ACHAREI MOS (Leviticus, 16:1-18:30) — “Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies”

 The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies.  That section of the Temple was off-limits to everyone all year.  Only he, on the Day of Atonement, was allowed to enter.   Even then, his thoughts had to be holy and pristine. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg.

“… Let him not come at all times into the Sanctuary, within the Curtain… so that he should not die…” (Leviticus, 16:2)

It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest.  The entire nation turned their eyes and hearts to him, hoping that he would represent them properly, and achieve atonement for them from G-d.  They were relying upon him to garner blessings from G-d for a good year.  In fact, if the year didn’t turn out so well, it was considered, in part, due to the fact that the High Priest didn’t pray well enough.  (See “Say a Little Prayer for Me.”)

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The High Priest’s uniform was different on this special day.  Rather than the beautiful golden vestments that were unique to the High Priest the rest of the year, he wore, for certain parts of the Yom Kippur Service, the clothes of a regular Priest:

“…This is how Aaron should come into the Sanctuary… he should put on a sacred linen tunic; he should have linen pants… a linen belt… and cover his head with a linen turban… these are sacred garments.  He shall immerse himself in water and then put them on.  (Ibid, verses 3-5)

When the High Priest goes before G-d to atone for his nation, it is not appropriate to go dressed in gold.  He goes humbly, in simple white clothes.  The white is symbolic of purity from sin.

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Not surprisingly, the above verses from this week’s Torah Portion are read on Yom Kippur.  There is also another time when these verses are recited.  They are read by the members of the Chevra Kaddisha.

Every person is buried the same way.  Rich or poor, king or commoner, we are all equal before G-d.  Jewish Custom requires that every Jew be buried in the same simple white shroud.

The Chevra Kadisha, (“Sacred Society”) respectfully washes the body of the deceased.  Then as he/she is dressed, the corresponding verses are recited.  The tunic is placed upon the body: “… he should put on a sacred linen tunic…” They dress him in the pants: “he should have linen pants…” They put on the belt: “… a linen belt… They cover his head:  “…and cover his head with a linen turban…

Isn’t it a bit disrespectful to compare a dead person to the High Priest?  The High Priest was a holy man, designated by his nation to stand before G-d and plead for the nation’s welfare.  The Kohain was the antithesis of death.  He stood for life; he prayed for life.  He wasn’t even allowed to enter a cemetery or have contact with the dead.  And especially the High Priest; other priests were allowed to defile themselves for the funerals of close relatives.  The High Priest couldn’t even do that.  (When Aaron’s two sons were killed, relatives handled the funeral arrangements.  Aaron and his two remaining sons did not attend.)

I believe that the answer is that every person is, in a sense, a Kohain in his own right.  “You will be to Me a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation…” (Exodus, 19:6)

The High Priest represents his nation when he goes before G-d on Yom Kippur.  He brings offerings that atone for the misdeeds of the masses.  He is “Our Man in the Holy of Holies.”

That system worked in the Temple on the Day of Atonement.  He was there to pray for us.  His actions were there to bring about Divine compassion and forgiveness.

One problem.  It doesn’t work for the long term.

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world.  To be sure, there will, hopefully be family and friends to pray for our souls.

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker. On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone.  We will be accompanied by the good deeds we have done, and the Torah we have studied.  (We will also be accompanied by whatever bad deeds we have done!) The only money we will take with us to the next world will be the money that we spent on charity and worthwhile Torah-related pursuits.

There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds.

It’s good to know this in advance.  It gives us the opportunity to prepare.  If every time we opened our mouths to speak, we stopped to reflect on the fact that it will all be played back some day, we’d be a lot more careful about what we say.

The High Priest in the Temple was successful in his efforts when he entered the Holy-of-Holies with complete purity of thought and deed.  Otherwise, he was pulled out with a rope.

The Chevra Kadisha dresses the deceased like a High Priest, because on that Day of Judgment, he goes to represent HIMSELF.  When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!

We must live our lives in preparation for that final Yom Kippur.  It has been said that every person spends his life writing his own eulogy for others to read.

Before the Chevra Kadisha dresses the deceased in his Priestly garments, they wash him.  At the conclusion of the washing they recite, “Tahor hu, tahor hu, tahor hu. – He is pure, he is pure, he is pure.”

It’s our job during these 120 years of life to make sure that they will be telling the truth.

Have a great Shabbos, and a Happy and Kosher Passover.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Some years the two Torah Portions of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

Links to Acharei Mos:

“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2011)

The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest…

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world…

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker.  On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds…

When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…

Read more.

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“From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003)

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…

Read more.

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“Cardiac Judaism” (2002)

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People.

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …

Read more.

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Links to Kedoshim:

“How to be Holy” (2011)

1) Be  Normal…   2) …But  Not  TOO Normal …

Read more.

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“Honor Thy Father’s General” (2010)

… Michael embraced the religious values of his mother.  However, the court had granted ample visitation with his Dad, who was antagonistic toward his ex-wife’s Judaism.  Leslie argued that Mark’s hostility toward religion was detrimental to Michael’s well being, but the court would not get involved.

Mark insisted that Michael come with him in the car on Saturday.  …Leslie was in a quandary.  Should she tell Michael to fight his father?  If Michael refuses to ride on Saturday, his father will drag him, kicking and screaming, into the car.  Should she tell him to ride in the car with his father?  If she would tell Michael to ride on Saturday in his father’s car, she would undermine the very Judaism that she was trying to teach him!  What should she do?

What she did was turn to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, of Blessed Memory… Rabbi Schwab came up with an insightful solution to this problem…

Read more.

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“A Torah Crash Course” (2006)

A Torah lifestyle is very complex.  We are required to fulfill 613 Biblical Commandments.  Then there are rabbinic injunctions, and countless customs that have developed over the centuries.  It is impossible for one person to fathom it all.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) tells us about one person who tried.

“Shammai,” called out the Gentile to the famous rabbi, “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Shammai, great scholar and righteous man that he was, was not a man who was known for tolerating mockery.  He threw the guy out.  The questioner decided to try to bring his challenge to Hillel instead…

Read more.

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“Exodus from Belarus” (2005)

In 1904, an 18-year old boy from Postavy, a Russian/Polish/Lithuanian town in what is now Belarus, got on a boat and went to America.  He married, settled in Connecticut, and went into the cattle and chicken farming business.  By the time the Second World War began, his family was well-settled in its pursuit of the American Dream.  His family never experienced the Holocaust.

That farmer raised a family of nine children.  One of his sons had four children.   I am one of those children.

That farmer’s name was Rachmiel Tzeplyevitch (Zeplowitz at Ellis Island; Seplowitz in Connecticut).  I, Yerachmiel Seplowitz, am his grandson…

Read more.

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“Hanging Out on the Corner” (2003)

As the story goes, a secular Jew got on a subway in New York City.  This fellow, who had come to America from Poland, shuddered when he found himself face to face with two VERY Jewish looking fellows with long beards and big black hats…

He was repulsed.  He could barely hold back the venom in his voice.  “What’s the matter with you Chassidim?” he demanded in his still-Yiddish-accented English.  “Why must you call attention to yourselves in front of the Goyim?  This is America, not Poland!  I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!”

The two “Chassidim” looked at each other and then at him with confusion.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said one of them.  “What’s a ‘Goyim?’  We’re not from Poland.  We’re from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We’re Amish.”…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published on April 13, 2011 at 7:02 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A happy and kosher Pesach to you and the family.

    • Thank you very much. The same to you and yours.


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