Is the Bais Hamikdash the Place for a Good Jew?
Taste of Parasha
“Anyone who came into contact with a corpse… and did not have the waters of the Para Adumah sprinkled upon him defiles the Mishkan of Hashem (if he is in it while impure) and his soul will be cut off from the Jewish nation” (Num. 19:13). From here we learn that a person who came into contact with a corpse may not enter the house of G-d until water containing the ashes of the Para Adumah is thrown on him. Going to the Mikvah does not suffice (Rashi, ibid.). Seven verses later (Num. 19:20) the same law is repeated, with only slight variances. Most notably, the word Mikdash is used in place of the word Mishkan. What does this teach us? Why couldn’t we just extrapolate from the law of the Mishkan that the law would be the same by the Mikadsh? Rabbeinu Bachaye answers that these verses allude to a metaphysical existence which affects what transpires in the physical world. The holiness of Mishkan (heaven) corresponds to the holiness of Mikdash (this world). Unless they are in sync with each other, a person may not enter into a holy place lest he incur the penalty of excision due to his failure to be properly suited for being in “G-d’s house”. Therefore, making contact with a body that has lost its spiritual aspect, its soul, affects one’s connection to holiness and purity. In order to return to the pristine level of connection with G-d above, the waters of the Para Adumah must be thrown upon him. This is a chok, a statute whose logic we do not understand, but which we nevertheless follow as G-d’s will.
Taste of Talmud
From where do we know that one must leave the Temple area even if he only contracted the Tumah in the Temple area? The Talmud answers that we learn it from the superfluous repetition of the laws of Tumah in regards to the Mikdash. The Talmud asks, “Why is this repetition of the law superfluous? If we did not have a separate verse to teach us that the law applies to the Mikdash as well, we would think that it only applies to the Mishkan which was anointed by Moses with the special anointing oil”. The Talmud answers that if that would be the only thing the Torah was repeating the verse for, it could have used the same word – Mishkan or Mikdash – both times. The fact that it changed the term teaches us another law: One must exit the temple area immediately, even if he only contracted the Tumah inside the temple area itself. In the following diagram I show where the Azarah would be vise-a-vise the kotel assuming that the rock, in “the dome of the rock”, is a piece of the altar.
For a full explanation and diagrams of the 2nd Bais Hamikdash, I highly recommend looking at the Artscroll edition of Tractate Middos elucidated by my friend, Rabbi Yoav Elan.
Taste of Halacha
The Rambam, in the third chapter of, “The Laws of Entering the Bais HaMikdosh”, says that one who enters the women’s court does not incur the penalty of excision. However, one who enters the Azarah (courtyard of the Bais Hamikdash) does incur the penalty of excision. There is some scholarly debate as to where exactly the Azarah area is in our day. This debate revolves around the question as to what is the rock which is under “the dome of the rock”? The common assumption is that it is the even-shisiya, otherwise known as, “The Holy-of-Holies” (Radvaz). Others argue that it is actually the foundation rock of the Altar (Radak). Obviously these two opinions would draw different conclusions as to where the Azarah is today. Therefore, unless one is aware of the place of the Azarah, it is prohibited to enter anywhere within the “Temple Mount” in our times because everyone in our time is considered to be Tameh Mes (ritually impure, due to contact with a corpse) and it is highly likely that upon entering the Temple Mount one would be traversing in the Azarah area. It is for this reason that the doorways to the Temple Mount are all clearly marked, so as to warn Jews not to enter, so that they will not incur the punishment of excision, G-d forbid.