Positive Mitzvah Twenty-Two

Guarding the Mikdash

Requires Beit HaMikdash

BaMidbar 18:4 They shall join you and safeguard the charge of the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed) for the entire service of the Tent, and an stranger shall not approach you.

We are commanded to keep guard over the Temple, and to patrol it every night throughout the night, thereby honoring it, exalting it, and magnifying it.

The Mechilta says:

"'And they shall keep the charge of the tent of meeting' [this verse] gives us only a Positive mitzvah. Whence do we infer that there is also a Negative mitzvah involved? From the verse: 'You shall keep the charge of the holy things.' (ibid., 5) 1 Thus it has been made clear to you that the guarding of the Temple constitutes a Positive Mitzvah.

In the same place we read: "It leads glory to the Temple that there are guards over it; for a palace that has guards over it is unlike a palace that has no such guards"; and it is known that palterin 'palace', is a name for the Temple. The meaning is that the Temple is exalted and glorified by having guards appointed to watch over it.

The object of this Mitzvah seems to have been twofold:  "The Temple was constantly guarded and surrounded as a mark of respect and honor, and at the same time the layman, the unclean, and mourners where prevented from entering the Temple" (Moreh Nebuchim 3, 45).

Guard was kept at 24 places in the Temple at Yerushalayim; these were divided among the Kohanim and the Leviim. The Kohanim kept watch over three places, the Leviim over 21.

The Mishnah further informs us:

"The officer of the Temple Mount used to go round to every watch, with lighted torches before him, and if any watcher did not stand up and say to him, "Peace be to you, Supervisor of the Temple Mount!", it was obvious that he was asleep, and he would belabor him with his stick, and was also at liberty to burn his clothes. And the others would say: "What is the noise in the Temple Court?" "It is the noise of a Levi who is being beaten and whose clothes are being burnt because he was asleep at his post" (Middot 1, 2)

All the provisions of this Mitzvah are explained in Tractates Tamid (first chapter) and Middot.

1. The word shamar (keep) when used in connection with a Mitzvah signifies, according to Talmudic law, a Negative Mitzvah. This passage is not found in our edition of the Mechilta; it is quoted by the Yalkut in the name of the Sifre Zura. See Negative Mitzvah 67