Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky

Guarding the Beis HaMikdash - A Model for Yiras Hashem

An elaborate system for guarding the mishkan (shemiras haMikdash) is described in parshas Bamidbar. This was not a temporary institution, but rather was an eternal mitzvah also fulfilled throughout the period of the Beis HaMikdash. There is a halachic dispute concerning the nature of this mitzvah. Some emphasize the practical nature of this mitzvah. Given that unauthorized entry into the Beis HaMikdash is a serious prohibition, the Torah requires the Kohanim and Leviim to stand guard, thereby physically preventing such entry. This formulation has its sources in parshas Bamidbar where the phrase "vehazar hakoreiv yumas - the stranger who enters the Mishkan is punished with death (at the hand of Heaven)" apparently is the reason for shemiras haMikdash. Others suggest that shemiras haMikdash is not only to prevent unauthorized entry, but also to create an aura surrounding the Beis HaMikdash. A king?s palace is surrounded by guards not merely to protect the king, but also to enhance the feeling of awe surrounding the area.

These two approaches reverberate beyond the realm of Mikdash. The mitzvah of morah Mikdash (fear and awe concerning the Beis HaMikdash) is emphasized several times in the Torah, and the continuous mitzvah of yiras Hashem is intensified when we enter the Beis HaMikdash. Chazal use two phrases regarding the mitzvah of yiras Hashem: "yiras shomayim - the fear of Heaven" and "yiras cheit - the fear of sin". What is the difference between the two?

The rishonim differentiate between "yiras haonesh - fear of punishment" and "yiras haromemus - awe of the majesty of Hashem". Yiras haonesh is a function of the direct cause and effect relationship between sin and punishment, and this is what Chazal refer to as yiras hacheit. Sin is something to fear because of the negative consequences to the sinner. Yiras haromemus is not fear of cheit?s aftermath, but rather an all-encompassing sense that Hashem in His glory is always watching us, thus rendering sin unthinkable. These two aspects of yiras Hashem correspond to the two approaches to shemiras haMikdash. Shemiras haMikdash as a deterrent to unauthorized entry is an expression of yiras cheit, and the role of the guardians of the Beis Hamikdash is to prevent this cheit. Shemiras haMikdash as a way to instill awe of Hashem?s presence seeks to enhance our yiras haromemus.

Yiras shomayim vyiras cheit apply everywhere, yet in the Beis Hamikdash there is an added dimension to these mitzvos. Why is the Beis Hamikdash the place of our greatest expression of yiras shomayim vyiras cheit? Immediately following mattan Torah Hashem explains to Bnei Yisroel why maamad Har Sinai was accompanied by intense "multimedia" effects. While the Torah could have been given without thunder and lightning and the sound of the shofar, these awe-inspiring effects were necessary to enable Bnei Yisroel to attain yiras shomayim. The Ramban in the beginning of Parshas Terumah comments that the role of the Mishkan and subsequently the Beis Hamikdash was to be the continuation of the maamad Har Sinai experience. The Shechinah present at Har Sinai would eventually dwell permanently in the Beis Hamikdash, where Bnei Yisroel could attain yiras shomayim veyiras cheit just as they did at HarSinai.

May we merit fulfilling the mitzvah of shemiras haMikdash in our day, thereby recreating the Har Sinai experience and enabling us to have a proper yiras shomayim veyiras cheit.

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