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The mishna, Tamid 5:5, indicates that there was a large container used for several things in the Temple. Two of those were that it covered hot coals that spilled on the floor every Sabbath morning, and that it covered a tamei animal if one were found on Sabbath.

My kid asked:

  • Were there more than one of these containers? If not, how did it cover an animal if it was covering the coals? Even if it covered the coals only for a while (see next bullet point), what if an animal was found during that time?
  • Why did they need to cover the coals? (I suggested that maybe it was so no one would burn himself — which may indicate they were only covered for a while — but that I was unsure and presumably anyone walking by would see the coals.)
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Isn't 'were' correct? It's subjunctive. – Double AA Feb 16 '14 at 5:22
@DoubleAA I think it's indicative. CYLGrammarian. – msh210 Feb 16 '14 at 5:25
up vote 3 down vote accepted

All utensils in the Mikdash had multiple copies. It's an explicit Mishna in Chagiga - last Mishna (3:8), actually:

כל הכלים שהיו במקדש, היו להם שניים ושלישים; אם נטמאו הראשונים, יביאו השניים תחתיהן.‏

So they surely had a few large containers and they could use them all if needed.

As to why they covered the coals? As you said, you don't want anybody getting burned:

  • It's a Mitzva to remove dangerous objects וְלֹא-תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ (Devorim כב)
  • Cohanim we always running around - כהנים זריזים הם
  • The floor of the Mikdash was not clean; see Mishna 5:7 in Pesachim that on Erev Pessach they would wash it. So the Cohen may not have a choice but to step on something - and we wouldn't want him to get burned.
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