'The Temple Mount in our Hands' and the Value of Sacrifices

Author: Esther Ehrman, Iyar 5772/May 2012

This talk was given to mark Yom Yerushalayim.

In June 1967 we were living on the campus of Bar Ilan University; the radio was not turned off for the week – which is how we heard the words har ha bayit be yadeinu. 'The Temple Mount is in our hands'. Har haBayit, the Temple Mount, is, of course, the location of the Bet HaMikdash, the Temple, and I would like to say a few words about the service there, the sacrifices and our attitude to them.

We make a distinction between deeds that are committed deliberately and those that are inadvertent.

If you kill someone deliberately, it is called murder. The murderer is taken out of the society. If the killing is not intended, we call it manslaughter and the consequences are different.

The Gemara makes the same distinction. There are actions, the consequences of which mean that you are cut off from the Jewish people, you have, as it were, killed the link with G-d. In Mesechet Kareitot, we have a list of such transgressions, forbidden marriages, idol worship, violating the Shabbat, Yom Kippur, Pesach etc. If deliberate, they incur the punishment of Karet, being cut off. If, however, the violations are be shogeg, inadvertent, you owe the Temple a chataat, a sin offereing (a lamb, pigeons, two measures of flour) according to your financial circumstances, acknowledging the wrong doing.

Because there is no longer a Bet Hamikdash on the Temple Mount, we have lost this opportunity of a concrete acknowledgement – all we have to offer are words of tephila. Prayer. I think we may have been a bit quick to take this easy way out.

The Gemara in Mesechet Arakhin discussses the monetary value, the erekh of things dedicated to the Temple, be it property, animals or human beings, that are then redeemed for money that is given to the Temple service – the Torah speaks of the monetary valuation of people, according to age and gender. Why, until the Bet HaMikdash is once again on the Temple Mount (bim' hera be yameinu) should we not take upon ourselves to acknowledge our debts to G-d and 'pay'. If you have inadvertently eaten chametz on Pesach, you owe a chataat. I don't know what the current rate is for a lamb or pigeons - the Bet HaMikdash had a system for evaluating things – but it should be possible to establish that. There would be money Zedaka, for helping the poor, the disadvantaged, for education and all the things that Jews should care about. The words Har haBayit be yadeinu might carry something of the real meaning and function of the Temple Mount.