“Exactly as I show you–the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its vessels–so shall you make it.” (Exodus 25:9).
Rashi comments: “And so shall you make it for all generations; if one of the vessels is lost, or when you make Me a permanent home with its vessels, like tables and lamps and basins and stands which Solomon made, in this pattern shall you make them.”
And the Ramban asked: “I did not know this was true, that it obligated Solomon to make the permanent Temple in this pattern. Solomon made the copper altar twenty amah long by twenty amah wide.” (He completely changed this from the altar made by Moses, whose dimensions were five amah by fiveamah, Exodus 27:1.)
Not only were the size of the First Temple and its vessels different from the Tabernacle which the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moses, but the Second Temple and its vessels were of a different pattern than the First Temple, as brought by the Gemara in Yoma 21a, “There were five differences between the First and the Second Temples, and they were: the ark, the covering of the ark, the cherubs, the fire and the Divine Presence and the Holy Spirit, and the Urim V’Thumim.” But come see that it was not only in the ark, its covering, and the cherubs that the First and Second Temple differed. Another difference was that in the First Temple there was no curtain between the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies–a wall separated them–while in the Second Temple there was a curtain, as brought in Yoma 54a, “Was there a curtain in the First Temple?” The dimensions of the Second Temple altar was also larger than the altar in the First Temple, as brought in the Mishna, Middot 83, first mishna: “and when they returned from exile they added to it [the altar] fouramah on the south and four amah on the west.”
All these chapters written in the Torah, detailing the dimensions of the Tabernacle and its vessels, fell by the wayside and not a single one of them was retained in the building of the First Temple. The building of the First Temple teaches you nothing about the Second Temple, and the Second Temple teaches you nothing about the third. Sages in each generation will determine its form, dimensions, and vessels.
We will make this great thing clear to you. And let us begin with a question: How is it that Solomon deviated from the explicit laws given to Moses by G-d? The Radak asked this question on I Kings 8:6, “We should not ask why Solomon made different cherubs, not according to the pattern of the first ones, just as we should not ask why he did not make a different ark and he did make different altars, and lamps, tables, and other different vessels, for he did it all according to prophecy as given to him by his father, David, as written in I Chronicles 28:19, ‘All this that the Lord made me understand by His hand on me, I give you in writing–the plan of all the works.”
And this is also the opinion of Rashi (on Sukkah 51b), “‘All this that the Lord made me understand by His hand on me, I give you in writing–the plan of all the works’ which G-d told him through Gad the visionary and Natan the prophet.”
Even the Radbaz wrote so in his Responsa (part six, section 2289): “And you should know that all Solomon did he did in accordance with prophecy, as given to him by his father, David…when we find that he made different altars and lamps and tables and other vessels…” But we stand shaken at the great men of Israel who said something which contradicts the foundations of Judaism, as the Rambam wrote in his introduction to Tractate Zeraim: “and He wanted us not to add nor to diminish, as written, ‘do not add to it nor diminish from it,’ and therefore they said that a prophet is not allowed to innovate anything.” If so, how did King Solomon heed Gad the visionary and Natan the prophet?
This question was asked by the Chatam Sofer in his respona, part two, section 236: “One must wonder about a few changes in the vessels and the building, different than the Tabernacle and Moses’s altar. The Second Temple also was different from the first in two aspects, and the one to be built in the future, described in Ezikiel’s prophecy, is different from all others. Though it was written, ‘All this that the Lord made me understand by His hand on me, I give you in writing’ according to the prophet, in any case, isn’t a prophet forbidden to innovate anything except for short term use and not forever?”
See his excuse there, which explains that at the beginning G-d permitted every prophet to innovate the dimensions of the Temple and its vessels.
But we will expand upon the opinion of the Chatam Sofer and say that from the building of the Second Temple it is clear that not only prophets, but also sages (and perhaps only sages) can differ from what is written and innovate, and we have already clarified, in Parshat Mishpatim, that halacha supercedes the Bible based on their learning and deduction; see there.
We will bring a proof that this is the law concerning the Temple issues. The Gemara, in Sanhedrin 16b, clarifies the Mishna: “One does not add to the city and the courts except by order of a Beis Din of 71,” (one should not add new places to the city of Jerusalem, which will make them more sanctified, for one is not allowed to make new holy places except in accordance with the Sanhedrin). “How do we know this?” asks the Gemara. “Rav Shimi the son of Chiya said, ‘the Scripture stated, “Exactly as I show you–the pattern of the Tabernacle” so shall you make it for coming generations’.” Rashi explained, “As the Tabernacle was built according to Moses, who was like a Great Sanhedrin, so in coming generations it shall be made according to a Great Sanhedrin.” This is a clear statement that the Sanhedrin, the sages in each generation, have a standing like Moses our teacher and may add to the boundaries of the holy city in Jerusalem and the Temple courts.
This is what is brought in Tractate Sukkah 51b: “First, the women were inside [in the women’s chamber] and the men outside [in the plaza of the Temple Mount and the rampart] and it came to frivolity. They changed it so the women were upstairs and the men downstairs. How did they do it? It is written, ‘All this that the Lord made me understand by His hand on me, I give you in writing.’ Rav said, they found a verse in the Scripture and elucidated it,’…” So it is said here explicitly that the sages change what had been determined, based on their learning.
Similarly, it is brought in Zevachim 62a that they were asked how those who returned from the exile added to the dimensions of the altar: “Rabbi Yosef said, “They found a verse in the Scripture and elucidated it…” Rashi explained, “Solomon did not understand this verse to be elucidated that way, but they explained it and added based on their own needs.”
And in a parenthetic statement, let us say, since we are discussing additions made by the people who returned from exile — go and learn what Rav Yosef first gave as an explanation about why those who returned from exile added to the dimensions of the altar. This is what he said: “‘They set it up on its site’ (Ezra 3), they reached the end of its dimensions.” Rashi explains, “The Men of the Great Assembly reached the end of its dimensions. The place sanctified for the altar was revealed to them, though it was not revealed to Solomon.” Indeed, this is a way to add or diminish as you see fit, claiming “Something that had not been revealed to earlier sages was revealed to the later sages.” This vile method has already spread within the midst of the faithful, particularly among Chassidim and those who study kabbalah, who claim about those things innovated by the Ari z”l and Rav Shimon Bar Yochai which have no support in the Bible, that it is because the time for their revelation had not yet occurred, until the time of the Ar z”l, and the like. Therefore they nullified the commandment not to add nor subtract, which permitted innovations only by the sages, through their learning and deduction, and not through prophecy or revelations from on high; as it has already been said, “it is not in the Heavens.”
But we will return to our topic. Not only did Solomon change the dimensions of the sanctuary, but he added lions to his chair, though it was forbidden to engrave the form of animals. The Tosfot asked, on Yoma 54a-b, first reference, “and about the chair of Solomon I am puzzled, for it is written, ‘two lions stood beside the arms, and twleve lions…’ (I Kings 10:19) and one can not say he did it in accordance with G-d’s word…for a prophet has no permission to innovate, and one can say he did to erect a fence around the matter, and here the law is different… For when witness came to testify before him the lions would roar and snarl, as it says in the medrash, and therefore people feared giving false testimony.” This is how the Tosfot, based on their learning, allowed engraving forms of animals as a fence around the matter (see there for words which contradict this).
From all written above you see that we do not (as did the Saducees) live according to the Torah, nor according to the prophets and holy men (as do the Christians), but according to the commentators for whom the Torah is like sealing wax to be molded; they lengthen and shorten by the force of their learning and according to the inclinations of their hearts.
We will conclude with the words of the Rambam, in his introduction to Tractate Zeraim, who briefly and simply explained what we always say: “‘And they will believe in you, too, forever.’ He [Moses, our teacher] told us in G-d’s name that the Creator of the world will not give us another Torah aside from this one, and that what He has said is not in the Heavens, He said it is in your mouths and your hearts to do it. The matter of ‘in your mouths’ is the commandments known from the Oral Teaching, and the matter of ‘in your hearts’ are the deductions which arise from learning, which is one of the forces drawn to the heart.”
Here we have a wonderful clarification that this Torah will not be replaced—it will not be replaced, but it may be changed by learning and consideration of the sages through logic and the powers which are drawn to the heart. This is not that the Torah is replaced, but it is the Torah which G-d gave us, and which is as sealing-wax. It takes on and puts off forms according to the reasoning and learning and powers of the sages in each generation. Understand this well, for it is one of the principles of faith.
Words of True Knowledge