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Yom Kippur’s Seder Avodah Begins with God’s Creation of the World

Arguably, the highlight of the prayer service on Yom Kippur is the Seder Avodah, a type of piyyut (liturgical hymn) that poetically reenacts in every detail the ritual service performed by the high priest on Yom Kippur in the Jerusalem Temple. But why do these poems begin with the creation story?

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Yom Kippur’s Seder Avodah Begins with God’s Creation of the World

The prayer ʾAtah konanta ʿolam me-rosh said on Yom Kipur. Or 10476, Date of origin: 1800-1899 CE. The British Library. Listen to a rendition of אתה כוננת

Following the sudden death of his two sons, Nadav and Avihu, Aaron is commanded to purify the Tabernacle through a complex set of rituals, including sending out a goat to Azazel in the wilderness,[1] over which he confesses the sins of the people. This ritual becomes the standard for the annual service of Yom Kippur in the Temple:

ויקרא טז:כט וְהָיְתָה לָכֶם לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ תְּעַנּוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם וְכָל מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ הָאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם. טז:ל כִּי בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי יְ־הוָה תִּטְהָרוּ.
Lev 16:29 And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. 16:30 For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD.

This is also the one time every year when anyone—in this case, the high priest—would enter the Holy of Holies, where he would fill the room with the smoke from a pan of incense (lest he accidentally see something he should not and die), and sprinkle blood on the kappōret, the ark’s cover.[2] If conducted properly, the day's rituals should succeed in cleansing (כ.פ.ר) the sacred precinct,[3] the people, the priests, and the high priest himself of any sinful taints accumulated over the previous year.[4]

The destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. put an end to this remarkable ritual, which was perceived as a yearly opportunity for purification from sins. The rabbis strived to emphasize other ways of receiving atonement, such as prayer or repentance, but they also created an innovative way of remembering the ancient Temple service and reenacting it through the composition of piyyutim (liturgical hymns) of a genre called the Seder Avodah.[5]

The Origins of the Seder Avodah Genre

The Seder Avodah, literally, “the order of the service,” which depicts the ritual of the high priest in its entirety, is arguably the most fundamental liturgical piece on Yom Kippur.[6] It is recited during the repetition of the Amidah (the standing prayer), the central prayer of every Jewish liturgical service, as part of the Mussaf (additional) service,[7] as an expansion of the middle (i.e., fourth) benediction, the “Sanctification of the Day” (קדושת היום).

The core of the Seder Avodah is a play by play description of the high priest’s ritual, using not only the details from Leviticus 16 but primarily the extended description of his activities found in the Mishnah, Tractate Yoma, chapters 1–7. The purpose of such a liturgical recitation of a ritual, to quote Michael Swartz, is “not to recapitulate a historical event by ritual recognition, but to recall a ritual by recounting it verbally.”[8]

Earliest Evidence of a Seder Avodah

The kernel of what becomes the Seder Avodah may be traced to the last chapters of the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Ben Sira (early second century B.C.E.), which contain what could be an early form of the text, describing how the Temple service was still executed.[9] But evidence of a liturgical recitation of the Avodah during Yom Kippur does not appear until the fourth century C.E., well after the Temple was destroyed.

The Babylonian Talmud twice makes reference to a public recitation of the Avodah, but does not quote it at length. We only know small snippets of what points the Talmud was discussing.

First, in the context of a debate between Rabbi Meir and the Sages about the proper order of confessions, the Talmud (b. Yoma 36b) states:

ההוא דנחית קמיה דרבה עבד כר' מאיר א' ליה שבקת רבנן ועבדת כר' מאיר א' ליה כר' מאיר סבירא לי דא' כדכת' באוריתא דמשה (פירקוביץ 293)
A certain person descended [to lead the prayer] before Rabbah, and did so following Rabbi Meir’s [order]. [Rabbah] said to him: “You abandoned the rabbis and followed Rabbi Meir?!” [The man] said to him: “I think Rabbi Meir is correct, for [the order] he advocates is like that which was written in the Torah of Moses.”

According to this, the prayer leader in the time of Rabbah bar Nachmani (late 3rd early 4th cent., C.E.)[10] would recite the order of the high priest’s activities in sufficient detail that the word order in his confession would have been quoted verbatim.

Later in the same tractate (56b), a similar story is told in the context of debates about where different containers of sacrificial blood should be placed and in what order taken, etc.

ההוא דנחית קמיה דרבא אמ' יצא והניחו על כן השני שבהיכל ונטל דם הפר והניח דם השעיר א"ל חדא כרבנן וחדא כר' יהודה אימ' הניח דם השעיר ונטל דם הפר (מינכן 95)
A certain person descended [to lead the prayer] before Ravah, he said: “[The high priest] went out and put it (=the blood) on the second stand in the Temple, and he picked up the blood of the bull and put down the blood of the billy goat.” [Ravah] said to him: “In one case you follow the rabbis and in the other Rabbi Judah?! [Instead] say: ‘He put down the blood of the billy goat and picked up the blood of the bull.”

This story, set only a generation after the previous one, has Ravah (early to mid 4th cent. C.E.)[11] correcting the person leading the Yom Kippur prayers to make sure his recitation is consistent with at least one view of how the high priest’s activities were to proceed.

These anecdotes show that according to the Bavli such recitations were taking place in Babylonia already in the 4th century. Our earliest poetic compositions for synagogue, however, come from Yosi ben Yosi (4th –5th century C.E.), who wrote multiple sidrei avodah (plural of Seder Avodah).[12]

One of the earliest such poems, which is still used by Sephardic and Chassidic communities, is the Atah Konanta ‘Olam Me-Rosh (אתה כוננת עולם מראש), literally, “You established the world of old” after the opening words of the piyyut (liturgical poem).[13] The name of the author is unknown, but it likely dates from around the same period as Yosi ben Yosi.

Other payṭanim, including the author of Atta Konanta, followed the same poetic guidelines and composed their own Seder Avodah versions,[14] the most famous of which would be the Amitz Koach (אמיץ כוח), “O Vigorously Strong One” composed by Rabbi Meshulam ben Klonymus (Luca 950–Mainz 1020), which was adopted by most Ashkenazi communities. Dozens of such Seder Avodah poems[15] have survived, differing in style and length, but all exhibiting a common structure.

Speech in Place of Sacrifice

The writing of such piyyutim fits with the overall rabbinic trend after the destruction of the Temple, perhaps clearest in the Shabbat and festival mussaf service, where the sacrifices once offered in the Temple were turned into verbal recitation, following the rabbinic interpretation of Hosea 14:3’s וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ “may the offering of our lips be accepted as a replacement for the sacrifice of bulls.”[16] For this reason, the rabbis called the substitution of the sacrificial worship with speech, “the avodah (service) of the heart” (Bavli Taanit 2:1)

According to a well-known midrashic tradition, God ordained the liturgical recitation of the sacrificial services from ancient times. As a midrashic reading of Abraham’s request from God for a sign showing that he will inherit the land (Gen 15:8), and God’s response to take animals and perform the covenant between the parts (Gen 15:9), Rabbi Jacob bar Aha (4th generation Amora, Israel) in the name of Rav Assi (3rd generation Amora, Israel) offers the following midrashic expansion of that conversation (b. Taanit 27b):

אמ' אברהם לפני הק'ב'ה': "רבו[נו] של עולם, שמא חס ושלום יחטאו לפניך ואתה עושה להם כאנשי דור המבול וכאנשי דור הפלגה?"
Abraham said to the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the Universe, Heaven forfend that they (=the Israelites) might sin before you and you may do to them what you did to the generation of the flood and the generation of the division [after the Tower of Babel]?”
אמ' ליה: "לאו."
[God] said: “No.”
אמ' לפניו: רבו[נו] של עו[לם]: במה אדע?"
[Abraham] then said to him: “Master of the Universe, 'How will I know?’ (Gen 15:8)”
אמ' לו: "קחה לי עגלה משולשת."
[God] answered: “Take me a heifer of three years old…” (Gen 15:9).
אמ' לפניו: רבו[נו] של עולם, תינח בזמן שבית המקדש קיים, בזמן שאין בית המקדש קיים מה תהא עליהן?"
[Abraham] said to him: “Master of the Universe! This holds good whilst the Temple remains standing, but when the Temple will no longer be standing, what will become of them?”
אמ' ל[ו][17] כבר תיקנתי להן סידרי קרבנות שכל זמן שקורין בהן מעלה אני עליהן כאילו הקריבום לפני ואני מוחל להם על כל עונותיהן. (הספריה הבריטית 400)
[God] responded: I have already long ago provided for them in the Torah the order of the sacrifices and whenever they read it, I will deem it as if they had offered them before me and I will grant them pardon for all their iniquities.[18]

Performative Speech

In his book How to Do Things with Words, the philosopher of language, John Austin (1911-1960) characterized the type of language used in the Seder Avodah as performative speech.[19] Michael Swartz describes it thus:

[B]y recounting a lost ritual verbally, a community develops a way of memorializing that ritual in act which is itself ritual […] Indeed the force of recitation needs to be taken quite seriously as a potent form of ritual behavior and as an example of the actualization of sacred space in time. Memorialization, recitation, and performance, we must remember, are physical acts, requiring intensive preparation, stamina, and physical powers.[20]

Paradoxically, the need to replace the Temple service, verbally reenacting it, worked both to maintain, and to some degree, reduce its mystique long after the Temple’s destruction. In the Seder Avodah, for instance, we witness a transition from a purely cultic orientation of a service that was performed by an individual in solitude, to a wider form of extra-Temple religiosity where every prayer leader may symbolically assume the place of the high priest, with the community participating in the ceremony with prescribed responses and physical gestures.[21]

The performance of the Seder Avodah may be viewed as a mere memorialization of the history of ancient times, but it may also be seen as a dramatic contemporary reenactment in each synagogue service that eventually reduces the need for an actual Temple.[22]

Powerful Priests or Relics from the Past?

Why did the sidrei avodah become so prominent in the fifth century C.E.? Some scholars have argued that the kohanim (priests) played a more important role starting in this period, which they view as a period of revival for the priestly cult,[23] though others, such Stuart Miller, are skeptical of this.[24] To the contrary, Miller argues, it may indicate that the Jews “understood that the role of the kohanim primarily belonged to the past and especially to the redemptive future,” not to their own lives.

If we accept Miller’s argument, then the popularity of the sidrei avodah poems may indicate an understanding that, since the sacrificial services on the actual Day of Atonement were not possible either then or in the near future, they were replaced by their verbal performance. By imagining the lost Temple service in the performance of the elaborate synagogue service, the sidrei avodah may have signaled the people that the liturgy is a proper replacement of the sacrificial worship, and perhaps also served to confine hopes for the rebuilt of the Temple and restoration of the cultic sect.

Beginning the Seder Avodah with Creation

One might imagine that just as the Seder Avodah ends with the high priest completing the day’s service,[25] it would begin with the high priest’s first service of the day. Nevertheless, unlike Leviticus 16, the sidrei avodah do not start with the morning of Yom Kippur, or even or with his actions the night before (as does Mishnah Yoma, 1-7). Instead, the sidrei avodah begin with broad strokes, describing the history of the world, starting with the creation story of Genesis 1.

For example, the opening poem of the Atta Konanta is an alphabet acrostic that goes from the creation of the world to the appointment of Aaron as high priest. Its opening lines read:

אַתָּה כּוֹנַנְתָּ עוֹלָם מֵרֹאשׁ יָסַדְתָּ תֵּבֵל וְהַכֹּל פָּעַלְתָּ וּבְרִיּוֹת בּוֹ יָצַרְתָּ
א From the beginning, it was You who established the universe, setting the world upon its foundations, making all things, and creating living creatures on earth.[26]
בְּשׁוּרְךָ עוֹלָם תּהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם
ב When You looked out on a universe “without form and void and on the darkness over the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2),
גֵּרַשְׁתָּ אֹפֶל וְהִצַּבְתָּ נֹגַהּ גֹּלֶם תַּבְנִיתְךָ מִן הָאֲדָמָה יָצַרְתָּ…
ג then You dispelled the darkness and established light. In outward semblance of Your likeness did You form man from the earth…

Why would a piyyut about the Yom Kippur service begin with creation?

An essential concept of Jewish thought, with which the Hebrew Bible begins, is that the world is God's purposeful creation, a great and mysterious work which also serves as proof of God’s providence and benevolence. Jewish liturgy reflects this centrality in the first blessing of the Shema liturgy, recited daily, which describes the creation of light in all its forms, as well as God’s continual and on-going act of creation: המחדש בטובו כל יום מעשה בראשית “who, in His goodness, daily renews the act of creation.”[27]

By opening with the concept of creation, and using these themes to introduce a description of the high priest’s service in the Jerusalem Temple on the Day of Atonement, the poet connects the Yom Kippur Service with the creation of the world. This fits with a theme we see in many rabbinic texts, that the High Holidays, which take place at the beginning of the year, mark the time of the creation of the world, and is a time when God reviews that creation.

The high priest’s actions are a crucial part of how God maintains the continuity of the universe, and the specific actions, which might otherwise appear to be random, turn out to be central to the purpose and continued existence of God’s creation. In other words, the service of the high priest on Yom Kippur is presented as an essential part of the world's order; it is as natural and primordial as the world itself.

A Bridge between Creation and the Temple

The poem connects creation with the Temple service through a brief (and selective) retelling of biblical history. Continuing with Atta Konanta, after describing God’s creation, the text details three failures of humanity. The reader is encouraged to consider what was included and excluded in this poem.

  1. Adam and Eve

The first failure is that of Adam and Eve in the garden, which the poet begins to retell in the middle of the ג line:

ג …וְעַל עֵץ הַדַּעַת אוֹתוֹ פָּקַדְתָּ
ג …and (You) charged him concerning the tree of knowledge.
דְּבָרְךָ זָנַח וְנִזְנַח מֵעֵדֶן וְלֹא כִלִּיתוֹ לְמַעַן יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ[28]
ד But he spurned Your word and so himself was spurned from Eden; yet You did not destroy him, because he was the creation of Your own hands.
הִגְדַּלְתָּ פִרְיוֹ וּבֵרַכְתָּ זַרְעוֹ וְהִפְרִיתָם בְּטוּבְךָ וְהוֹשַׁבְתָּם שָׁקֶט
ה You made him fruitful, blessing his seed and multiplying them in Your goodness, and causing them to dwell at ease.

Despite their sin, God gives humanity a second chance, only to see humanity fail again.[29]

  1. The Flood

The text then moves on to a brief description of the flood story:

וַיִּפְרְקוּ עֹל וַיֹּאמְרוּ לָאֵל סוּר מִמֶּנּוּ וַהֲסִירוֹתָ יָד כְּרָגַע כֶּחָצִיר אֻמְלָלוּ
ו But they threw off the yoke and said, unto God, "Leave us alone," though when You removed Your hand for a moment they withered as grass.
זָכַרְתָּ בְרִית לְתָמִים בְּדוֹרוֹ וּבִזְכוּתוֹ שַׂמְתָּ לְעוֹלָם שְׁאֵרִית
ז But You remembered Your covenant with Noah, the "perfect in his generation" (Gen 6:9), and through his merit You saved a remnant for everlasting survival.
חֹק בְּרִית קֶשֶׁת לְמַעֲנוֹ כָרַתָּ וּבְאַהֲבַת נִיחוֹחוֹ בָּנָיו בֵּרַכְתָּ
ח For his sake You made the covenant of the rainbow as a statute, and in Your loving favor to his offering, You blessed his progeny.

Again, the paytan (liturgical poet) emphasizes humanity’s failure and God’s graciousness in allowing them to try again.

  1. Tower of Babel

The theme is presented a third time with a reference to the Tower of Babel story:

טָעוּ בְעָשְׁרָם וַיִּבְנוּ מִגְדָּל וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה וְנִבְקַע הָרָקִיעַ לְהִלָּחֶם בּוֹ
ט But in their wealth they went astray and built the tower of Babel, saying, "Come, let us climb up, pierce the heavens and fight against Him."[30]

Here, however, instead of speaking about punishment and forgiveness, the text now moves into the next age of humanity—from a biblical perspective—namely, when God chooses the patriarchs.

From the Patriarchs to a Single Descendant: Aaron

The description of the patriarchs begins with three lines about Abraham, culminating in a description of the Akedah (the binding of Isaac):

יָחִיד אַב הֲמוֹן פִּתְאֹם כְּכוֹכָב זָרַח מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים לְהָאִיר בַּחֹשֶׁךְ
י Then Abraham, father of a multitude of peoples, appeared suddenly from Ur of the Chaldees as a unique star to shed light in the darkness,
כַּעַסְךָ הֵפַרְתָּ בְּשׁוּרְךָ פָעֳלוֹ וּלְעֵת שֵׂיבָתוֹ לְבָבוֹ חָקַרְתָּ
כ and when You saw his work You stilled Your wrath. In old age, his heart You tested
לִוְיַת חֵן מִמֶּנּוּ הוֹצֵאתָ טָלֶה טָהֹור מִכֶּבֶשׂ נִבְחָר
ל when You brought forth from him a chaplet of grace, a pure lamb of select breed (=Isaac).

Abraham is an important turning point—the poet describes him as “light in the darkness,” bringing us back to the opening theme of the creation story. Abraham is then given a son in his old age, and the paytan alludes to the Akedah (binding of Isaac), by mentioning a test and using sacrificial imagery (lamb), but without mentioning it explicitly.

The text then rushes through Isaac and Jacob:

מִגִּזְעוֹ אִישׁ תָּם הוֹצֵאתָ חָתוּם בִּבְרִיתֶךָ מֵרֶחֶם לֻקָּח
מ From his stock You brought forth Jacob, “the perfect man” (Gen 25:27),[31] sealed with Your covenant from the very womb.[32]
נָתַתָּ לּוֹ שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר שְׁבָטִים אֲהוּבֵי עֶלְיוֹן עֲמוּסִים מִבֶּטֶן נִקְרָאוּ
נ To him You gave twelve heads of tribes, called from birth beloved of the Most High.

As in the Bible, Isaac is presented merely as a bridge from Abraham to Jacob, but more surprisingly, Jacob is also presented as a bridge to the twelve tribes, and receives only half a line of complimentary material. This is because the poet wishes instead to direct our attention to one tribe, that of Levi, and specifically, its Aaronide branch:

שַׂמְתָּ עַל לֵוִי לִוְיַת חֵן וָחֶסֶד וּמִכָּל אֶחָיו כֶּתֶר לוֹ עִטַּרְתָּ
ס On one of them, Levi, You bound a chaplet of grace and love, and from among all his brothers You sett upon him the crown [of priesthood].
עַמְרָם נִבְחַר מִזֶּרַע לֵוִי אַהֲרן קְדושׁ ה' לְשָׁרֶתְךָ קִדַּשְׁתָּ
ע Amram was chosen of the seed of Levi, Aaron, you consecrated as holy to the Lord, to serve you.

Once the poet arrives at the consecration of Aaron, he can turn to the underlying theme of priesthood. In a way, the poet is presenting the high priest’s actual worship in the Temple (or, more accurately, his symbolic service as reenacted in the poem) as a direct consequence of the act of creation and God's benevolent providence over the world. The service of Yom Kippur is thus presented as natural as the existence of the world.

Establishment of the Priesthood

The poet begins by setting the scene, describing the priestly vestments, which play such an important role in the Yom Kippur service:

פֵּאַרְתּוֹ בְּבִגְדֵי שְׂרָד וּבְקָרְבְּנוֹתָיו הֵפֵר כַּעַסְךָ
פ With these sacred vestments You arrayed him: assuaging Your wrath through his sacrifices:
צִיץ וּמְעִיל חשֶׁן וְאֵפוֹד כְּתנֶת וּמִכְנְסֵי בַד מִצְנֶפֶת וְאַבְנֵט
צ Forehead-plate, robe, breastplate, ephod, tunic, trunk-hose of linen, mitre and girdle,[33]

Having listed these, the poet can then turn to the sacrifices:

קָרְבְּנוֹת פָּרִים וְעוֹלוֹת כְּבָשִׂים וּשְׁחִיטַת שְׂעִירִים וְנִיחוֹחֵי אֵילִים
ק offerings of bullocks, burnt-offerings of sheep, the sacrifice of he-goats and the carving up of rams,
רֵיחַ קְטֹרֶת רֹקַח מִרְקַחַת וּבִעוּר גֶּחָלִים וּזְרִיקַת דָּם וּסְפִירַת יֹשֶׁר
ר the fragrant incense carefully compounded, the kindling of altar coals, the sprinkling of blood with precise enumeration,[34]
שׁוּעַת קְטֹרֶת וּתְפִלַּת אֱמֶת וּקְדֻשָּׁתוֹ מְכַפֶּרֶת עֲוֹנוֹתֵינוּ
ש acceptance of the incense, (Aaron's) fervent prayer and his sanctity atone for our sins.

Moving from animal sacrifices, to incense, to sprinkling of blood, the poet eases us into the dramatic features of the Yom Kippur service. God’s acceptance of the offerings, together with Aaron’s prayer for atonement (an elements almost entirely lacking in the biblical account [see only Lev 16:21]), effects atonement.

If the poet already suggested a means through which humanity can continue to exist when it is sinful, in his brief retelling of the three stories of Eden, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, this passage explains that Israel’s continued survival is made possible by the priestly ritual of Yom Kippur. Now that the actual service is no longer possible, its recitation may bring about similar results.

This alphabet is completed, and this stanza ends, with two lines about the high priest:

תֹּכֶן בּוּץ וַעֲרִיכַת אֶבֶן מְחֻגָּר בְּכֻלָּם כְּמַלְאָךְ מִיכָאֵל מְשָׁרֵת
ת Vested in due number of robes of white linen beset with jewels, [Aaron] ministered like the angel Michael.[35]
תִּכַּנְתָּ כָּל אֵלֶּה לִכְבוֹד אַהֲרֹן כְּלִי כַפָּרָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שַׂמְתּוֹ וְעַל יָדוֹ סְלִיחַת הֶעָוֹן נָתַתָּ
ת All these You ordained for his glory, making him the instrument of atonement for Israel, and through him you granted forgiveness of wrong-doing.

The piyyut continues with a tav–alef acrostic (i.e., reverse alphabetic), describing the actions of the high priest preparing for and during the Day of Atonement; this comprises the bulk of the Seder Avodah.

The Role of Yom Kippur in Maintaining the World

The message of these poems is that the high priest, whose priestly office reaches its apex once a year on the day he enters the Holy of Holies, is as natural and ordained from days of old as the creation of the world, and maybe even was the goal of the creation. As Michael Swartz puts it:

A major theme in these poems is that creation itself took place for the sake of the cult […] This theme is manifest in subtle ways throughout the historical prelude, from the establishment of the heavenly prototype of the Temple to the election of the Sons of Amram.[36]

Seder Avodah poetry, then, emphasizes the rabbinic notion that the world is centered on the Temple. What this means is that just as the world and its existence is part of nature, so to the Temple and its service is part of nature and maintains it. To put it another way, the world was created so that the Temple could be built and as a result, the world’s continued well-being depends on the annual Temple ritual.[37] This concept appears in a number of midrashim, such as:

ארץ ישראל יושבת באמצעיתו של עולם, וירושלים באמצע ארץ ישראל, ובית המקדש באמצע ירושלים, וההיכל באמצע בית המקדש, והארון באמצע ההיכל, והאבן שתיה לפני ההיכל, שממנה הושתת העולם.
The land of Israel sits at the center of the world; Jerusalem is in the center of the land of Israel; the sanctuary is in the center of Jerusalem; the Temple building is in the center of the sanctuary; the ark is in the center of the Temple building; and the foundation stone, out of which the world was founded, is before the Temple building. (Midrash Tanchuma B, 7:10)
אבא חנן אומר משום שמואל הקטן: העולם הזה דומה לגלגל עינו של אדם - לבן שבו, זה ים אוקיינוס, שמקיף את כל העולם כולו, שחור שבו, זה ישוב, קמט שבו, זה ירושלים, פרצוף שבקמט, זה בית המקדש, שיבנה במהרה בימינו.
Abba Hanan says in the name of Samuel the Younger: “The world may be compared to the eye of man: the white of the eye is the ocean which surrounds the whole world; the iris is the inhabited land; the pupil is Jerusalem; the face in the pupil[38] is the Temple—May it soon be rebuilt.” (Derek Eretz, 7:38, 56)

Now that the actual worship at the Temple is no longer possible, it is replaced by the Seder Avodah, its dramatic public reenactment in the synagogue.[39]

Published

October 7, 2019

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Last Updated

October 17, 2019

Footnotes

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Prof. Rabbi Dalia Marx is Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at Hebrew Union College-JIR (Jerusalem). She earned her Ph.D. at the Hebrew University and her rabbinic ordination at HUC-JIR (Jerusalem and Cincinnati). Among her publications are When I Sleep and When I Wake: On Prayers between Dusk and Dawn and A Feminist Commentary of the Babylonian Talmud.