April 7, 2021

Shekalim 17

Today’s daf (Shekalim 17a) begins with a Mishna (Shekalim 6:3) and it specifies the location by each of the gates of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) where a visitor would perform each of their 13 prostrations. And it then offers an alternative explanation of the Rabbis where the 13 prostrations took place by each of the 13 breaches made by the Greeks in the soreg fence, which were later to be repaired, surrounding the Beit HaMikdash.
In terms of the gates mentioned in the Mishna, one of those was the שער המים – the Water Gate – where, according to Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yaakov, will be the location where much water will emerge in the future, and this then inspires the Gemara to explores the meaning of Zechariah 14:8 (“and it will be on that day that spring water will issue from Jerusalem”), how water will flow from the Beit HaMikdash in the End of Days, and how this will affect the fish in the sea and growth of grain.
And in terms of the soreg fence which evokes memories of danger and destruction, the Gemara refers not to the Greeks but the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar, and it describes the feelings of loss and despair upon the destruction of the First Beit HaMikdash.
At the same time, we are also told why, according to the Rabbis, the prostrations were performed by each of the 13 repaired breaches in the soreg fence – which was in response to a decree by the Hasmoneans in commemoration of their miraculous defeat of the Greeks. As the Rambam explains in his commentary on the Mishna, when a visitor would arrive to one of the 13 locations where the soreg had been breached, they would prostrate themselves as a form of thanksgiving.
Reflecting on all this, I believe that today’s daf is providing us with snapshots of the history of Yerushalayim and that it reflects our many different emotions towards Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash.
The gates remind us of the purpose of the Beit HaMikdash as a place of pilgrimage, and also of the words of Yaakov that this location is a שער השמים – a gateway to heaven.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar reminds us of the loss of the Beit Hamidkash, and the ensuing heartache and despair.
The story about the repaired locations in the soreg fence remind us of how our ancestors fought to defend the Beit HaMikdash, how they were successful, and how the breaches in the fence were able to be repaired.
And the teachings about the End of Days remind us that while we still mourn, there will be a time when water – both physical water and Torah which is compared to water – will gush from the Beit HaMikdash.
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