April 5th, 2022
Look Forward, Not Back
We read today in Chok l’Israel the Pasuk:
:וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן הַמְטַהֵר אֵת הָאִישׁ הַמִּטַּהֵר וְאֹתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
And the kohen who is performing the cleansing shall place the person being cleansed [together] with these [things], before the Lord, at the entrance of the Tent of MeetingVayikra 14:11
This Pasuk is describing the process in which the Kohen brings back a person who had Tzara’at and had been away from the community. The Kohen is instructed to bring the person who had been isolated near the Bet Hamikdash (Temple), at the entrance of the Ohel Moed.
Rashi comments on this Pasuk
:בשער נקנור, ולא בעזרה עצמה, לפי שהוא מחוסר כפורים
At The Nicanor gate, but not within the courtyard itself, since he is lacking atonementVayikra 14:11
Rashi says that the Kohen must bring the person into the Sha’ar Nikanor – Gate of Nikanor.
What is Sha’ar Nikanor?
All of Yerushalayim, including the temple, is divided into three areas. The area from the border of Yerushalayim up to the Temple Mount is called Machane Yisrael. Everyone is permitted to pass through this area. The area from the Temple Mount until inside the Bet Hamikdash, specifically until the Sha’ar Nikanor is called Machane Levi’im. Only Levi’im may pass through this area. The rest of the area inside the Temple (from inside Sha’ar Nikanor and on) is called Machane Shechina. So the Pasuk is instructing the Kohanim to bring the person who had had Tzara’at to the Sha’ar Nikanor, the gates bordering Machane Shechina, and this is considered “Before the Lord” as the Pasuk had said
Why Are These Gates Called Nikanor?
Gemara, Masechet Yoma, page 38 explains that Nikanor was the name of a very wealthy and affluent person. He had decided to donate beautiful, elegant copper doors for the Bet Hamikdash. Nikanor had traveled all the way to Alexandria, Egypt to attain these special gates. The gates were too heavy to carry to Israel, so they had to import them by sea.
The Gemara describes a miracle that occurred while on the journey to the Yaffo Port. Midway on the journey, a big storm suddenly blew in and the ship was about to sink. The captain of the ship approached Nikanor and explained that the only way to save the ship is to lighten the weight on it. The captain asked Nikanor to throw one of the gates into the sea so the ship will survive the storm. Having no choice, Nikanor agreed, heartbroken. Unfortunately, the storm did not cease its raging rain and wind until the captain was forced to ask Nikanor to throw the other gate overboard as well.
This time, Nikanor vehemently refused. “If you want to throw away the other gate, you’ll have to tie me to it and throw me overboard as well, otherwise I refuse to let you discard the gate.” When the captain and the sailors saw how determined Nikanor was, they decided to wait and see how the situation develops before making any decisions. After a short while, the storm miraculously ceased, and the ship arrived at the Yaffo Port safely. As soon as they had docked, they were met with a shocking discovery. The first gate that they had thrown overboard had washed up underneath their ship! Now with both gates in hands, Nikanor happily traveled to Yerushalayim to deliver the doors to the Bet Hamikdash. These gates became known as the Nikanor Gates – Sha’ar Nikanor in honor of Nikanor and the miracle that had happened.
The Gemara continues and explains that, usually, every gate of the Bet Hamikdash is covered with gold. The sole exception to this is the Sha’ar Nikanor, which remained copper. Rashi describes these gates as being a special kind of copper, “Nechoshet Kalal“. What is this type of metal?
To answer this, we must review the commentaries that Ramban (Nachmanides) wrote on an Eben Ezra about the Kiyor (basin) of the Mishkan. This basin had been made out of the copper from the mirrors that the Jewish women had used in Mitzrayim. The women would use these mirrors to beautify themselves to encourage and ignite hope into their husbands to survive throughout the harsh slavery. Ramban says that the copper from these mirrors are also called Kalal.
Therefore, the copper of the Sha’ar Nikanor had been like a mirror to resemble the copper of the Kiyor. So when the kohen is bringing the people who had had Tzra’at to the Sha’ar Nikanor, the people are in front of a massive mirror. Now, a question arises; why must the Kohen bring them to a mirror?
The Lesson Behind the Nikanor Gates
When one looks into the mirror, he is usually unhappy with what he sees. One usually has his perception of reality locked into what the mirror displays and doesn’t attempt to change his reality. We need to remember that there are always opportunities to change ourselves and our situation. This is the reason that a Kohen brings a person to the Sha’ar Nikanor, to teach them that regardless of their previous mistakes, it is possible to change themselves and their current reality.
What you see is not what you can be. Do not chain yourself to your current situation, things might change, you might change. Always look forward, do not be stuck in the past.