Ethics of Our Fathers 5: YESTERYEAR OF MIRACLES

June 14, 2024

Ethics of The Fathers tells of the miraculous phenomena in the Beit Hamikdash. What's their contemporary message for us?

Sicha, Shabbos Parshas Balak 5735,
Sicha, Shabbos Parshas Bechukosai 5730,
And Sicha, Shabbos Chukas-Balak 5736.

Ten Miracles of the Holy Temple

The Mishnah describes ten supernatural miracles that occurred in the Holy Temple on a regular basis. How are these relevant to the “beyond the letter of the law” theme of Ethics of the Fathers

Recalling these miracles engenders a longing for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, strengthening our Divine service which will rebuild the Holy Temple. Yet, we still need to derive specific lessons from each miracle.

“No woman ever miscarried because of the smell of the holy meat”

The first miracle on the list is regarding expectant women who smelled the aroma of the holy meat from the Temple sacrifices which wafted through Jerusalem. Why doesn’t the Mishnah begin with the miracles of the meat itself, that it didn’t spoil, or with the Holy Temple—that it remained free of flies?

The Rebbe cites the law that the meat was used to prepare gourmet meals (Source 1). One could assume that the excellent chef was a woman. She probably yearned to taste the holy meat. Certainly, if she was expecting she may have had strong cravings, as the Talmud describes pregnancy cravings on Yom Kippur (Source 2).

Being that a woman was the first to come in contact with the meat and prepare it, this miracle is featured first.

Harmless Snakes and Scorpions

The fact that the Mishnah specifies snakes and scorpions doesn’t mean other animals did harm people. Rather, it means that even these dangerous creatures that cannot be physically kept away did not harm.   

The snake and scorpion represent two threats to one’s divine service: 

The snake’s warm venom represents the passion of the evil inclination and material lust, while the scorpion, whose venom is cool, represents apathy and coldness towards holy pursuits.

This lends deeper meaning to the law “If a snake is coiled around one’s heel during prayer they may not interrupt; if a scorpion is on one’s heel they may.” (Source 3)

When a person is praying and is plagued by the distraction of their material desires, they do not need to interrupt the prayer because they can elevate these material desires for holiness. However, when one is seized by apathy, they must stop and begin anew. 

The Pillar of Smoke

The final miracle in today’s class is the smoke that rose straight up from the Altar and the winds did not sway it. Why was this miracle necessary?  The rule is that G-d does not perform miracles in vain. The mystical explanation is that one must be engrossed in prayer without any distractions, not even winking (Source 4). Even a billowing wind should not sway the “pillar of smoke” that represents a Jew’s connection with G-d during prayer.



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