Parshat Acharei Mos 5771: The Kohen Gadol’s Clothing of National Atonement

by Moshe Burt

Parshiyot Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are normally what baseball fans refer to as another of the “doubleheader” parshiyot — but not in this year of 2 Adars. And just as Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora are extensions of each other, visa vi Tumah and Ta’Hara regarding post-birth, regarding skin, hair, clothing or regarding one’s home or building; Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are extensions of each other regarding Kohanim, Yom Kippur, the Kohen’s Yom Kippur avodah in the Kadosh Kedoshim and the Kohanic model of Darchim, which ideally the entire B’nai Yisrael would embrace and exhibit as a paradigm, as model, as a light for all mankind.

Parsha Acharei Mos opens with Hashem speaking with Moshe Rabbeinu explaining that he (Moshe) must inform Aaron HaKohen, in the context of the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu, that he can not enter Kadosh Kedoshim at all times. Therefore, we learn that the unauthorized offering, or paskening before their Rebbe were not the only possible reasons for for their deaths.

And so, Rabbi Artscroll explains that our Parsha connects the service of the Kohanim with Yom Kippur in that it is the one and only time of the year when only the Kohan Godol is permitted, required to enter the Kadosh Kedoshim to atone for himself, his household and for the nation. At all other times of the year, the Kadosh Kedoshim is off-limits to all.

The Artscroll Chumash (Parsha Acharei Mos, 636), by way of a citing from the Yerushalmi Yoma 1.1, connects Yom Kippur’s atonement with atonement inherent in the death of the righteous, i.e. Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu. And an explanation is brought from the Meshech Chochmah which says that:

Yom Kippur is… a time of favor, and thus an opportune time for atonement.

However, …this is crucial, both Yom Kippur and the deaths of the righteous bring atonement ONLY on one condition. Yom Kippur atones only for people who recognize it as a holy day and treat it as such; those to whom it is merely a day of refraining from food and work, but with out a spiritual dimension, do not find atonement on Yom Kippur. Similarly, those who do not honor the righteous in life, do not benefit from their ascent to Shemayim in death.

In Tazria and Metzora, we learn that it is the Kohen who is the only one Divinely invested with ruling as to Tumah or Ta’Hara regarding ones’ skin, hair, clothing or homes. So too, it is the Kohen who atones for the nation and is the conduit to bring about unity among, and Divine Brachot for B’nai Yisrael. He is the paradigm of both; kindness and loving care for his brethren and the conduit for unity.

Shem Mishmuel (on Parshat Acharei Mos, English translation of parsha selections by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, pages 254-256) speaks at length about reasons for the distinction between the Kohen Gadol’s white linen tunic and white linen tunic trousers worn when entering the Kadosh Kedoshim on Yom Kippur and his normal gold attire worn during his service at all other times of the year.

He first cites gemora Rosh HaShannah 26a:

Why does the Kohen Gadol not enter the Holy of Holies wearing his gold vestments to perform the Divine service? Because an accuser cannot become an advocate.

Shem Mishmuel then indicates that this concept relates to the Eigel Zahav and writes:

The sin of the eigel has been with the Klal Yisrael throughout their history and is still with us today. The sin is so deeply etched into our national consciousness that we will not be entirely free of it until Messianic times.

Aharon’s… intentions in involving himself with the calf…. were considered good, for he wished to reunite the people and refocus them toward their correct goal…. Given that Aharon lost his two sons, at least partially in response to his involvement in the eigel episode, no trace of the sin remained within him. This means… that the principle “an accuser cannot become an advocate” should not have applied to him… for there was no remnant of the sin [in him] which could be recalled at this crucial time.

But this applied only to Aharon acting in a personal capacity; what about his role as emissary for atonement of the whole nation? In that capacity, the rule would pertain, for the people still had (and have) a remnant of the sin of the eigel in their national character which needed to be expunged. Thus Aharon experienced a dichotomy: as himself he could wear his usual gold garments, but as representative of the nation, he could only wear white.

Thus, we learn the Halacha that Aharon HaKohen Gadol, and every subsequent Kohen Gadol wore white vestments when serving in the Kadosh Kedoshim atoning for the nation on Yom Kippur.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.