Monday, May 13, 2013

Immersing the Paroches Curtain

The Paroches curtain of the Sanctuary Building had considerable weight and, according to the Mishnah, three hundred Kohanim were needed to assist in immersing it. [All Temple vessels were immersed in a mikveh prior to their first use.] While this number is understood to be an exaggeration, even when the Mishnah exaggerates it still allows for a literal interpretation of its words, as follows: When immersing the curtain it was important to keep it from bunching up or folding over itself which would prevent water from getting into all the folds of the cloth. For this reason Kohanim would be stationed all around the perimeter of the curtain and pull it taut while lowering it into a shallow mikveh that was (at least) 20 amos wide and 40 amos long. It was not necessary to have anyone stand along the top edge, however, since a band of gold fastened to that edge kept it from wrinkling. The remaining three sides had a total length of 100 amos (40+20+40) which is equivalent to 600 handbreadths (6 handbreadths per amah). Since a handbreadth is the size of a fist, 300 Kohanim holding on with two hands would require exactly 600 handbreadths.

The closest I came to experiencing this event was at the Fort McHenry flag raising. When the weather is nice and the winds are just right, the large flag is flown over the fort and all of the guests who are there at the time can participate in raising it. This flag measures 30x42 feet, which somewhat approximates the size of the Paroches (which was 30x60 feet). Not nearly as heavy, though, since this flag is made of lightweight material and is quite thin, while the Paroches was one handbreadth thick and weighed more than an elephant.

Raising the large flag at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD

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