Monday, January 26, 2015

The Wooden Chamber of the Kohen Gadol

Why did they need to remind the Kohen Gadol that he was like a shtick holtz — a piece of wood?

The Wooden Chamber [לשכת העץ] (not to be confused with the Chamber of the Wood [לשכת העצים] in the Women's Courtyard) was located to the west of the Chamber of Hewn Stone. It was used by the Kohen Gadol to store his priestly vestments and also served as his residence for the week before Yom Kippur. As such, it had a mezuzah on its doorpost indicating that it was a place of residence and was the only chamber in the Courtyard which had a mezuzah. This chamber was built half within the Courtyard and half over the Temple Mount and had three doors: one in the west to the Courtyard, one in the east to the Chamber of Hewn Stone, and one in the north to the Cheil. In an earlier post I discussed the exact placement of this room and its size.

The Wooden Chamber was not actually built entirely of wood, as the name might imply, on account of the general prohibition against building wooden structures within the Courtyard. Only the half of the chamber built over the Temple Mount, which did not possess Courtyard sanctity, was made of wood. The Kohen Gadol was housed in a wooden chamber right before Yom Kippur to remind him that just as wood needs care and upkeep to prevent it from rotting, he must be mindful of his own actions lest he come to an untimely demise. If, on the other hand, he corrects his ways, he shall be as a fruit-bearing tree, providing spiritual sustenance to nourish his entire generation.

Exterior of the Wooden Chamber. The place where the stone meets the wood is the border between the Courtyard and the Temple Mount.

Interior of the Wooden Chamber. 

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