Three Different Conceptions

As mentioned,1 the Ram­bam does not consider the fashion­ing of the utensils of the Beis HaMikdash — the al­tars, the menorah, the table for the showbread — as mitzvos in their own right. Instead, his concep­tion is that these activities are all included in the mitzvah of constructing the Beis HaMikdash.

We can understand the Rambam’s conception of the rela­tionship between these utensils and the Beis HaMikdash by com­paring it to a frequently used Rabbinic conception — the rela­tionship between the individual elements (yrp) of a greater whole (kkf), to that whole.2 In general, there are three ways of describing this relationship: a) The particular elements have no importance in their own right. Their existence assumes signifi­cance only when they are united and forged into a greater entity. To use slightly different wording — the existence of the individual elements is merely a preparation for their ultimate inclusion into the greater whole.

To cite a halachic example: A single strand of tzitzis is of no significance whatsoever. When, however, it is joined with three other strands and they are tied in the proper manner producing eight strands, a tzitzah is formed which can be used — together with three others — to fulfill the command of the Torah.

b) The particular elements are each considered important in their own right. Nevertheless, a new and more encompassing significance is generated when they come together to form the whole. For example, the formation of a minyan when ten men come together for prayer. Every individual person possesses a certain dimension of holiness. Nevertheless, the union of ten individuals, establishing a communal entity, generates a far greater degree of holiness.

c) The particular elements of the greater whole are not individually significant. Nevertheless, after the greater whole has been established, each of the particular entities also is granted a measure of individual importance.

This concept can be illustrated by using an example from the Beis HaMikdash itself. The Beis HaMikdash is composed of several different elements: the Courtyard,3 the Sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. Until the Beis HaMikdash as a whole was completed, none of these particular elements had any holiness attached to it. Once the Beis HaMikdash was sanctified, however, each of these particular elements was granted a degree of holi­ness of its own in addition to the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash as a whole.

This concept is reflected in the designation of each of these portions of the Beis HaMikdash as a different category of holi­ness: “The Courtyard of the Israelites is holier than the Women’s Courtyard.... The Sanctuary is holier.... The chamber of the Holy of Holies is holier than it.”4

The distinct status of each of these portions of the Beis HaMikdash is further emphasized by a law which states5 that an object that was dedicated to be used for the construction of one of these portions may not be used for the construction of a dif­ferent portion.6

Applying These Concepts to the Utensils of the Beis HaMikdash

According to the first con­ception, it can be explained that the different utensils nec­essary for the construction of the Beis HaMikdash had no in­dependent importance of their own. When, however, the Beis HaMikdash was completed, these utensils received importance as parts of this greater whole.7

According to the second conception, the utensils possessed importance as sacred articles even before the Beis HaMikdash was constructed. When, however, they were included in that structure, they and the structure as a whole, were granted a new dimension of sanctity; for the Beis HaMikdash, the resting place for G‑d’s Presence, had been completed.

According to the third conception, the utensils of the Beis HaMikdash did not, originally, possess any sanctity. Neverthe­less, after the Beis HaMikdash was constructed, these utensils were endowed, not only with the sanctity of the Beis HaMikdash as a whole, but were also granted a measure in their own right.8

Differences in Halachah stemming from these Three Approaches

The utensils of the Beis HaMikdash must be fashioned for the sake of being used for this holy purpose.9 Accord­ingly, the three different approaches mentioned above are sig­nificant in regard to the intent a person must have when fash­ioning such a utensil.

According to the first approach, one must have the intent that one is fashioning a portion of the Beis HaMikdash. Accord­ing to the second approach, one must have in mind the sacred nature of the particular utensil one is fashioning. And according to the third approach, both intents — that one is fashioning a portion of the Beis HaMikdash as a whole, and that one is mak­ing a utensil which will possess its own unique holiness — are required.

A second difference results from the law prohibiting the construction of the Beis HaMikdash at night.10 According to the first and third approaches, since fashioning the utensils is con­sidered as part of the construction of the Beis HaMikdash, this prohibition applies to the utensils as well. Since, by contrast, the second approach sees these utensils as having an independent measure of holiness, they are granted importance of their own. Fashioning them, thus, can be viewed a distinct act, separate from the construction of the Beis HaMik­dash, and is, therefore, permitted at night.

The Rambam’s Approach

From a careful analysis of the wording used by the Ram­bam in Sefer HaMitzvos, we can reach a conclusion concerning his approach to this issue. There the Rambam states:

This charge of a general nature[, the commandment to make a Sanctuary,] includes many diverse elements: the menorah, the table [for the showbread], the altar, and others. All of these are parts of the Sanctuary and they are all included under this name, despite the fact that there is an individual commandment for each of these elements.

This implies that the commandment to make a Sanctuary for G‑d is to include “many diverse elements.” Although a sin­gle identity is intended to permeate the entire structure, the existence of different utensils that have a unique measure of holiness of their own is not considered a contradiction to their being part of this greater whole.

* * *

May the intent necessary when fashioning the utensils of the Beis HaMikdash soon be a matter of actual and not abstract con­cern, with the coming of the Redemption, when we will join in the construction of the Third Beis HaMikdash. And may this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, Vayakhel-Pekudei