An Eyewitness Account …
PESACH IN THE BEIT HaMIKDASH
From: The Book of Our Heritage, Vol. II, Erev Pesach, pp. 565-568
The experience of the pilgrimage to
and imparted to the Jewish people an overwhelming sense of unity and harmony."
In the book
Shevet Mi-Yehudah, quoted by R. Ya’akov Emden in his Siddur,
there is the eyewitness account of the ceremony of the Pesach sacrifice,
described by a Roman procurator who governed in
“When the beginning of the month which we call Nissan arrives, couriers and messengers are sent out by order of the king and the courts to the areas surrounding Jerusalem, those who have sheep and cattle are to hurry to bring them to the city so that there will be a sufficient supply for the pilgrims – for their food as well as for their sacrifices. One who failed to obey this order would have all his wealth confiscated for use in the Sanctuary.
All owners of animals hurry to obey. On their way to
The sacrifice is offered on the fourteenth of the month. When the tenth of the month arrives, they go out to buy an animal for the sacrifice which they call Pesach. It is their custom that when waiting to make their purchase, no one asks another to allow him to go first or offers another his place – even if the other person is of the stature of King David or King Solomon.
I ask the kohanim if this behavior was proper and they replied: ‘The purpose is to show that there is no stature before G-d when preparing for His service and surely not when performing His service. All are equal at this time.’
When the fourteenth arrives, they ascend onto a high tower in the Beis ha-Mikdash which they call lul. It has a platform make like the canapario. There they take three silver trumpets and sound them. Afterwards, they announce: ‘People of G-d, listen! The time has arrived for the slaughter of the Pesach offering in the name of He Who has caused His Name to dwell in this great and Holy House.’ When the people hear this declaration, they put on their festive clothing, for from midday on is considered a Festival, for it is the time of their sacrifice.
At the entrance to the great courtyard, twelve Leviyim stand outside with silver sticks in their hands. Inside stand another twelve with golden sticks. Those posted outside the entrance are charged with keeping the pilgrims in order so that they do not injure each other in their haste and so that they do not enter the courtyard tumultuously and cause quarrels. It once happened on Pesach that an old man and his sacrifice were crushed by the pressure of the crowd. Those who stand inside the gate are charged with keeping order among those leaving the courtyard. They also close the gates of the courtyard when the area is full.
When they reach the place where the sacrifice is slaughtered, there are rows of kohanim with spoons of silver and of gold in their hands. The kohanim in one row all have silver spoons, while those in another row all have golden spoons; all this is most beautiful and splendorous.
The kohen at the head of each row receives a spoonful of blood from the slaughtered animal and passes it to his colleague who in turn passes it to his colleague until it reaches the altar. The kohen standing closest to the altar sends the empty spoon back and this is passed from hand to hand until it reaches the end of the row. The procedure is such that each kohen receives a full spoon in one hand and an empty spoon in the other and the spoons move forward and back without delay. They are so nimble in this service and the spoons move so fast that they appear as if they were shot from the bow of a marksman.
The kohanim practiced this procedure for thirty days, so they would become proficient and know their tasks perfectly.
There are two raised platforms on which stand two kohanim with silver trumpets. These are sounded every time a new group of sacrifices is offered so that the Leviyim who are standing on their own platforms will know to sing Hallel with joy and thanksgiving, accompanied by all of the musical instruments which they possess. The person offering the sacrifice also recites Hallel. If the slaughter has not been completed, then the Hallel is repeated. After the slaughter of the sacrifices, the pilgrims go to the courtyards. Here the walls have iron hooks and prongs so that the slaughtered animals can be hung and skinned. There are also bundles of sticks so that if there is no empty hook on which to hand the slaughtered animal, one can suspend a stick from his should on to that of another man and hand the animal on it. The portions of the animal that are to be offered on the altar are given, and the person offering the sacrifice leaves the area joyfully, like a victorious warrior returning from battle. It is considered to be a great source of shame among the Jews not to have brought the Pesach sacrifice at the proper time.
While the kohanim are engaged in this task they were red tunics … so that any blood which is spilled will not show. They stand barefoot and the sleeves of their garments come only to their elbows so that they will not be hampered with their work. On their heads they wear a small hat with three cubits of cloth wound around it to make it into a turban. I have been told that the Kohen Gadol has a white turban made of forty folds of cloth.
The ovens used for roasting the sacrifices are at the
entrance to their homes. They told me
that they do this to demonstrate their faith and to rejoice on the
Festival. After roasting the sacrifice,
they eat it with much singing of praise, and the sounds of their rejoicing can
be heard from afar. None of the doors in