Shlomo Hamelech planted trees in the First Beis Hamikdash that produced golden fruit. The Kohanim would sell this fruit and use the money to support their families. Although these magical trees died when the First Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, we shall experience this miracle once again in the future Beis Hamikdash. During the times of the Second Beis Hamikdash, however, they had no golden fruit but still had poor Kohanim, so they attempted to replicate this concept with a manmade alternative.
Above the doorway of the Heychal, inside the Ulam, was a large likeness of a grapevine made of solid gold. Donations of gold and other precious materials such as carbuncles, sapphires, and diamonds were presented in the shape of leaves, individual grapes, or whole clusters (some of which were as tall as a man). Although there were collection boxes placed throughout the Azarah for different charitable purposes, donors who wished to have their contribution beautify the Beis Hamikdash until the funds were needed could add to this grapevine. The materials from the grapevine were used by the treasurers for repairs to the structure and to sup- port poor Kohanim. The vine itself was suspended from strong wooden beams, made of cedar, similar to a real grapevine.
Some sources indicate that the grapveine weighed as much as 1000 kikar (approximately 28 tons). The Mishnah (Tamid 3:8) similarly reports that one time they needed to move the vine and 300 Kohanim were appointed for the task because it was so heavy, although the Gemara (Tamid 29a-b) concludes that this was an exaggeration.
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