Thursday, April 4, 2024

Rashi to Bava Metzia 33a About the Route to Open the Heychal Gateway

On Bava Metzia 33a Rashi gives a description of the route taken by the Kohen as he opens the doors of the main Heychal gateway. I get the impression that these lines of Rashi have troubled many a student of the Gemara, judging by the number of people who have come over to me and asked me to explain what Rashi means here. In honor of Daf Yomi reaching this sugya I will present my elucidated version of Rashi's words as I understand them.

Rashi to Bava Metzia 33a regarding the keys of the Beis Hamikdash

and the route to open the Heychal gateway

אחד יורד לאמת השחי — One goes down to the armpit

משנה היא במסכת תמיד (פרק ג משנה ו) — This teaching that the Gemara mentions is a Mishnah in maseches Tamid (3:6),

 אצל הנכנסים שחרית לפתוח דלתות ההיכל — regarding those Kohanim who enter the Heychal Building in the morning to open the doors of the Heychal entrance.

 ‘מי שזכה בדישון מזבח הפנימי כו — Rashi begins to paraphrase this Mishnah in Tamid: The one who won the lottery (see further Tamid 3:1) for the right to perform the clearing of the Inner Mizbeyach of leftover coal from yesterday’s incense burning, along with the Kohen who won the right to clear the Menorah of any leftover oil and wicks, ascended the steps on the eastern side of the Heychal Building. These two Kohanim entered the Ulam (the entrance hall on the eastern side of the Heychal Building) through its entranceway that was closed off by a large curtain (Middos 2:3). 

 ושני מפתחות בידו — The Kohen who would clear the Inner Mizbeyach would also open the Heychal doors, and so two keys were in his hand,

 אחד יורד לאמת השחי — one key was for the lock that goes down to the armpit,

 ואחד פותח כיון — and one key was for the lock that opens quickly. 

 אחד מן המפתחות הללו — Rashi explains what these two phrases mean: One of these keys

 פותח פשפש הצפוני שאצל פתח ההיכל — opens the lock on the northern passageway that is located near the Heychal entrance. Rashi will explain below that on either side of the Heychal’s main entrance were two smaller passageways in the Heychal’s eastern wall that led from the Ulam towards the west. The first key opens the door of the northern passageway.

 בקרן מזרחית צפונית של אולם והיכל — This passageway was located in the general vicinity of the northeastern corner of the Ulam and Heychal complex. This line cannot be translated literally as in the northeastern corner of the Ulam and Heychal complex, because a passageway in the northeastern corner would lead back out into the Azarah, not west to the Heychal. 

 כדתנן התם — These details of the structure are specified in maseches Tamid, as is taught in the Mishnah there (Tamid 3:7):

 שני פשפשים היה לו לשער הגדול — The “Great Gate” (another name for the Heychal entrance) had two smaller passageways on either side of it,

 אחד לצפון ההיכל והאולם ואחד לדרומו — one towards the north side of the Heychal and Ulam complex and one towards the south side of it. The translation of Rashi’s word לצפון [which literally would mean to the north of] follows the actual girsa found in the Mishnah in Tamid: וּשְׁנֵי פִשְׁפָּשִׁין הָיוּ לוֹ לַשַּׁעַר הַגָּדוֹל, אֶחָד בַּצָּפוֹן וְאֶחָד בַּדָּרוֹם, The Great Gate had two passageways [on either side of it], one in the north [i.e., to the north of the Gate] and one in the south.

 ואותו שבדרום לא נכנס בו אדם מעולם — and regarding the [passageway] in the south — no man ever entered it,

 כדמפרש התם — as [the Mishnah] explains there that the southern passageway was to be used by G-d alone, as it were, and not by Man,

 ואותו פשפש שבצפון — and that passageway that was in the north,

 והוא לפתח שבזוית האולם — it was for, i.e., it contained, a doorway that was in the northwestern corner of the Ulam,

 שאצל חמש אמות של כותל ההיכל שבצפון פתח ההיכל — that was located next to the five amos of the Heychal’s eastern wall that was north of the Heychal’s entrance. The Heychal’s eastern wall measured twenty amos from north to south. The entrance took up ten of those amos, leaving five amos on either side. The small doorway that the Kohen entered each morning was located [approximately] five amos north of the Heychal entrance, in the northwestern corner of the Ulam.

 ודלת סובבת בו — There was a door that rotated on hinges in [this doorway],

 ואותו מפתח של אותו הפתח יורד לאמת השחי — and that key for that door “goes down to the armpit,” as Rashi will explain below.

פשפשים פתחים קטנים — The term pishpeshim [passageways] means small openings through the wall,

 כמין כיפות קטנות — like small, arched tunnels,

 ארכו כעובי רוחב הכותל — and the length of [a pishpesh] is, by definition, always the same as the thickness of the width of the wall that it runs through,

 ודלת סובבת בו — and, to reiterate, there was a door that rotated on hinges in [this doorway],

 פושטי"ר בלעז — poterne (meaning little door) in Old French

 אחד יורד לאמת השחי — and that key for that door “goes down to the armpit,” which means as follows:

[פשפש שבזוית האולם] הבא לפתוח בו שחרית — The one who comes in the morning to open [the passageway in the northwestern corner of the Ulam],

 עומד מבחוץ בתוך האולם — stands on the outside of the door, in the Ulam,

 ומכניס ידו בחור שבכותל עד בית שחיו — and puts his hand (with the key) into a hole in the wall next to the door, so that his arm extends into the hole all the way to his armpit.

 ופותח — The hole in the wall opens to the space behind the door, and he inserts the key into the lock from the inside of the door and he unlocks the door.

ואחד פותח כיוןAnd one opens quickly

לאחר שנכנס בזה —After [the Kohen] enters this passageway that was closed off by the armpit door, 

 ובא לו לתא — he walks through the passageway (that would have to be heading diagonally towards the northwest) and then he enters the tau, one of the small rooms located around the outside of the Heychal Building,

 אשר על פני אחת עשרה אמה של אולם וקצת מן ההיכל — that is across the face of the eleven amos of the Ulam and a little part of the Heychal. Rashi’s intention may be that the tau extended from the eastern wall of the Ulam, across the Ulam, across the 6-amah wall thickness of the Heychal wall, and then extended a little further across part of the Heychal itself. The pishpesh starts in the NW corner of the Ulam and heads northwest until it reaches the tau. [With the tau running across the entire northern end of the Ulam we will have to explain how access was provided to the Beis Hachalifos.]

 ופותח במפתח שני דלת אחד — and he unlocks, using a second key, another door that is located in the southern wall of the tau,

 שמן התא להיכל — that leads from the tau to the Heychal,

 מהר בלא טורח — and this lock is located directly in front of him and opens quickly, with no extra effort, i.e., he does not need to go through the extra motions of putting his hand into a hole in the wall to open the lock from the other side of the door, as he did above,

 כשאר פתחים — because this doorway is just like other standard doorways that have locks on the outside of the door,

 ונכנס להיכל לפתוח דלתות ההיכל — and then he walks through the doorway, heading south, and enters the Heychal to open the doors of the Heychal from the inside.


כמו (פסחים לז.) יעשנה בדפוס ויקבענה כיון — As in the expression (Pesachim 37a): Make it in a form and set it quickly,

 מהר בלא טורח — meaning quickly, with no extra effort.

 והאי שער הגדול — Rashi explains some words that might be unfamiliar to the student: This expression “Great Gate” that the Mishnah used above,

 הוא פתח ההיכל שבין אולם להיכל — it is a reference to the entrance of the Heychal located in the wall between the Ulam and the Heychal. It is not called “Great” on account of its size, since it was the same size as all of the other Beis Hamikdash gateways (ten amos wide and twenty amos tall). Rather, it was called “Great” on account of its holiness.

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