March 25, 2006
Ezekiel\’s prophecy promotes what he sees as ideal behavior in and around the Temple precincts. He regulates the sacrificial rites, assigns tasks among the priests, and attempts to command orderly traffic patterns among worshippers. Among these ordinances, Ezekiel rules: \”But when the common people come before the Lord, in the festive seasons, whoever enters by the north gate to bow low shall leave by the south gate, and whoever enters by the south gate shall leave by the north gate. They shall not go back by the gate from which they came in, but shall go out by the opposite one.\” (Ezekiel 36:9)
Rashi informs us of the rationale for this ordinance: \”It is a mitzvah for [those who enter the Temple] to make a proper appearance in the Temple court.\” Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency (12th century N. France) elaborates: \”For he (someone who enters and exits from the same point) appears like one who turns [from God], for he turns his face and his back toward the holy precinct when he turns to leave, but when he exits in the opposite direction from which he came in, he turns and bows, turns sideways and leaves.\”
This pronouncement seemingly contradicts a law in the Mishnah: \”One should not make of it (the Temple Mount) a kapandaria\” (Mishnah Berachot 9:5), namely, one should not use the Temple Mount as a throughway to get from one place to another. Moreover, in another Mishnah, this same rule is applied to synagogues: \”One should not make it (the ruins of a synagogue) into a kapandaria ( a throughway), as it is written: \’I will make your sanctuaries desolate\’ (Lev. 26:31), synagogues even in their desolation retain their sanctity.\” (Mishnah Megillah 3:3)
The Talmud ultimately reconciles these two sources: Said Rabbi Nahman bar Yithak: One who enters a synagogue without the intention of using it as a kapandaria, is permitted to use it for that purpose. Rabbi Abahu said: If the place where the synagogue was built was originally a path, it is permitted to continue to use it for that purpose. Said Rabbi Helbo, said Rav Huna: One who enters into a synagogue in order to pray is permitted to use the synagogue as a kapandaria or throughway, as it is written: \”But when the common folk come before the Lord, in the festive seasons, whoever enters by the north gate to bow low shall leave by the south gate.\” (Adapted from Berachot 29a) This accommodation between the Biblical passage and the Mishnah was reached by assuming that the reason behind both sources was maintaining respect for God and the holy place. Once this assumption is accepted then these sources can be interpreted to support each other.
In fact, Rabbi Joseph Karo codifies this accommodation as the law: \”In a synagogue which has two entrances, one should not enter one with the intention to exit the other in order to shorten one\’s way, but if the synagogue was built over a short cut then one can enter it in order to shorten one\’s way or if one entered in order to pray the one can enter one way to exit the other.\” (Shulchan Aruch Orah Hayyim 151:5) The Hafetz Hayyim (19th-20th century Belarus) adds, based on Ezekiel prophecy, that it is not only permitted but is a mitzvah [because it was done to honor God]. (Mishnah Brurah 151 s.q. 21)
The intention of this discussion is clear. The tradition wants us to see our \”visits\” with God not as something we are seeking to avoid but as an experience we are anxious and excited to fulfill; not as a \”shortcut\” but as a place we yearn to enter.