The Sea Stands on the Backs of Twelve OxenBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
To build his own palace, Solomon took 13 years. This is not to say that he spent almost twice as long on it than he did on the Temple, rather it is to show how much effort he put into completing the Temple as quickly as possible. He had a summer home called “The Forest of Lebanon,” which was located near the Temple. The Forest of Lebanon was 100 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits tall. (Remember, a cubit is somewhere between a foot and a half and two feet.) The roof was composed of 45 cedar boards in three rows of 15 each. There were three rows of windows, each window directly across from a corresponding window on the opposite side. The doors were also placed directly across from their counterparts. (All of this was for cross-ventilation.) There was an entry hall 50 cubits long and 30 cubits wide, made up of pillars. Solomon also had a throne room, lined with cedar, where he would pass judgment on cases brought to him.
His personal residence was in a different building, but built similarly to the judgment hall (i.e., lined with cedar). He also made a similar house for his wife, Pharaoh’s daughter. The buildings themselves were made of marble and other expensive stone, filed smooth. The foundation stones were eight and ten cubits in size. The wall of the courtyard was three rows of stone and a row of cedar, just like the wall in the Temple courtyard.
Solomon took a workman named Hiram from Tyre. This was NOT the same as King Hiram of Tyre! This Hiram was the son of a widow from the Tribe of Naftali and a Tyrian coppersmith. (The Radak says that Hiram’s mother was from Dan and his father was from Naftali; he is only called Tyrian because that’s where he lived.) Hiram made two 18-cubit pillars of copper. The tops of the pillars were ornate designs of copper, with mesh and chains and sculptures of flowers and pomegranates. The pillars were placed on opposite sides of the entrance to the Temple. The one on the right was named “Yachin” (“He will establish”) and the one on the left was called “Boaz” (“strength is in it”).
Hiram also made the “sea,” a huge copper tank from which the Kohanim would wash to purify themselves. The sea was thirty cubits in circumference and was decorated with knobs that were part of its construction, not soldered on. The sea stood on the backs of 12 copper oxen, three facing in each direction. The sea held 2,000 “baths.” (That’s a Hebrew word, it doesn’t mean bath as in bath tub, despite the fact that we’re talking about water here.) There are different opinions about the size of a bath, but we can safely say that the sea was in the 20,000-gallon range, plus or minus 5,000 gallons or so.
There were also ten stands made of copper, which held smaller water tanks. These stands were four cubits wide and three cubits high and were decorated with carvings of lions, oxen and cherubim. Each stand had four copper wheels like chariot wheels. (Rashi says like THE Chariot’s wheels, i.e. like the vision of the Heavenly Chariot shown to Yechezkel – Ezekiel – in the first chapter of the book that bears his name.) The ten stands were all identical, made from the same mold.
Then there were the tanks that sat upon these stands. Each held 40 baths (perhaps 400 gallons, plus or minus 100 gallons). Five stands were placed to the right side of the Temple and five to the left. (The sea went on the right.)
Hiram made a wide variety of implements for the Temple, including pans and bowls and shovels, all of copper. Solomon had all the utensils put away unweighed because they were so numerous.
The rest of the furniture of the Temple included the altar, the shulchan (table), ten menorahs that flanked the original Menorah that Moses made, and various bowls, spoons, tongs, pans and door sockets, all of gold. Solomon also brought the gold, silver and other objects that his father David had put aside for the Temple. (For an example of this, see II Samuel chapter 8.)