It is a Sabbath of rest (Shabbat Shabbaton) for you, and you shall afflict
yourselves. It is an eternal statute And the Kohen who is anointed or who is
invested to serve in his father's stead, shall effect [this] atonement, and
he shall don the linen garments, the holy garments; And he shall effect
atonement upon the Holy of Holies, and he shall effect atonement upon the
Tent of Meeting and upon the altar, and he shall effect atonement upon the
Kohanim and upon all the people of the congregation. (Vayikra 16:31-3)
Rabbi Akiva says, “Happy are you Israel! Before Whom do you purify
yourselves and Who purifies you? Your- Father in Heaven! As it says, “The
Mikvah of Israel is HASHEM!” (Jeremiah 17) Just as a Mikvah purifies from
sins so The Holy One Blessed Be He purifies Israel.”(Talmud Yuma 85 B) For
on this day (Yom Kippur) He will make atonement for you to cleanse you from
all your sins, before HASHEM you will be cleansed. (Vayikra 16:30)
We spend a good part of the Yom Kippur service focused on one man’s entry
into this sacred territory. It’s a wonder how the Kohain Gadol effects an
atonement for the entirety of the congregation by his entering the Holy of
Holies? How does it work?
I have a theory! The way a Mikvah works is that a certain quantity of pure
waters from rain or some other unsullied or natural source is collected.
Rarely do we find that one actually immerses in the original body of
specially-collected waters. The usual approach is to build a regular pool of
ordinary water right nearby and then to open up a hole that connects the
two. The result is that the once ordinary waters are then transformed by
their contact with the original holy waters and they can also act as a Mikvah.
When the Kohain Gadol enters the Holy of Holies he is like a super spiritual
astronaut stepping onto the moon. It is “one small step for man but one
giant step for mankind”. No human with normal traits can survive in such an
All too often during the 2nd Temple the unfit Kohain had to be dragged out
by a chain. However, when he did “make it” it was cause for celebration. A
human had entered into rarified place where “nothing took up space”,
whatever that really means. It is the closest a person on this earth can
come to HASHEM, and it may be more like entering the next world and returning.
The next world is not less than being exposed to HASHEM, in the realm of He
was, He is, He will be, and He brings everything into being. Those concepts
combine to form the contraction which is HASHEM’s name as we know but do not
pronounce, except for the Kohain Gadol on Yom Kippur.
Now when he penetrates that place, it is like that opening is created
between the holy pool of water and the ordinary stuff which is then
transformed. The whole world then becomes the Holy of Holies by extension
and therefore we shout with clarity at the conclusion of Yom Kippur when our
bodies have yield to our souls, “HASHEM Hu HaElochim” –seven times. HASHEM…
next/other worldly, is really compressed and woven throughout this
Any stranger peeking into the room at Neilah, right before the fast
concludes, might conclude that this congregation is a gathering of raving
lunatics. All the shaking and crying and screaming of “HASHEM Hu HaElochim”,
to the untutored eye certainly can create that impression. I remember when a
waiter from the hotel accidently stepped into the room and glanced at
wildness with a look of consternation before closing the door quickly. I
wondered what he must have thought of us at that moment.
The truth is, though, that that precious moment at the climax of a day of
prayer and fasting may be the only really sober and sane moment of the
entire year and the rest of time we just might be certified crazy.However,
if understood properly, it may also be our last best chance to be so
enveloped by the Holy of Holies!