The Yom Kippur Service
I. In a Cloud I Shall Appear upon the Kaporet
The Yom Kippur service is unique in many ways. One of its features is the special offering of the ketoret (incense), which was normally burnt on the golden altar, but on Yom Kippur was placed on a pan in the Holy of Holies. The Torah is explicit regarding the central role played by this ketoret as a factor that enables Aharon to enter the Holy of Holies:
Speak to Aharon your brother, that he should not enter into the holy place within the partition at any time… rather in a cloud I shall appear upon kaporet. (16:2)
The cloud in this pasuk is a reference to the ketoret, as it says:
And he shall put the incense upon the fire before Hashem, that the cloud of the incense may cover the kaporet that is upon the testimony, so that he should not die. (16:13)
Aharon’s entrance into the Kodesh Ha-Kodashim is contrasted with the catastrophic entry of Nadav and Avihu. In our shiur on Parashat Tazria, we suggested that Nadav and Avihu thought that man was capable of deserving a divine encounter through human efforts. They failed to realize that man can only achieve revelation by virtue of Hashem’s chesed, and they therefore entered the kodesh without being invited by Hashem. After that tragedy, Hashem tells Aharon that he can enter the Kodesh only through submission to Hashem’s will; man can never be deserving of an encounter with Hashem through human efforts alone.
In the context of the Mishkan, this idea is symbolized by the ketoret, which forms a cloud or smokescreen separating man and God. In our shiur on Parashat Vayakhel, we used this idea to explain why the incense altar is only mentioned after the Mishkan, its vessels, and the priestly garments. We suggested that building the Mishkan and its vessels reflect the closeness, as it were, between the Shekhina and Am Yisrael. The golden altar upon which the incense is offered, on the other hand, symbolizes the abyss that separates the Shekhina from Yisrael.
Thus, there are two aspects to the religious experience. On the one hand, there is the thirsting of the soul for the living God, but on the other hand, there is the awareness that "no man shall see Me and live." Only after we have internalized the mistake of Aharon's sons, only once we have understood the two aspects of the religious experience, is it possible to return to the instructions concerning the entry into the Kodesh, beyond the parokhet: "By this shall Aharon come to the Kodesh…." Once it has become clear that one cannot come into the Kodesh whenever one chooses, the Torah can then inform us that God will nevertheless appear above the kaporet – but only by means of the cloud of incense.
II. Entering the Cloud
The specific use of the cloud of ketoret to introduce this idea is rooted in the experience at Sinai. The gemara in the beginning of masekhet Yoma notes that the Kohen Gadol is required to separate himself for seven days prior to Yom Kippur. According to Reish Lakish, the source for this halakha is the description of Matan Torah:
And the glory of Hashem abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day He called unto Moshe from the midst of the cloud. (24:16)
Reish Lakish comments:
Once it says, “And He called to Moshe on the seventh day,” why [does it mention] six days? This serves as a paradigm that anyone who enters the domain of the Shekhina requires a six day separation.
(The ensuing gemara explains why the kohen gadol was separated for seven days not six.) According to Reish Lakish, there is an intrinsic connection between Moshe’s ascent to Har Sinai and the entry of the Kohen Gadol to the kodesh on Yom Kippur.
This relationship is reflected in the idea developed by the Ramban, that the Mishkan is a continuation of the revelation at Sinai. We therefore find striking similarities between Moshe entering the cloud on Har Sinai and his entering the Mishkan at the end of Sefer Shemot:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. And Moshe was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34-35)
Moshe is unable to enter the cloud covered Mishkan because it was filled with Hashem’s glory, just as he was incapable of entering the cloud covered mountain. Eventually, Hashem called to Moshe, and he is able to enter the cloud at Sinai. This parallels what took place in the Mishkan, as we read in the opening line of Sefer Vayikra:
And Hashem called unto Moshe, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting... (Vayikra 1:1)
Although this pasuk is found in a different sefer, it is written only four pasukim after the Torah mentions Moshe’s inability to enter the Mishkan. When read in continuity, Moshe’s entry into the cloud enveloping the Mishkan is a repeat of his entry into the cloud on Har Sinai.
On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol is required to enter the inner sanctum in order to achieve atonement for Yisrael. Since the Mikdash is a continuation of Sinai, Reish Lakish modeled the preparations of the Kohen Gadol after those of Moshe. The Kohen Gadol begins with a period of separation, similar to that of Moshe. He is then called into the Mikdash by virtue of the mitzva of the Yom Kippur service. Before his entry, however, he is required to bring the ketoret, which forms a cloud similar to the cloud at Sinai and the cloud that enveloped the Mishkan. Only then may the Kohen Gadol enter the Kodesh.
III. The Sin Offerings
Another unique feature of the Yom Kippur service is the sin offerings (korban chatat). The blood of the standard chatat is sprinkled on the altar situated in the courtyard. On Yom Kippur, two korbanot chatat are offered – a bull brought as the Kohen Gadol's sin offering and a goat that serves as the nation's sin offering – and their blood is sprinkled in the Kodesh Ha-Kodashim (inner sanctum), on the parokhet and the golden altar normally used for incense. Usually, the sections of the korban that are not offered on the altar are eaten by the kohanim, but on Yom Kippur, these sections are burnt. (These unique korbanot are therefore known as “burnt sin offerings.”)
There are other korbanot chatat that are similar to those of Yom Kippur. When a Kohen Gadol or the entire nation sins inadvertently, the required chatat is a bull, whose blood is sprinkled on the parokhet and the golden altar and whose meat is burnt. When the inadvertent transgression of the entire nation is avoda zara, then the bull is replaced with a goat.
It is thus reasonable to assume that the chatat brought by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, which is a bull, is patterned after the chatat that a Kohen Gadol offers to atone for his transgression. The national chatat, on the other hand, is modeled after the goat that the nation brings as a result of avoda zara.
In order to appreciate the rationale for this, recall that the original Yom Kippur service occurred one year after Moshe descended Har Sinai with the second luchot on that day. As we noted in our shiur on Parashat Shemini, that the building of the Mishkan, which began after the second luchot were given, was a continuation of the process of atonement for the egel, and the eighth inaugural day, when Hashem appeared to Yisrael, signaled the next stage of atonement. However, there is an additional stage in the process. Aharon is permitted entry into the Kodesh only on Yom Kippur. It is on this second Yom Kippur that Aharon brings a bull into the Kodesh as a chatat to atone for his role in the egel, which was unrelated to avoda zara. It is also on this day that a goat is brought into the Kodesh as a national chatat to atone for the idolatry of Yisrael.
Yom Kippur, then, is a day of atonement for the sin of the egel – first because the second luchot were given on this day, but also because of the following year, when Yom Kippur was chosen as the day on which Aharon was finally allowed to enter the Kodesh to achieve both personal and communal atonement for the egel. Thus, Yom Kippur, as observed for generations, has two independent historical roots.
In the Beit Ha-Mikdash, the Kohen Gadol who succeeds Aharon achieves atonement by connecting to this meta-historical moment of atonement – by reenacting the service of Aharon in the Mishkan.
IV. White Garments
We will conclude by briefly discussing another unique aspect of the Yom Kippur service. The Kohen Gadol normally wears eight garments, which are referred to as the “golden garments;” the four garments that he wears beyond the four of a normal kohen all contain gold. However, on Yom Kippur, when the Kohen Gadol enters the Heichal, he wears special white garments. The gemara questions:
For what reason does the Kohen Gadol not wear the golden garments when he enters the Kodesh Kodashim to do service? Because a prosecutor cannot act as a defense attorney. (Rosh Hashana 26a)
Since the egel was made of gold, gold is considered an argument for the prosecution and cannot be enlisted to achieve atonement. This gemara may support our contention that the Yom Kippur service is rooted in the atonement process for the egel.
According to this gemara, one may question why Aharon was allowed to participate in the Yom Kippur service at all. After all, Aharon was personally involved in the production of the egel. Shouldn’t the presence of a sinner be more incriminatory that that of inanimate objects? The solution to this problem is simple – Aharon went through a lengthy process of repentance, and at the end of that process, his presence no longer supports the prosecution. However, teshuva is meaningless with regard to inanimate objects, and gold is thus barred from the heichal during the entire Yom Kippur service.
However, we do find the limitation of “a prosecutor cannot act as a defense attorney” applied even to people. In his commentary on Parashat Chukat, Rashi quotes R. Moshe Ha-Darshan’s metaphorical interpretation of the para aduma (red heifer):
It is like the son of a maidservant that dirtied the palace of the king. They said: “Let his mother come and clean up the mess.” So too, let the cow (para) come and atone for the egel.
Rashi continues to explain why Elazar, Aharon’s son, was chosen to perform the service of the para aduma, and not Aharon himself: “Since Aharon fashioned the egel, this service was not awarded to him, since a prosecutor cannot act as a defense attorney.” If this rule is applied to Aharon in this context, why is Aharon invited to serve on Yom Kippur, while the golden garments are barred so as not to aid the prosecution?
An additional problem is posed by R. Moshe Ha-Darshan’s interpretation. If we are correct that the Yom Kippur service comes to atone for the egel, why is the para aduma needed as well? Isn’t this redundant?
The answer is that the red heifer and the Yom Kippur service deal with two independent problems. Yom Kippur focuses on the transgressions that the worshippers of the egel violated. Atonement is therefore achieved through vidduy and the sin offerings. The para aduma, on the other hand, deals with tum’a and tahara. In fact, the metaphor compares the egel to dirt in the king’s palace, which must now be cleansed. By virtue of his teshuva, Aharon was eligible for the Yom Kippur service, which absolves and atones. However, the catastrophic effects of the egel episode are not limited to the transgression; the egel is not only sin, but filth. The palace of Hashem, symbolizing Hashem’s rule in this world, became dirty when Yisrael worshipped the egel, and teshuva alone cannot cleanse the stain. Despite his repentance, Aharon was responsible for the dirt in Hashem’s palace. Therefore Elazar, not Aharon, is chosen for the para aduma, in order to “clean the palace of the King.”