Three fires were kept burning on the top of the Mizbeyach every day. The largest of these was located in the southeastern quadrant. All sacrificial parts which were required to be burned on the top of the Mizbeyach were placed on this fire. Each morning this fire would be rebuilt by laying down two logs, parallel to each other, and then stacking two more logs on top, perpendicular to the first two, to form a square. A few more layers were added to make it “very large.”Two panels of wood, called gezirei eitzim, were burned on this fire concomitant with the Tamid in the morning and in the afternoon. These panels were one amah square and as thick as the standard stick used in Talmudic times to level off a small measure of flour.
The second fire, located on the southwestern part of the Mizbeyach, was used to produce the coals upon which the Ketores would be burned. The size of the Ketores fire was large enough to produce 5 se’ah (1 1⁄2 cubic feet) of coals per day and 8 se’ah (2 1⁄3 cubic feet) of coals on Shabbos. These coals would be collected with a shovel and deposited on top of the Mizbeyach Hazahav inside the Heychal.
The purpose of the third fire was to fulfill the requirement of maintaining an aish tamid [constant flame] on the Mizbeyach. This small fire, which had no set place upon the Mizbeyach, was also used to relight the main fire should it go out. The illustration shows the three fires of the Mizbeyach as viewed from the southeast (ramp is not shown).
Any type of wood could be used for these fires except for olive trees or grapevines. Society depends heavily on olive oil and grapes and therefore these trees may not be cut down for the Mizbeyach. The preferred type of firewood came from fig trees (that no longer produce fruit), or trees that produce nuts or balsam oil. Even though these latter two provide products used by people, they are not as significant as olive oil and grapes.
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