HaDeshen. This was where a kohen would go to the top of the mizbeach, move the coals from the main fire to the side, remove some of the inner coals and place them on the floor on the East side of the ramp. The Mishnah (2:1) teaches that initially anyone that wished to perform the terumat ha'deshen could do so. If more than one person wanted to, then the kohen that reached near the top of the ramp first would perform the terumat ha'dedeshen. The Mishnah continues that one time it was particularly competitive and a kohen fell off the ramp and broke his leg. Realising how dangerous this approach had become, they decided that from then on, the job was determined by way of lottery instead.

The Tosfot Yeshanim however questions how the kohanim could be running in the Beit HaMikdash. He cites the Yerushalmi that discusses how one should stand while praying. One opinion is that they should stand feet together like angels. The other is that one should stand with one foot in front of the other -- heel-to-toe -- like kohanim. The kohanim would walk in that way in the Beit HaMikdash, based on the pasuk, "you shall not take steps onto the mizbeach" (Shemot 20).

The Tosfot Yeshanim continues, in his first answer, that it is difficult to suggest that they ran in this awkward fashion, heel-to-toe. Instead, the Tosfot Yeshanim suggests that the prohibition against taking strides is when performing avodah, for example, when taking the sacrificial parts to place them on the mizbeach. At this stage however one was allowed to run.

The Minchat Chinnuch (41:2) however notes that the Sefer HaChinnuch explains that this prohibition applies to both men and women. Considering that women did not perform avodah, it would imply that the prohibition applied also when not performing avodah.

Interestingly the Rambam (Beit HaBechira 1:17) only rules that there is prohibition to ascend to the top of the mizbeach using steps instead of a ramp. There does not seem to be an issue with taking strides up that ramp. The Mishnah LeMelech is not sure why the Rambam omitted this detail considering that it is mentioned both in the Yerushalmi and the Mechlita. According to the simple reading of the Rambam however, there is no difficulty with our Mishnah.

The Aruch HaShulchan (Hilchot Beit Hamikdash 4:15) however notes that the Rambam in the Sefer HaMitzvot (80) writes that there is a prohibition to take large strides on the mizbeach, and one should walk heel-to-toe. He likewise cites the Mechilta. The Aruch HaShulchan questions why this is absent from the Mishnah Torah. The Griz answers that the Rambam simply retracted from his position in the Sefer Hamitzvot.

The Aruch HaShulchan however cites the Mechilta, where whether it is prohibited to take large strides on a ramp is debated between the Tana Kama and R' Yishmael. It is R' Yishmael that maintain the prohibition. The Rambam therefore rules like the Tana Kama. Understanding the prohibition in the Torah like the Tana Kama would not present any problem on our Mishnah. Can the Mishnah also be consistent with the position of R' Yishmael?

The Yereim (311) explains that even according to R' Yishmael, the requirement of heel-to-toe is not meant to be taken literally. It is only large strides that were prohibited. In fact, he cites our Mishnah as proof of this understanding.

The Toafot Reem however explains that that from the above cited Yerushalmi it is clear that the requirement to walk heel-to-toe is indeed literal. He however understands that according to the second answer of the Tosfot Yeshanim, they would run to the mizbeach and then ascend the ramp heel-to-toe.

There are however two difficulties with this approach. Firstly, it would seem that the fall resulted from running up the mizbeach. More substantially however, the Griz notes that according to R' Yehuda the floor of the azara was also consecrated with the sanctity of the mizbeach. That being the case, the prohibition would also apply on the floor of the azarah.



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