Lecture #216: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XXVI) – The Prohibition of Bamot (III)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

            In this shiur, we will complete our examination of the mishna's review of the history of the prohibition and allowance of bamot from the time of Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael until the building of the Temple. In previous shiurim, we related to two time periods: the first stage – in the wilderness prior to the erection of the Mishkan; and the second stage – in the wilderness following the building of the Mishkan.  

In this context, we examined the relationship between Vayikra 17 and Devarim 12 and the basis of the disagreement between R. Akiva and R. Yishmael. In this shiur, we will address the following stages:

  1. In the plains of Moav – during the fortieth year following the exodus from Egypt.
  2. From Israel's entry into the Promised Land until the building of the Temple.
  3. After the building of the Temple, after which there was no further allowance of bamot.

The Plains of Moav – The Fortieth Year Following the Exodus From Egypt

Until precisely what point did the prohibition of bamot apply during the period of Israel's wandering in the wilderness? Ostensibly, the answer is simple. The mishna implies that bamot were only permitted after Israel arrived in Gilgal. However, the account of the prohibition of bamot in Parashat Re'eh suggests another possibility:

You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes. For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God gives you. But when you traverse the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt-offerings and your sacrifices… (Devarim 12:8-11)

The commentators disagree about the meaning of the words: "After all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes," and they propose several interpretations.[1] According to the plain sense of the text, Scripture seems to be relating to the prohibition of sacrificing "in every place that you see," stated later in this section: "Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt-offerings in every place that you see; but only in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt-offerings…" (ibid. vv. 13-14). In other words, after you enter the Land and the time comes to build the Temple (see Rashi, v. 11), you will no longer be permitted to offer sacrifices "every man whatever is right in his own eyes," wherever you wish – that is, on bamot – but only in the Temple.

What, then, is the meaning of the words "here this day"? Surely the use of bamot was only permitted after Israel entered into the Land, as stated in the mishna! In his commentary to Devarim 12 (pp. 165-167), R. David Tz. Hoffmann proposes that the people of Israel were not careful regarding the prohibition of bamot already from the time of the conquest of the eastern bank of the Jordan River, well before Israel's entry into the Land, since the reason for the prohibition – distancing Israel from worship of the demons – became void when they left the wilderness and arrived in populated areas, as explained by the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna.[2] Alternatively, R. Hoffman suggests that the words, "here this day," do not mean "this day" literally, but "in the near future" - from the time that they come to Gilgal until the conclusion of the conquest and division of the Land.[3]

From the entry into Eretz Yisrael until the building of the Temple

We are dealing here with a period stretching over 440 years (based on I Melakhim 6:1), which can be divided, according to Chazal, into four: The 14 years during which time the Mishkan stood in Gilgal; the 369 years when it stood in Shilo; and the 17 years it stood in Nov and Givon, 13 in Nov and 44 in Givon. The basis for this division is found in chapter 12 in Devarim, which establishes the prohibition of bamot for future generations:

You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes. For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God gives you. But when you traverse the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you, your burnt-offerings and your sacrifices…

Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt-offerings in every place that you see; but only in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt-offering, and there you shall do all that I command you…

You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your corn, or of your wine, or of your oil, or the firstlings of your herds or of your flock, or any of your vows which you vow, or your freewill-offerings, or offering of your hand. But you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God shall choose…. (Devarim 12:8-11; 13-14, 17-18)

            Scripture hangs the prohibition of bamot on coming to "the rest and to the inheritance," and the mishna in Zevachim explains that "the rest" is Shilo, while "the inheritance" is Jerusalem.[4] The baraita adds:

"To the rest" – this is Shilo; "the inheritance" – this is Jerusalem. Why does Scripture separate them? In order to grant permission between one and the other. (Zevachim 119a)

In other words, Chazal viewed this verse as the source of both the prohibition of bamot during the period that the Mishkan stood in Shilo and from the time that the Temple was built in Jerusalem and forever more, as well as the allowance of bamot during the intervening period. As we saw earlier, bamot were also permitted while the Mishkan stood in Gilgal. Indeed, in all these periods, Scripture describes sacrifices being offered not at the Mishkan or the great bama.[5] It is at the end of this period that we hear for the first time the phrase "sacrificing at bamot" in the sense of offering a sacrifice not at the site of the central service:[6]

But the people sacrificed at bamot, because there was no house built to the name of the Lord until those days. And Shlomo loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, but he sacrificed and burnt incense at bamot. And the king went to Givon to sacrifice there, for that was the great bama. (I Melakhim 3:2-4)

The Meaning of the Separation Between the Different Stages

What is the connection between the site of the resting of the Shekhina and the site of the sacrificial service?

In the previous shiur, we saw the mishna in Zevachim (14:4-8) regarding the allowance and prohibition of bamot. From the time that the Mishkan was built until Israel arrived in Gilgal bamot were forbidden, they were forbidden once again while the Mishkan stood in Shilo, and they became permanently forbidden with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the intervening periods – before the Mishkan was built and while the Mishkan stood in Gilgal, in Nov, and in Givon – bamot were permitted. What is the guiding principle as to the allowance of bamot?

It seems that the primary feature of the state of the Mishkan in Gilgal, Nov, and Givon is that the ark was not in the Mishkan. When the Mishkan stood in Gilgal, the ark was out with Israel in the wars of conquest of the land. Nov and Givon housed only the great bama, while the ark remained for twenty years in Kiryat-Ye'arim, and afterwards in the city of David.

The Meiri concludes that it is the ark that is responsible for the prohibition of bamot. Commenting on the mishna's statement: "There is no difference between a great bama and a small bama except for the matter of the Paschal lamb," the Meiri writes (Beit Ha-Bechira, Megilla 9b):

This mishna was stated with respect to the time when bamot were permitted. We already know from tractate Zevachim that before the Mishkan was erected, bamot were permitted. And when the Mishkan was erected, they were forbidden, since the altar and the ark were there.

In other words, what causes the prohibition of bamot is the ark that is found together with the altar.

The Meiri continues:

When they came to Gilgal, all seven years that they were engaged in conquest and all seven years that they were dividing up [the Land], and the ark was going out with them in their wars and was not fixed in its appointed place together with the altar in Gilgal, bamot were permitted.

When they came to Shilo, after the Land was divided and the ark was fixed in its appointed place together with the altar, bamot were forbidden.

When they came to Nov and Givon, bamot were permitted - that is to say, they came to Nov after Shilo was destroyed and the ark was sent into exile in the hands of the Pelishtim in the days of Eli the priest, and they came to Nov and brought there the Mishkan and the altar, but not the ark, as it was in the hands of the Pelishtim. And similarly when Shaul destroyed Nov, the city of priests, and they brought the Mishkan and the altar to Givon, the ark was not with it, as it was already in exile in the hands of the Pelishtim. And even after it was returned to them, it was not fixed in its appointed place together with the Mishkan, neither in Nov nor in Givon…

And similarly when it stood for a time in the house of Oved the Edomite until David brought it up to Zion, all that time, since the ark was not fixed in its appointed place together with the altar, bamot were permitted.

When they came to Jerusalem and built the Temple, and everything was fixed in its appointed place and the ark was set in proximity to the altar, bamot were forbidden and they were never again permitted.

All those times that bamot were permitted, the copper altar of Moshe was called the great bama, because it was fixed in one place for the sake of the entire community, but nevertheless it did not stop being called a bama as long as the ark was not fixed in its appointed place together with it.

And in addition to that, any individual who wished to do so could build a bama for himself on his roof or in his courtyard, and he could offer his free-will offerings on it, but no obligatory offering. This was called a small bama. And on the great bama the community would offer its sacrifices.

The Meshekh Chokhma aptly formulates this in his commentary to the book of Devarim:[7]

It is stated in the Tosefta at the end of tractate Zevachim (13:8): What was the great bama during the period when bamot were permitted? The Ohel Mo'ed was pitched in proper manner, but the ark was not there – therefore, bamot were permitted. But in Shilo, the ark was in the Ohel Moed, and therefore bamot were forbidden. This is the meaning of the Tosefta. And bamot were permitted in Gilgal, because they had not yet rested from conquest of their inheritance, as it is stated in Zevachim: "For you have not as yet come to the rest" (Devarim 12:9), resting from conquest; see there. Now this incident at Bokhim was after the death of Yehoshua, and in the days of the Elders who worshipped God, as the commentators have explained. And the Elders lived for days, but not for years, as Chazal have said (Seder Olam Rabba, chap. 12). If so, this was immediately after the death of Yehoshua. And when they died, it says in Yehoshua 24:1: "And Yehoshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem… and they presented themselves before God." And in verse 26: "And he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord." Rashi explains: Because they brought the ark there, as it is stated above: "And they presented themselves before God." If so, the ark was at that time in Shechem, and the Ohel Moed was treated like a great bama, and bamot were permitted, and therefore they offered sacrifices to God there in Bokhim. This is clear.

Come and see the truth of this! In Shoftim 20, regarding the war between Israel and Binyamin, it is written (v. 26): "Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came to the house of God, and wept… and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord." We see then that at Bet-El they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, as it is immediately written (v. 27): "And the children of God inquired of the Lord, for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days." We see then that the ark was at that time in Bet-El, and therefore bamot were permitted, and they offered sacrifices there in Bet-El, in accordance with the law of a private bama.

And I will add for you and show who brought the ark to Bet-El at that time. For in Seder Olam they said that the incident involving the concubine in Giva took place in the days of Kushan Rishatayim, and Jerusalem was then empty of any member of the people of Israel, as it is stated (Shoftim 19:12): "We will not turn aside here into the city of a stranger." And this was close in time to the death of Yehoshua. See Hagahot Ha-Gra to Seder Olam, chap. 12. And in Shoftim 1:22: "And the house of Yosef, they too went up against Bet-El, and the Lord was with them," and (v. 23): "And the house of Yosef sent to spy out Bet-El." For in my opinion, this means that the ark was with them, and this is "And the Lord was with them," for the ark is His resting place. Therefore, the ark was then in Bet-El, and at that time the incident involving the concubine in Giva took place. All this is clear.

And in the mishna, chapter Mashu'ach Milchama: "'For the Lord your God is He that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies' – this is the camp of the ark" (Sota 44a).

And in the Yerushalmi, Megilla 1:12: "R. Yosa said in the name of R. Yochanan: This is the sign: As long as the ark is inside, bamot are forbidden. If it went out, bamot are permitted. R. Zera asked before R. Yosa: Even for a short period, as in the case of Eli? And according to what I have explained, it is evident that even if it went out for a short period, bamot are permitted. You must say that it is specifically in the case when it went out for war, and did not rest anywhere, that he asks whether bamot are permitted. This is not the case here, as it rested in Shechem and it rested in Bet-El. (Meshekh Chokkma, Devarim 12:8, s.v. lo ta'asun)

            Based on the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi, the Meshekh Chokhma explains that what determines whether bamot are permitted or forbidden is the location of the ark. If it is inside the Mishkan, bamot are forbidden; but if it is outside, even for a short time, as in Bet-El, bamot are permitted.

            What is the spiritual significance of this joining of the ark to the great bama or detaching it from it? It seems that the ark being found in its place means that the Shekhina reveals itself there, and therefore it is forbidden to offer sacrifices outside of it. But when the ark is not in its place, there is no specific place for the Shekhina's revelation. In such a situation one is permitted to offer sacrifices in all places.

            We learn from here that despite the independent status enjoyed by both the ark and the altar (the great bama), there is still an important connection between the two, and their being found together negates the possibility of offering sacrifices anywhere else. This emphasizes the unity of the Divine appearance. Separating the ark from the altar and removing it from its place detaches the service from the Shekhina, and thus from the place. In such a situation, the unity of the Divine appearance is not revealed, and therefore one is permitted to serve God in all places.

            The ark's location in the Temple also impacts upon realms that are beyond it. For example:

So long as the ark and the Shekhina are not settled in their appointed place, marital intercourse is forbidden. (Eiruvin 63b)

Why is marital intercourse forbidden during this period? The commentators suggest several explanations (see, for example, R. Yaakov Emden and the Maharsha). According to our approach, it may be proposed that the complete connection between a man and his wife depends on the full and complete connection between the people of Israel and their Father in Heaven - that is to say, when the Shekhina rests exclusively in one place, where everyone comes to serve God.[8] When the ark is not in its appointed place and one can serve God in all places, the complete connection between God and the people of Israel does not reveal itself, and thus the connection between a man and his wife is forbidden as well.[9]

(Translated by David Strauss)

 


[1] Rashi explains (based on Sifrei Devarim, 65) that the verse refers to the allowance of bamot after the crossing of the Jordan River. "You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes" means that one cannot offer all the sacrifices on a private bama, as one can in the Mishkan, but only free-will offerings. According to the Rashbam, the reference is to offering sacrifices in a Mishkan that is moved from place to place. Ibn Ezra and the Ramban explain that in the wilderness, people were not careful to bring all of their private obligations, like firstborns and animal-tithes. According to the Ibn Ezra, the verse includes a rebuke, "that they were not all God-fearing people," whereas according to the Ramban, these obligations did not apply in the wilderness.

[2] He adds that even if the prohibition was not yet formally voided, the rebuke implicit in the words, "every man whatever is right in his own eyes," is not severe, as the reason for the prohibition no longer applied.

[3] As proof that the term "this day" need not necessarily mean "this day" literally, he cites two other verses in the book of Devarim: "Hear, O Israel: You are to pass over the Jordan this day" (9:1); "That He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (8:18).

[4] The gemara in Zevachim (119a) brings a difference of opinion on this matter: "Our Rabbis taught: … 'Rest' – this is Shilo; 'inheritance' – this is Jerusalem… these are the words of R. Yehuda. R. Shimon says: 'Rest' – this is Jerusalem; 'inheritance' – this is Shilo. A Tanna of the school of R. Yishmael taught: This and that are Shilo. R. Shimon ben Yochai said: This and that are Jerusalem."

[5] In the days of Gilgal, they built an altar on Mount Eival (Yehoshua 8:6). In the days of Nov, we find many instances of sacrifices being offered not in the Mishkan. See I Shemuel 6:15; 7:9-10, 17; 9:12-13; 13:9-12; 14:35; 15:21; 16:2-5; 20:6, 29. Sacrifices brought not in Givon are found in II Shemuel 6:13, 17-18; 15:7-12; 24:25; I Melakhim 3:2-3.

[6] From here the term "prohibition of bamot" – a term that is not found, as we have already seen, in the two places where the Torah addresses this prohibition. It should be noted that the term bamot is used in the sense of altars for idol worship already in Bamidbar 22:41 in the phrase: "bamot ba'al." It is first used in connection to service of the God of Israel in I Shemuel 9:12.

[7] The Meshekh Chokhma offers similar comments in his commentary to the haftara for the first day of Pesach: "'Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you' (Yehoshua 3:5). This means: 'Sanctify yourselves' – 'come not near a woman' (Shemot 19:15), as at the giving of the Torah. It seems that this is because the priests were to carry the ark before the people to the Jordan River and in the Jordan River, and we have a tradition that so long as the ark and the Shekhina are not in their appointed places, marital intercourse is forbidden (Eiruvin 63b). Therefore, he commanded them to separate themselves from women."

[8] We follow here the second answer offered by Tosafot (ad loc., s.v. kol).

[9] A similar comparison is found, for example, in Shir Ha-shirim Rabba, regarding the verse: "Also our couch is green" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:16) – "Just as this couch is intended for procreation, etc.," as well as in the comparison drawn between the ark and a bed, about which we will expand in a future shiur.