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Marcheshvan 6, 5774/October 10, 2013

Rambam's signature

 

Rambam's Personal Reflections on His Journey to Israel
and the Temple Mount

 

Rambam, in describing his experience, writes, "I entered the Great and Holy House and prayed there, on Thursday, the 6th of the month of Marcheshvan, " refers to the Temple Mount as "The Great and Holy House." The Great and Holy House is a term for the Holy Temple used in Jewish liturgy, including the blessings recited after a meal. The expression, "Temple Mount" doesn't seem to have been in use during Rambam's time, but the expression The Great and Holy House would have been immediately understood by his correligionists. Nor would it been misunderstood as implying that he actually entered a structure, such as the Dome of the Rock or any other building on the Temple Mount, for the expression The Great and Holy House is consistently used to describe the entire Temple Mount area, and not the Mikdash, or Sanctuary, itself. Entry into either the Sanctuary, or the area upon which the Sanctuary had stood prior to its destruction, is strictly forbidden to any other than a kohen, priest, and, even in the case of a kohen, only when in a state of ritual purity that has been unattainable since the destruction of the Holy Temple. That Rambam stayed clear of the forbidden areas is hardly a question.

But this does raise the question, to what extent was Rambam familiar with the existing topography of the Temple Mount? How did he know where is was permissible to enter, and where is was not? The answer to this question may be found in a letter that Rambam wrote many years later to one Rabbi Yaphet from the city of Acco, Rambam's port of entry when he arrived in Israel:

"To the honorable great and holy teacher and Rabbi Yaphet, a wise man of understanding, an erudite Judge... since that day when we parted from the "Land of the Gazelle," [an appellation referring to the Land of Israel],... my father and teacher passed away... and I have been afflicted with very many misfortunes here in the land of Egypt... the most horrible being what has only recently occurred to me, that being the death of my righteous brother David, of blessed memory... even now, eight years hence, I mourn for him... [I recall the time when] I and he, and my father and you, the four of us, 'We went to G-d's House with great emotion... '"

It is evident from the Rambam's words that so many years and many sorrows later, he still remembers and cherishes the day that he and his father and brother, and Rabbi Yaphet ascended together to the Temple Mount. No doubt his recollection of that day, in counterpoint to the tragedy of losing his brother, whose life was lost as sea, provided for Rambam a great source of strength and comfort. This same Rabbi Yaphet is mentioned in the writings of Binyamin of Tudelo, a contemporary of Rambam, who also visited the Land of Israel, where he describes Rabbi Yaphet as being a great Torah sage. Is it possible that Rabbi Yaphet accompanied Rambam and his family to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, not merely as a newly acquired friend, but also as a guide familiar with the lay of the Mount?

An epistle in the Rambam's own hand

 

In another missive penned by the Rambam, the famous "Epistle to the Jews of Yemen," he again recalls his day atop the Temple Mount: "When we left the land of the west, [Morocco], 'to behold the pleasantness of the L-rd and to visit in His Holy Sanctuary.'" (Psalm 27:4) Rambam seems to be clearly stating here that his visit to the Temple Mount was not merely another tourist stop along the way, but that the visit to the Temple Mount and performing the positive commandment of Mora Mikdash, (showing reverence to G-d in the place of His Holy Temple), was the very goal of his long and dangerous journey. No doubt it was this fact which gave Rambam the courage to endure the hardships at sea and the dangers he encountered in the Land of Israel.

It is fascinating to contemplate that Rambam's visit to Israel and the Temple Mount took place during the time that he was writing his commentary on the Mishneh, and some years before he took up the work of composing his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, his great work of codifying Jewish law. The section of the Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit HaBechira, The Laws of the Chosen House, and Chapter Seven, included within this section, which deals specifically and in exact detail with the commandment of Mora Mikdash, (showing reverence to G-d in the place of His Holy Temple), was written with the Rambam's own experience in mind. When Rambam writes, "In spite of the fact that the Holy Temple is now in a state of destruction as a result of our transgressions, one is nonetheless obligated to conduct himself with reverence, just as he would have done, when the Holy Temple was standing," he makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he understood his own ascent to the Temple Mount, many years prior to his penning these words, as the performance of a positive Torah commandment.

To read Chapter Seven of The Laws of the Chosen House in its entirety, in Hebrew and in English translation, please click here.

Tomorrow we will conclude our study of the Rambam, touching upon the latter half of Rambam's life, his rise to prominence in Egypt, and the renewed relevance of the Rambam today.

Back to day three.

 

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