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1586: Eikev 23 Av 5775 08/08/2015

In the last article we discussed the Chulda Gates, the southern entrance of the holy Temple Mount. In this article we will discuss the eastern entrance of the Mount – The Shushan Gate.

The Name of the Gate and its Significance

We are taught in the Mishna: "There were five gates leading to the Temple Mount... The eastern gate has an image of Shushan the Capital, it was where the priest who burned the Red Heifer, the Heifer, and all of those who participated in the process would exit to go to the Mount of Olives." [Midot 1:3].

Thus, evidently the name of this gate was the "Eastern Gate," and the Mishna tells us that it had on it a shape signifying Shushan. In his commentary on the Mishna, the Rambam writes the following: "When they ascended from the capital Shushan to build the Temple... the King commanded them to make a sign in the shape of Shushan in the Temple, so that they would maintain a fear of the King and remember when they lived there and would not revolt against him. And that is why they put its design on the eastern gate, among the gates on the Temple Mount."

The Talmud, in Yoma 9b, brings a disagreement between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan about why the Shechina did not appear in the Second Temple (this is clear since the Second Temple lacked various elements that are expressions of the existence of the Shechina, such as the Kaporet and the Keruvim, the Holy Ark, and other signs). Reish Lakish says that "if you had been like a wall and you had all ascended to the land in the time of Ezra, you would have been comparable to gold, which is never taken over by rot. Now that you came like doors, you are compared to the cedars which are taken over by rot." This is also quoted by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in the Kuzari.

Rabbi Yochanan feels that even if the people had all come in the time of Ezra the Shechina would not have come into the Second Temple. He derives this from the verse, "Let G-d expand Yefet, and he will dwell in the tents of Shem" [Bereishit 9:27]. Even though G-d favors Yefet, the Shechina will only appear in the Temple of Shem. Since the Second Temple was built with the permission of and under the sovereignty of Persia, the Shechina did not appear there.

According to the above Mishna, the command of the King of Persia to engrave the image of Shushan on one of the gates of the Temple was meant to preserve the fear of the Kings of Persia for all generations and to guarantee that the people would never revolt against them.

Fear and Respect of the Temple

In the Mishna it is written, "A person should not be light-hearted at the site of the eastern gate, which is oriented towards the Holy of Holies" [Berachot 9:5]. This command of showing respect for the site of the Temple remains in effect even today, when the Temple no longer exists.

It is interesting to note that all the gates to the east of the Temple are in a single straight line. From east to west, this consists of: The eastern gate (Shushan Gate); the gate of the courtyard of the women; the Gate of Nikanor; and all the gates of the Temple itself – the gates of the Ulam, the Sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies.

The commentators disagree about exactly which gate is mentioned in the Mishna. Rambam understands that it is the Nikanor Gate, which separates between the court of the Levites and the court of the Shechina. This implies that there is a specific law of respect for the Temple inside the court of the Levites – on the Temple Mount – since it is oriented towards the Holy of Holies. Rashi, on the other hand, writes that it is referring to the eastern gate of the Temple Mount. This would imply that the prohibition of light-heartedness is relevant even outside the Temple Mount, in the direction of the eastern gate.

The practical significance of the prohibition of light-heartedness is that one should not relieve himself outside of the Temple Mount opposite the eastern gate.

The Shechina is in the West

We note that the western direction has special significance. With respect to the direction of prayer, the Talmud quotes the opinion of Rabbi Akiva – that the Shechina is in the west (Bava Batra 25). Several reasons are given for this. The first is that this is the opposite of the way idol worshippers turn, to the east, in the direction of the rising sun. In addition, it is written, "the hosts of the heavens bow down to You" [Nechemia 9:6]. This implies that the sun, the moon, and the stars all bow down – as it were – to the Shechina in the west, thereby recognizing the authority of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Thus, the Kohen who serves in the Temple symbolically carries on his back the rays of the sun, the moon, and the stars – and he bows down together with all the rest of the world towards the Holy One, Blessed be He. It is as if all of creation bows down to the Shechina, which dwells in the west.

This viewpoint comes into play in another matter. The Mishna describes the walls of the Temple Mount as follows: "All the walls there were tall, except for the eastern wall – since the Kohen who burned the Red Heifer stood on the top of the Mount of Olives and could see the gates of the Sanctuary while he sprinkled the blood." [Midot 2:4]. The entire eastern wall of the Temple Mount was low, so that while the Red Heifer was burned on the Mount of Olives it would be possible for the Kohen to actually see the entrance to the Sanctuary (which led to the Holy of Holies).

A similar idea can be found in the Talmud Yerushalmi: "The early prophets labored very hard so that the eastern wall would be low enough in both the seasons of Tevet and Tamuz." [Eiruvin 5:1].

The Uses of the Gate

We may note that the eastern wall of the high plane on the Temple Mount is oriented almost exactly in a north-south direction in an astronomical sense. This suggests that it marks the position of the eastern side of the court, where the Nikanor Gate was. The estimated position of the original eastern gate of the Temple Mount is a few dozen meters south of the Mercy Gate. It is quite reasonable to assume that the goat sent to "Azazel" on Yom Kippur was sent out through the eastern gate of the Temple Mount, and from there it was sent to the east. According to the Mishna, "A ramp would be made for it because of the Babylonians" [Yoma 6:4]. This would be a battery that went from the eastern gate down to the path of the Kidron River in the east, and not a tall bridge to the Mount of Olives, as appears in some of the models.

In addition, it is possible that the removal of the bull and the goat to the place of burning on Yom Kippur was done through the same eastern gate of the Temple Mount. Thus, the main use of this gate seems to have been for moving the Red Heifer and sending out the goat to "Azazel," and not for entrance and exit of people who came to visit the Temple Mount.

Another use for the gate was in a room that was built above it, as appears in the Mishna: "There were two measurements of an Ama at the gate with the capital, Shushan... On the northeast corner one the length was half a finger larger than the Ama of Moshe (that is, compared to the measure kept at the time of Moshe). On the southeast corner there was an Ama that was half a finger longer than the first one, that is, it was a full finger-length longer than that of Moshe. Why was this described as one large and one small? The artists would take material measuring with the small one and return it measuring with the larger one, so that they would never be guilty of 'me'ilah,' using holy material for their own benfit." [Keilim 17:9].

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