1) HALACHAH: OFFERING KORBANOS TODAY
OPINIONS: TOSFOS (DH Mai) deals at length with the argument among the Tana'im and Amora'im about whether the first Kedushah of Yerushalayim remains or whether it was removed at the time of the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash. This argument is the basis for the discussion later in the Gemara (62a) about whether or not Korbanos may be offered today.
(a) The DERISHAS TZIYON (HA'GA'ON RAV TZVI HIRSH KALISHER, as cited by TZITZ ELIEZER 10:5:1) writes that the RAMBAM (Hilchos Beis ha'Bechirah 6:16) rules that Kedushah Rishonah, the original Kedushah of Eretz Yisrael, remains in effect with regard to all Halachos associated with Yerushalayim and the Beis ha'Mikdash. The RA'AVAD, however, argues that even according to the opinion that the Kedushah is still extant, it is extant only with regard to the Kedushah of the rest of Eretz Yisrael; all of the Tana'im and Amora'im agree that the Kedushah of Yerushalayim and the Beis ha'Mikdash is no longer present. (It will return only at the time of the building of the third Beis ha'Mikdash.)
The Derishas Tziyon asserts that according to both opinions, the bringing of the Korban Pesach should be permitted today at the location of the Mizbe'ach. According to the Rambam, the Kedushah is still present. According to the Ra'avad, it should be no different from bringing the Korban on a Bamah. The Gemara in Megilah (10a) implies that the opinion that the Kedushah is no longer present permits offering Korbanos on a Bamah. Why, then, do the Jewish people not offer the Korban Pesach today?
(b) TOSFOS in Megilah (10a) and others assert that both opinions agree that a Bamah remains prohibited even after Yerushalayim is destroyed and loses its Kedushah. This is because the Torah's allowance for offering Korbanos on Bamos applied only until the Mizbe'ach in Yerushalayim was built. Once the Korbanos were offered upon the Mizbe'ach in the Beis ha'Mikdash, Bamos became prohibited forever, even when the Beis ha'Mikdash would no longer be standing, and regardless of whether the city still has Kedushah. The argument between these opinions is whether or not one may bring a Korban at the location of the Mizbe'ach in the Beis ha'Mikdash. The opinion that there is no longer any Kedushah maintains that all Korbanos are forbidden today, even if they are brought in the place of the Mizbe'ach. This contradicts the Derishas Tziyon's argument that the Ra'avad would permit bringing such a Korban. (For a comprehensive discussion of the opinion of the Rishonim regarding this argument, see Insights to Megilah 10:1.)
(c) Nevertheless, it seems that at least according to the Rambam, offering Korbanos today at the location of the Mizbe'ach should be permitted. However, there are many reasons why this still may be Halachically unacceptable. One reason is that from the times of the Rishonim, there has been a doubt about the lineage of every Kohen. (It is said that the Vilna Ga'on, who was a firstborn son, would perform Pidyon ha'Ben and redeem himself, out of doubt, from every Kohen he would meet, in order to ensure that he was redeemed from a genuine Kohen.) No Korban may be offered without a genuine Kohen to perform the Avodah.
A second reason involves the issue of offering the Korban Pesach when everyone is Tamei. The Halachah is that the Korban may be brought when the entire nation is Tamei. The Gemara asks, however, that there still is prohibition against entering the Beis ha'Mikdash while Tamei. One opinion in the Gemara says that the bringing of the Korban overrides the prohibition of Tum'as Mikdash and permits transgressing the Isur ("Dechuyah"), while another opinion says that the issue of Tum'ah is not relevant at all; the Isur does not apply when the entire nation is Tamei ("Hutrah"). The difference between these two opinions is whether or not there is a need for atonement after the Korban is brought, due to the presence of a person who was Tamei in the Mikdash. If the Isur of Tum'as Mikdash applies but may be transgressed for the sake of bringing the Korban, then the Kohen Gadol's wearing of the Tzitz atones for the Tum'as Mikdash. Nowadays, though, there is no Tzitz to wear and to atone for the Tum'ah, and thus bringing a Korban when everyone is Tamei should not be possible, since there will be no way to atone for the Tum'as Mikdash afterwards.
(d) The CHASAM SOFER proposes an argument in favor of bringing Korbanos today. He maintains that the correct opinion in the argument regarding the suspension of the Isur of Tum'as Mikdash when everyone is Tamei is that the Tum'ah is "Hutrah" -- the Isur does not apply at all (and not that it applies but may be transgressed for the sake of bringing a Korban), and thus atonement for the Tum'as Mikdash is not necessary. However, the Chasam Sofer admits that there is another serious problem with offering Korbanos today. REBBI AKIVA EIGER wrote to the Chasam Sofer that the exact identity of the Techeles and Argaman has been forgotten (regarding Techeles, see Insights to Shabbos 75:1). RASHI and the RAMBAM disagree about the identity of Argaman, and there are other opinions among the Rishonim. Consequently, the Avnet (the belt of the Bigdei Kehunah) cannot be fashioned, and without all of the Bigdei Kehunah the Kohen may not perform the Avodah.
(e) There have been at least two famous Halachic authorities who strongly disagreed with the above arguments. As noted above, the Chasam Sofer writes that the problem of Tum'ah is not an issue. Moreover, in a famous letter to the BINYAN TZIYON (the author of the ARUCH LA'NER), RAV TZVI HIRSCH KALISHER addresses the problem that today's Kohanim lack indubitable lineage. The Mishnah in Eduyos (8:7) quotes Rebbi Yehoshua who says, "I have a tradition from Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai who heard from his teacher, who heard from his teacher, that there is a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai that Eliyahu ha'Navi is not coming to make Tamei and Tahor, to distance and to make close. Rather, he will distance those who forced themselves close, and make close those who were forcibly distanced." This means that Eliyahu ha'Navi is not going to reveal anything new with regard to lineage. He will only push away people who forced themselves to be accepted as having proper lineage, and he will gather in people who were knowingly and wrongfully distanced. Rav Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher questions the wording of the Mishnah there. Why does Rebbi Yehoshua open his Agadic comment with such forceful language to insure that his statement will be accepted? The Gemara usually does not deal with topics that are relevant only in the time of Mashi'ach. What, then, is so important about Rebbi Yehoshua's statement?
Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher explains that Rebbi Yehoshua's statement has a very practical ramification. Rebbi Yehoshua is teaching that there is a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai that Eliyahu ha'Navi will make no new revelations concerning any Kohen who is now accepted as a Kohen. This shows that the lineage of a Kohen today is not suspect.
The Binyan Tziyon (#1) rejects this argument because it contradicts the words of TOSFOS in Sanhedrin (51b). Tosfos there asks a similar question. Why does the Gemara in Kidushin (72b) state that the Halachah follows the opinion of Rebbi Yosi, who says that in the future (in the times of Mashi'ach) people who have questionable lineage will be "purified"? What difference does it make now to know that in the future the Halachah will follow the view of Rebbi Yosi? Tosfos answers that there is a practical ramification even nowadays. This Halachah teaches that one does not have to be careful to refrain from marrying people of uncertain lineage. Rebbi Yosi reassures us that those people will be found to have good lineage. The Binyan Tziyon states that Tosfos similarly would say that this is the reason for the strong language of the Mishnah in Eduyos. Thus, the practical ramification of these statements of the Tana'im is not that a Kohen's lineage today is undoubted, but that an ordinary person's lineage (with regard to Mamzerus) is not doubted (and thus one may marry a person of uncertain lineage). The Binyan Tziyon cites additional sources in the Gemara which apparently disprove the rest of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher's arguments.
HALACHAH: Although the KAFTOR VA'FERACH was in favor of bringing Korbanos nowadays, almost all Halachic authorities were vehemently opposed to bringing Korbanos nowadays. May the Beis ha'Mikdash be rebuilt speedily in our days. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) TRAVELING WITH THE FIRE ON THE MIZBE'ACH
QUESTION: The Gemara says that the fire that descended from Shamayim during the times of Moshe Rabeinu remained on the Mizbe'ach ha'Chitzon (the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes) until the times of Shlomo ha'Melech. The fire that descended from Shamayim during the times of Shlomo ha'Melech remained on the Mizbe'ach until Menasheh removed it.
This statement is puzzling. RASHI in his commentary on Chumash (Shemos 30:3) cites the Mechilta which contrasts the Mizbe'ach ha'Ketores to the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes. The verse says that the Mizbe'ach ha'Ketores had a solid top, while, says the Mechilta, the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes did not have such a top. The Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes was transported merely as a frame, and at each stop in the desert its hollow interior was filled with dirt. The NETZIV in HA'EMEK DAVAR (Shemos 27:2) questions Rashi's words from the Gemara here, which states that the fire descended and stayed on the Mizbe'ach. If the earth inside of the hollow of the Mizbe'ach was removed and the Mizbe'ach dismantled each time the Jewish people embarked on a new journey, then where was the fire?
(a) The NETZIV explains that the Gemara argues with the Mechilta and maintains that the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes did have a top on which the fire rested even during the journeys. He finds support for this assertion in the Midrash Tanchuma. He explains that the way the Mizbe'ach was filled with earth was through the bottom of the Mizbe'ach, which had no floor. Upon their arrival at a new location, the Jewish people would make a mound of earth and place the Mizbe'ach over it, effectively filling the Mizbe'ach with earth. When they would leave, they would lift the Mizbe'ach, leaving the earth in its place.
This also seems to be the opinion of the KEREISI U'PLEISI (43:5). The Gemara in Chagigah (27a) derives through a Kal va'Chomer from the Mizbe'ach ha'Zahav that the fire of Gehinom does not affect the transgressors among the Jewish people. Even though the gold covering the top of the Mizbe'ach ha'Zahav was only the thickness of a Dinar coin, it was not diminished at all throughout the years that it had a fire burning on it. Certainly, then, the transgressors among the Jewish people -- who are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate -- will not be affected by the fire of Gehinom (see Insights to Chagigah 27a).
TOSFOS in Chagigah there (DH she'Ein) is bothered by a question, as the Kereisi u'Pleisi explains his words. Why does the Gemara learn this Kal va'Chomer from the Mizbe'ach ha'Zahav, and not from the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes? The only thing offered on the Mizbe'ach ha'Zahav was the Ketores offering, which was burned there once at the beginning of the day and once at the end of the day. There was much more activity on the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes, which had a fire on it at all times, and it too had a coating of gold that did not diminish!
Since the Kereisi u'Pleisi says that the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes had a coating of gold on its top, it is clear that he maintains that the Mizbe'ach had a top, like its counterpart, the Mizbe'ach ha'Zahav.
(b) The Gemara here may be understood even according to Rashi's assertion that the Mizbe'ach ha'Nechoshes had no top, based on the words of the SHITAH MEKUBETZES (#6). Rashi here (DH Lo Nistalkah) comments that while the Jewish people traveled in the desert, they used to turn a certain type of vessel over the fire on the Mizbe'ach to preserve the fire. This is the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah in Toras Kohanim (Tzav 2:10; see RASH MI'SHANTZ), and not the opinion of Rebbi Shimon who says that the fire was removed from the Mizbe'ach. This is also the way Rashi explains in Bamidbar (4:13), where he says that the cover of the Mizbe'ach was not burned by the fire underneath it while traveling, due to the vessel which was placed over the fire. If there was no actual top to the Mizbe'ach, though (but rather its frame was filled to the top with earth), and the earth inside of it was removed when the people traveled, where could they place the vessel to contain the fire? The Shitah Mekubetzes explains that they placed the vessel "over the edge" of the Mizbe'ach. This means that the fire on the Mizbe'ach remained on top of the frame of the Mizbe'ach, covered by this vessel. (Y. MONTROSE)