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Dvar Torah: Parashat Acharei-Mot Kedoshim

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In this week’s Dvar Torah for Acharei-Mot Kedoshim, the Chief Rabbi explains why the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest would prepare just as carefully to leave the Holy Sanctuary as he would to enter it.

It doesn’t make any sense.

In Parashat Acharei Mot we are told, “Bezot yavo Aharon el-hakodesh” – With ‘this’, Aharon, the High Priest will enter the Holy of Holies. But the word ‘zot’ – ‘this’, seems to be surplus to requirements in the context of the text. So what was it that Aharon came with, as he entered into the Kedosh Hakedoshim? The Midrash explains that Aharon took with him the merit of all the shabbatot that the Jewish people had kept during the previous year. This indicates to us the power and significance of Shemirat Shabbat.

But we still need to understand, what the thematic connection is between Shabbat, Yom HaKippurim and the service of the Kohen Gadol on that day? I’d like to suggest the following: Remarkably, on the day of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol changed his garments five times. And on every single one of those occasions, he immersed himself in a Mikveh and then purified his feet and his hands with kiddush yadayim ve’raglayim.

But the question that I’d like to ask is this: Yes, we can understand why he needed to purify himself when he was coming from the outside, inwards. But going from inside the Holy of Holies to the outside, to his regular garments, to his regular environment – why did he have to sanctify himself before that as well? Why was there a need to immerse himself in a Mikveh once again?

‘…the Kohen Gadol … didn’t want his experience in the Holy of Holies to just be a one-off moment of spirituality.’

It’s a bit like being given the privilege of meeting a monarch. You might try this garment and that, you would get yourself ready, you would look forward to that remarkable occasion. But whilst actually experiencing that audience with the monarch, would you start preparing for the experience of going back to your ordinary life afterwards? But that’s exactly what the Kohen Gadol was doing – and that’s the connection with Shabbat.

You see, Shabbat is so special for us, not only because it is an incredible day’s experience but also because it provides inspiration for us throughout the week that follows. That is why in our Havdalah ceremony, we take the besamim – the spices, we smell them to symbolise that way that the spirituality of Shabbat lingers on. So too with the Kohen Gadol. He didn’t want his experience in the Holy of Holies to just be a one-off moment of spirituality. He wanted it empower him, to inspire him. To take that kedusha, that holiness and infuse the rest of the year with the sanctity of what he had experienced. And that is why he immersed himself in the mikveh to prepare for putting on his ordinary clothes thereafter. From the experience of the Kohen Gadol we learn how important it is to savour every precious moment in life and also how important it is to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Shabbat Shalom.