Yom Kippur 5783: Specific Obligations and Standards for Kohanim, Kohen Godol and Preparing the Kohen Godol for His Avodah on Yom Kippur

Shalom Friends;

Our Yom Kippur vort is being sponsored by Yossie and Elisheva Schulman of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated l’zecher nishmas Elisheva’s Grandmother Zemira bas Yehuda Leib. To Yossie, Elisheva and the Schulman family, may you all be inscribed and sealed for only simcha, success, good health, nachas from your children and grandchildren, and only good things in the year to come and to at least 120 years. Many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued multitudes of kindnesses.

Friends, you can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt

Yom Kippur 5783: Specific Obligations and Standards for Kohanim, Kohen Godol and Preparing the Kohen Godol for His Avodah on Yom Kippur

By Moshe Burt

During the Shaliach Tzibbor’s repetition of the Mussaf Tefillah of Yom Kippur, after Aleinu, next in the order of tefillah is recitation of the day’s Avodah by the Kohen Godol — The Order of Service in the Beit HaMikdash.

Following the recitation of the Order of Service, provided that the Kohen Godol’s service was performed perfectly, he would emerge from the Holy of Holies – the Kadosh Kedoshim unharmed and make a celebration.

The Shaliach Tzibbor’s repetition in the Artscroll Ashkenaz Yom Kippur Machzor follows the emergence of the Kohen Godol with a tefillah (page 571):

“The [Kohen Godol] would make a holiday for all his loved ones when he entered [the Kadosh Kedoshim] in peace and left in peace, without injury. And… the Kohen Godol [recites a] prayer on the Day of Atonement when he left the Kadosh Kedoshim in peace, without injury.”

A note in the Artscroll Machsor (ibid, page 570) states:

…The Kohen Godol who emerged unharmed from the Holy of Holies had ample reason to celebrate. Indeed, Rabban Gamliel taught that Yom Kippur was one of the most festive days of the year. (The Yom Kippur Machsor cites Taanit 4:8)

A great song, an alphabetic piyut by an unknown author, is sung expressing awe at the appearance of the Kohen Godol.

The Artscroll Machsor notes that the song compares the Kohen Godol to various spiritual and material phenomena. (ibid, page 571)

Following the piyut, the Kehillah recites a posuk indicating that all of the above occurred when we had the Beit HaMikdash, the Kadosh Kedoshim and when the Kohen Godol performed his Avodah, as “his generation watched and rejoiced.” (ibid, page 573) How fortunate was the eye that saw these phenomena.

This vort will deal with the preparation of the Kohen Godol for his service on Yom Kippur.

First, the Artscroll Machsor notes Torah’s warning to the Kohen Godol (ibid, page 570):

The Torah warns that the Kohen Godol would not leave the Kadosh Kedoshim alive unless he performed the Yom Kippur service properly. Indeed, the Sadducee High Priests, who refused to perform the service as taught by the Sages, would die on Yom Kippur.

One needs to introduce the preparations of the Kohen Godol for his Yom Kippur service by first outlining the obligations and restrictions specific to the Kohen’s priestly role before moving on the more severe standards and restrictions applying to the Kohen Godol and the preparations for his Avodah in the Kadosh Kedoshimon Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes noting specific obligations inherent in this “high standard of purity and perfection” as part of his Parsha summary in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, page 183):

Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the Kohanim concerning a number of obligations specific to their priestly role. Included are the prohibition of involvement with death and burial (except in cases the death of immediate relatives [i.e. parents, siblings, children]); the prohibition of marrying a divorcee; laws regarding blemishes which disqualify a Kohen from active service in the Beit Hamikdash and specific laws of tumah and tahara (ritual impurity and purity). Outlined, as well, are the even more severe restrictions applying to the Kohen Godol.

Regarding prohibitions of marriage, this author, early on in becoming observant, learned the specifics of such prohibitions; i.e. prohibitions against not only a divorcee, but also the daughter from a mixed marriage, one who had been with a non-Jew and one with the status of a chalutzah — a widow of a man who dies childless (this author citing a footnote on Rashi, Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary, Sefer Vayikra, page 266, footnote #6)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin also notes (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, page 185):

The Torah lists, at length, a series of personal blemishes and injuries that disqualify a Kohen from the active priesthood. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posukim 16-24)

One manifestation of a higher standard of purity and perfection is reflected in the halacha that when there is a Beit Hamikdash, a serving Kohen, were he to seek divorce from his wife, would have to go through a process: Get Mikushar (a higher level of Jewish divorce document than is now in use). The Get Mikushar process, with its various other halachic requirements, is meant as an impediment to divorce designed to negate frivolous, momentary anger-induced divorce proceedings by a Kohen and meant to bring about thoughtful contemplation as to whether or not to divorce. The Get Mikushar is written in a special way, is folded three ways, is bounded and must have signatures of three witnesses, rather than the two witnesses signatures needed on the Get document used by a Beit Din for Gittin (plural for Get) today. (Mishnayot Baba Basra — Artscroll Mishna Series, Perek 10, Mishnayot 1 and 2, pages 281-290)

Manifestations of the higher standards which relate exclusively to the Kohen Godol are noted in Sefer Vayikra, Perek 16, posuk 6 which states regarding the Kohen Godol’s service in the Kodosh Kadoshim on Yom Kippur:

“And he shall make atonement for himself and his house…”

Mishnayot Yoma — Artscroll Mishna Series, Perek 1, Mishna 1, pages 5-7 state:

‘His house’ — that is his wife.

This means that a stand-by wife is designated for the Kohen Godol in event that his current wife dies, that he satisfy halacha that he be married such as to enable him to atone for his household and be able to serve in the Kodosh Kadoshim on Yom Kippur on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.

The above Mishna also states:

“Seven days before Yom Kippur, the Kohen Godol is sequestered from his house… and they prepare another Kohen as his substitute, lest he [the Kohen Godol] become disqualified due to seminal emission or by [other] tumah [contamination].”

The Mishnah Yomit provides further explanation regarding the preparation of the Kohen Godol for his Yom Kippur Avodah in the Kadosh Kedoshim:

Reish Lakish however understands that the requirement for separation is learnt from Har Sinai. The pasuk reads: “The glory of Hashem rested on Har Sinai, and the cloud covered it for a six-day period. He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud.” (Shemot 24: 16) We learn from this pasuk that anytime one is to enter machane Shechina, there must be a separation for seven days.

Rav Soleveichik (Kuntrus Be’inyan Avodat Yom HaKippurim) explains that the debate is not only about the source of this law, but also the nature of its obligation. If the source of the law is from Har Sinai, it is entering the mikdash that obligates this separation. However, if the source of the law is from miluim, then separation is part of the Kohen Godol’s preparation for the avodah he will be performing on Yom Kippur (much like the preparation of the days of the miluim). According to this understanding, the Rav suggests that perhaps the preparation of the second “backup” Kohen, is indeed part of the fulfilment of this law as it too is a part of the preparation for the day.

According to R’ Yochanan who learns the law from miluim, the Rav continues, the Kohen Godol (lechatchila1) only attains the status of Kohen Godol for Yom Kippur if undergoes these days of preparation. We find a similar idea in the Rambam. When discussing the inauguration of a new Kohen Godol by means dressing him in the clothes of a Kohen Godol for a seven day period (meruba begadim), the Rambam rules that ideally the Kohen Godol should not perform avoda in the Beit HaMikdash during this period. The Raavad disagrees arguing that he could work during this period. The Rav explains that while indeed he is a Kohen Godol immediately, the Rambam understand that he has not achieved that status of a hechsher Kehuna Gedola until the period of seven days is complete.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer wrote, regarding the Kohen Godol, sixteen years ago on the Orthodox Union website:

The Kohen Godol is forbidden to enter the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies) in his regular, golden-thread priestly vestments [“Bigdei Zahav”]. Rather, special white garments [“Bigdei Lavan”] are required for Yom Kippur Avodah in the Kodesh HaKodashim. Chazal explain that this rule is predicated upon the negative inferences of the golden-thread vestments, for they invoke the memory of the Chet Ha-Egel [Sin of the Golden Calf], which is surely not appropriate to bring up as the Kohen Gadol seeks forgiveness.

It may be asked why Bigdei Zahav were banned only from the Kodesh HaKodashim. Certainly, the entirety of the Yom Kippur Service is geared toward forgiveness. Should not Bigdei Lavan be the exclusive, required dress at all times on that most holy day?

The answer may be based on the unique quality of the Kohen Gadol’s activity in the Kodesh HaKodashim. The Kodesh HaKodashim housed the Aron (Ark) which contained the Luchos (Tablets). Only the Kohen Godol was licensed to enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, and his entry was limited to Yom Kippur. If we think about it, we can deduce that the Kohen Godol’s entry to the Kodesh HaKodashim was a manifestation of Moshe’s encounter with Hashem following the Chet Ha-Egel. Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the mount by himself, unaccompanied by anyone else. As part of the rapprochement, Hashem allowed Moshe to experience the Shechina (Divine Presence) in a manner unparalleled by any other human. Moshe’s ascent culminated with the creation of new Luchos and the granting of divine forgiveness; this happened on Yom Kippur. Similarly, on Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol communes with God in a setting of ultimate holiness and privacy, the meeting is at the site of the Luchos, and it serves to grant expiation for sin. The Kohen Godol thereby replicates Moshe’s encounter with God at Sinai on Yom Kippur. The entirety of Moshe Rabbeinu’s ascent was precipitated by the Chet Ha-Egel and served to negate its effects; thus, the replication of this ascent, as enacted by the Kohen Godol on Yom Kippur, dare not invoke the memory of the Chet Ha-Egel. This is why Bigdei Lavan are a unique requirement for service in the Kodesh HaKodashim on Yom Kippur.

May You, All of My Brothers and Sisters, be Inscribed and Sealed for another Year of Life… Now and always! And may our hopes and prayers, are realized. L’Shana Tova!

May we, the B’nei 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, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

As a Rav back in the Old Country would say, “Tefillah Kasher V’Tzom Kal — Daven Hard, Fast Easy!”
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.