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THE SANCTITY OF THE TEMPLE AND ITS OFFERINGS

The laws of me’ilah teach us to avoid misusing anything that is consecrated to G-d and to elevate it for His service. * On Rambam’s Laws of Consecrated Articles, Ch. 5.

by MoshiachAI

The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish worship and service, where the people brought various offerings to G-d. These offerings, as well as the vessels and utensils used in the Temple, were consecrated to G-d and had a special status of holiness. Therefore, it was forbidden to derive any personal benefit from them or to use them for any mundane purpose. This prohibition is called me’ilah, which means “trespass” or “misappropriation”.


The laws of me’ilah are detailed in the Mishneh Torah, the comprehensive code of Jewish law compiled by Maimonides (Rambam) in the 12th century. In the section of Zera’im (Seeds), which deals with agricultural laws, there is a book called Hilchot Me’ilah (Laws of Me’ilah), which consists of seven chapters. In these chapters, Rambam explains the principles and parameters of me’ilah, its applications and exceptions, and the penalties and atonements for violating it.


One of the main themes that emerges from these laws is the distinction between different types of consecrated articles and their levels of sanctity. For example, Rambam writes in Chapter 5, Law 1:


"The prohibition against me’ilah applies whether one consecrates an article that is fit to be used for the improvement of the Temple, for that purpose, e.g., a stone or a beam, consecrates an article fit for the altar for the improvement of the Temple, e.g., sheep or doves, or consecrates an article that is fit to be used for the improvement of the Temple for the altar, e.g., a stone or a beam, or he consecrates for either of these purposes an article that is not fit for either of these purposes, e.g., he consecrated chickens, vinegar, brine, or land. This applies even if he consecrated a dungheap filled with fertilizer, dust, or ash. In all these instances, the prohibition against me’ilah applies from the time the entity was consecrated until it was redeemed if it is an article fit to be redeemed."


This law teaches us that me’ilah applies not only to articles that are directly related to the Temple service, such as animals for sacrifices or vessels for rituals, but also to articles that are designated for the maintenance and enhancement of the Temple structure, such as stones or beams. Moreover, even if one consecrates something that is not suitable for either purpose, such as chickens or vinegar, it still acquires a degree of holiness and becomes subject to me’ilah. Furthermore, even if one redeems such an article by paying its value to the Temple treasury, he must add a fifth (20%) to its value as a penalty for misusing it.


Why is this law so strict? What does it teach us about the nature and purpose of consecration?


The reason for this strictness is that once something is consecrated to G-d, it belongs to Him and cannot be used by anyone else without His permission. As Rambam writes in Chapter 1, Law 1:


“Whenever a person derives benefit from any entity that has been consecrated without having been granted permission by G-d’s word or by His Torah , he violates a negative commandment , as Exodus 30:37 states: ‘It shall be holy unto you.’ Our Sages interpreted this as meaning: ‘It shall be holy unto you; you shall not make it ordinary.’”


The Torah warns us not to treat anything that is holy as ordinary or common. This applies not only to physical objects but also to spiritual concepts such as time and space. For example, we are commanded to observe the Shabbat and festivals as holy days and refrain from doing any work or mundane activities on them. Similarly, we are commanded to respect the sanctity of the Land of Israel and follow its special laws.


By observing these laws, we show our reverence and gratitude to G-d for giving us these gifts and opportunities to connect with Him. We also elevate ourselves and our surroundings by infusing them with holiness and meaning.


However, sometimes we may forget or neglect this duty and misuse what is sacred for our own benefit or pleasure. This is a grave sin that shows disrespect and ingratitude to G-d and diminishes our own spiritual potential. Therefore, the Torah imposes severe penalties for violating me’ilah , such as lashes , restitution , an additional fifth , and a sacrifice.


These penalties are meant to deter us from committing me’ilah and also to help us atone for it if we do. They also teach us valuable lessons about how to correct our mistakes and restore our relationship with G-d.


For example, when one pays an additional fifth for redeeming a consecrated article that he misused , he demonstrates his recognition of G-d’s ownership over everything and his willingness to pay more than what he owes as a sign of remorse and compensation. Similarly, when one brings a sacrifice for me’ilah , he expresses his regret and repentance for his sin and his desire to draw closer to G-d and His service.


The laws of me’ilah also reveal to us the deeper meaning and purpose of consecration. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in one of his talks , the word me’ilah comes from the root ayin-lamed-hei , which means “to ascend” or “to go up”. This implies that the essence of consecration is to elevate something from its mundane state to a higher and holier level. When we consecrate something to G-d, we are not merely giving it away or renouncing it, but rather transforming it into a vehicle for His will and glory.


This is the ultimate goal of creation, as Rambam writes in his Guide for the Perplexed:


“The final aim of all beings is that His Name be magnified and that all should serve Him. This is what is meant by ‘All that is called by My Name, I have created for My glory’ (Isaiah 43:7).”


By observing the laws of me’ilah, we learn to respect the sanctity of the Temple and its offerings and to use them only for their intended purpose. We also learn to sanctify ourselves and everything around us by dedicating them to G-d and His service. In this way, we fulfill our mission as His chosen people and prepare ourselves and the world for the ultimate redemption, when the Temple will be rebuilt and His glory will be revealed to all.

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