SALT - Thursday, 2 Sivan 5781 - May 13, 2021
Yesterday, we noted the Torah’s description of how the kohanim prepared the sacred articles of the Mishkan for travel, wrapping each article in a special garment together with its accessories. An exception is the mizbach ha-ketoret (incense altar), whose accessories were placed in a separate garment, rather than being placed together with the altar (4:11-12). As we mentioned, some commentators suggested explaining that since the Gemara (Zevachim 59a) rules that the incense can be offered even in the absence of the incense altar, the accessories used to offer the incense are not integrally linked to the altar, as they can be used even without the altar. Therefore, they are treated as separate entities, and were thus stored in a separate garment. Some, however, questioned this explanation by noting that this should be true also of the second altar – the mizbach ha-ola, upon which sacrifices were offered. Tosafot (Zevachim 60b) write that if this altar is not present in the Temple courtyard where it normally stood, sacrifices could be offered on the site of the altar – just as incense is offered on the site where the incense altar normally stood if, for whatever reason, the altar was not there. And yet, the utensils used with the mizbach ha-ola were placed in the same bag as that altar (4:14). Seemingly, then, the fact that the incense can be offered without the incense altar does not explain why its accessories were not stored together with the altar during travel.
Rav Chaim Meir Steinberg, in his Mishnat Chaim, suggests refuting this challenge by proposing that although sacrifices could be offered even without the mizbach ha-ola, the utensils were needed only when the altar was present. The Torah lists the various utensils associated with the mizbach ha-ola in Sefer Shemot (27:3), the first of which are the sirot (pails) and the ya’im (scoops) that, as Rashi explains, were used to remove the ashes which collected on the altar. Clearly, Rav Steinberg notes, these were needed only when the mizbach ha-ola was present in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and were unnecessary when the altar was not present and the sacrifices were burned at the site where it normally stood. The third set of utensils mentioned in the verse are the mizrekot – the basins in which the blood was collected after the animal was slaughtered, in preparation for sprinkling the blood on the altar. These utensils, too, were not needed in the altar’s absence, as quite obviously, the blood was not sprinkled unless there was an altar. Next, the verse mentions the mazleigot – the pitchforks used to turn over the meat on the altar in order to accelerate the burning of the meat on the altar. Rav Steinberg proposes that hastening the burning process was necessary only on the altar, because of the obligation of terumat ha-deshen – the removal of ashes from the top of the altar each morning. This obligation necessitated the swift burning of the meat in order to produce ashes for the terumat ha-deshen. But if the altar was not present, and the sacrifices were burned on the site where the altar normally stood, there was no requirement to turn over the meat in order to hasten its consumption. The final set of utensils associated with the mizbach ha-ola were the pans used to collect coals from the mizbach ha-ola for the purpose of offering incense on the incense altar. Clearly, these pans were not used if the mizbach ha-ola was not present, and, in any event, they were more closely associated with the incense altar than with the mizbach ha-ola.
It emerges, then, that all the utensils used with the mizbach ha-ola were needed only with the altar, and were not used when the altar was not present and the sacrifices were burned on the ground at the site of the altar. As such, they are considered integrally connected to the altar, and were thus stored with the altar during travel. This is in contrast to the utensils needed for the offering of incense, which were used even when the incense altar was not present, and so they were stored separately, and not together with the incense altar.