By Rabbi Aron Tendler
It's the 7th day of Adar, 2488, the last day of Moshe's life. Exactly 120
years earlier the world was graced with the birth of a child who brought
redemption to his people and the light of Torah to the world. He became a
prophet of unparalleled greatness who led his nation through a miraculous 40
year journey to the edge of the promised land.
Trials and tribulations, rebellions and conspiracies, disillusionment and
questions were his lot in life. Yet, Moshe never gave up. He nurtured the
Jews "like a mother cares for her child". He confronted man and G-d in
protecting his charges, and succeeded in bringing the people, both physically
and spiritually intact, to the fulfillment of a 500 year old promise. Now he
had to put his affairs in order, finish his work, and insure an unquestioned
transition of leadership to his student Yehoshua. This is the focus of
1st& 2nd Aliyot: Moshe emphasized Hashem's continued presence and protection,
even though, Moshe himself would not be with them any longer. Ever since
assuming the leadership of Israel, Moshe had the conflicting job of fostering
the nations dependency upon Hashem while de-emphasizing their dependency upon
him as a leader and provider. Now, as he prepared his final good-bye, it was
clear that by day's end, with Moshe's death, the nation would have no other
choice but to reassess their dependency on Moshe and direct their attention to
However this was far more complex than it seemed. True, Moshe's death
would be a definitive "cutting of the apron strings"; but, living in the Land
by the laws of nature rather than miracles would de-emphasize G-d's overt role
in all aspects of their lives.
3rd & 4th Aliyot: By writing the entire text of the Torah, entrusting it into
the care of the Kohanim, and explaining the unique mitzvah of Hakhel, Moshe
hoped that the people would retain the perspective of their dependency upon
Hashem. The Kohanim represented the continued presence of "G-d in the midst
of the camp". As teachers and role models, they kept an otherwise dispersed
and decentralized nation focused on their national and individual missions.
Once every 7 years, the entire nation gathered in the Bais Hamikdash in a
recreation of the giving of the Torah. This national expression of devotion
would serve as an essential reminder that adherence to the Torah is the reason
why the nation occupied and retained the Land.
5th, 6th, & 7th Aliyot: Moshe and Yehoshua were summoned to the Ohel Moed and
told the harsh future of their charges. In spite of all the warnings, the
people would sin and loose sight of their dependency upon Hashem. They would
be punished, and instead of accepting responsibility for the consequences that
their neglect of G-d's commandments caused, they would have the chutzpah to
blame G-d's absence and neglect for the calamities and disasters that had
befallen them.(31:17) It would then be the very words of this "Song" which
would testify to the reality of their defection from Hashem and the inevitable
consequences which occurred, as forewarned in this Torah.
Yehoshua was encouraged to be strong and courageous and lead the nation
with the same devotion that Moshe had. The Torah, written by Moshe himself,
was then placed in the Ark as proof of the conditions by which the Jewish
people live or die.
This Shabbos is known as Shabbos Shuvah because of the Haftorah that begins
with the words, "Shuva Yisroel" - Return o' Isarel. Gleaned from both Hoshea
and Yoel, the Prophets describes Hashem's desire to forgive His children, if
only they will repent. The fast of Yom Kippur is mentioned, as well as the
rewards awaiting us if we proclaim G-d in our midst.
Preparing For Yom Kippur - Review and Comment
The holiest day of the year is devoted to prayer and introspection. Although
similar to Tisha B'Av as regards the restrictions against: eating, drinking,
washing, using ointments, marital relations, and wearing leather shoes; the
mood of Yom Kippur is totally different. Tisha B'Av is a sad day steeped in
the memories of past tragedies and calamities. Yom Kippur is a solemn day,
filled with the hope for forgiveness and the elation of a renewed relationship
with both G-d and man.
Yom Kippur is the only biblically ordained fast day, and its origins began
with the year 2248 following the Exodus from Mitzrayim. After the breaking of
the first Luchos, Moshe re-ascended Sinai in anticipation of the second
Luchos. After 40 days and nights, during which the Bnai Yisroel were immersed
in prayer and repentance for the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe descended from
Sinai, on the 10th day of Tishrei, 2448, bringing the 2nd Luchos and Hashem's
love and forgiveness. Thereafter, the day of Yom Kippur has been designated,
by the Torah, as the day on which Hashem will forgive his children for their
yearly sins of "worshipping the Golden Calf". Allow me to explain.
The sin of the Golden Calf captured the essence of why we sin. Following
the extraordinary events leading up to Revelation, it is difficult to
understand how that generation could sin so quickly and severely. In truth,
we are not any different. Acceptance of a Creator Who is intimately involved
in directing every aspect of our personal, national, and universal destinies,
carries the responsibility of listening to His commandments. To do any less
denies the purpose that the Creator had in creating us and placing us in the
setting of His universe.
Coming to terms with the awesomeness of G-d's power and control is not
easy. Often we do not understand the rules by which He governs and judges,
and more often, we aren't prepared to frame our lives by the restrictions of
His demands. Instead, we either engage in the philosophical game of "is there
truly a Creator who cares?"; or, we modify G-d to suit our limited needs and
understanding. Either approach recreates G-d in a form that we are more
comfortable with, because we control the rules of the game.
The Jews in the year 2448 knew that Hashem existed, but did not understand
the degree of G-d's love and concern. As a result, they were unwilling to
invest in a relationship that demanded complete obedience. To make such an
investment would have required absolute trust that Hashem would continue to
care and provide, even if His trusted servant Moshe was no longer present.
Today, we too are not sure if we can trust Hashem. If we could, we would
be foolish not to listen to Hahsem's rules and demands considering His
promised rewards of health, wealth, and all good things. Instead, we create
our own image of G-d, our own Golden Calf, that reflects the lack of trust
and obedience in our relationship with the Creator. Some may feel that they
have good cause to question His trustworthiness, others may admit that they
simply are not prepared to do what He demands. In either case, we are
implored on Yom Kippur to forego our limited understanding, and through
fasting and prayer rise above the physical limitations of our mortality to
recognize the greater picture of Hashem's continued and trustworthy
providence. The mere fact that we have survived the past 3,000 years as a
nation is a far greater miraculous revelation of G-d's presence than the
Exodus or the giving of the Torah. Those were mere moments in history; the
existence of the Jewish people is history itself. Yom Kippur should focus us
on the need to trust Hashem, and accept His continued involvement in our
The entire Musaf service is devoted to what had taken place in the Bais
Hamikdash. The Kohain Gadol performed the entire service in the hope of
exacting forgiveness from Hashem for the continued effect of the sin of the
Golden Calf. He entered into the Holy of Hollies to offer the nation's total
acceptance of G-d and His Torah and to beg for compassion and mercy. During
that time he was prohibited from wearing his "golden vestments", because they
were reminiscent of the Golden Calf.
It is important to remember that the very creation of the Mishkan -
Tabernacle was a consequence of the Golden Calf. Because the Golden Calf
perverted the purity of a brand new world that had just received the Torah, we
had to construct a micro-replacement of that pure world wherein which Hashem's
presence could be openly manifest. This micro-replacement would be a symbol of
what the world could have been if only we had not sinned. Therefore, the
construction of the Mishkan had to mirror the creation of heaven and earth.
For example. The 39 Melachot - acts of work prohibited on Shabbos, are
derived from the work required to build the Mishkan. Through keeping Shabbos
we proclaim G-d's ownership of the universe and accept His intended purpose
for creating us. Therefore, just as Hashem rested on Shabbos from creating the
universe, so too, we rested from doing the work of creating the Mishkan.
Furthermore, our yearly attempt at correcting the sin of the Golden Calf had
to take place in the Bais Hamikdash that represented the world that should
have been if it had not been perverted by the sin of the Golden Calf.
On Yom Kippur, the Shabbos of all Shabdatos, all the elements of our
intended relationship with Hashem come together. The holiest man on the
holiest day in the holiest place comes as a representative of the holiest
people to express absolute trust in the Creator and in His purpose for
creating us and the universe.
The final moments of Yom Kippur underscore this concept. After davening
and fasting almost 24 hours, we are prepared to embrace the realities of a
Creator who is intimately involved in all aspects of our lives. This is
publicly expressed when we all proclaim the final words, "Hashem is our G-d!"
The seven-fold proclamation is our statement of absolute trust and acceptance
in G-d. This is followed by the joyous prayer, Next year in Yerushalayim,
when we will hopefully witness, first hand, the holiest man, serving on the
holiest day, in the holiest of all places.
Rabbi's Notebook - Special Edition - The Yom Kippur Avodah
The Yom Kippur davening focuses us on the beauty and majesty of being the
"Chosen People". The Tefilos are filled with the grandeur of G-d's power and
the love and compassion of His mercy. The Musaf service projects us back in
history to a time when this grandeur was manifest in the actual building of
the Bais Hamikdash and the being of the Kohain Gadol.
This edition of the Rabbi's Notebook is devoted to a description of that
Avodah - Service and the fervent hope that we all merit to personally witness
the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash and the Kohain Gadol performing the
Avodah next year in Yerushalayim!
(Birmbaum - 811; ArtScroll - 554; Metsudah -533)
1. The Avodah begins with a magnificent description of the history of the
world leading up to the birth of the Kohain Gadol. It reflects on the theme
that all of creation finds its meaning in the setting of the holiest man, on
the holiest day, serving the Creator in the holiest place. This is what
humanity, and specifically the Chosen People, can aspire to become.
2. (B.813; A.558; M.538) The 7 days of preparation prior to Yom Kippur are
then described as the Kohain Gadol was trained and purified to do the Avodah.
3. (B.815; A.560; M.542) Having stayed awake the entire night immersed in
Torah study and prayer, the Kohain Gadol began the day at dawn. He immersed
in the Mikvah for the 1st of 5 times that day, put on his Golden clothing, and
prepared the daily sacrafice, incense, menorah lighting, mincha, and wine
4. (B.815; A.560; M.544) The Kohain Gadol removed his Golden clothing,
immersed a 2nd time, put on his white linen garments, said the 1st confession
for himself while leaning with both hands on the head of the bull which would
be his personal sin offering.
5. (B.817; A.562; M.546) The lottery of the 2 identical goats was performed,
and a scarlet wool string was tied between the horns of the goat selected to
be sent into the desert.
6. The Kohain Gadol then confessed over his bull on behalf of his family and
all the Kohanim, and then shechted - slaughtered the bull.
7. (B.819; A.564; M.549) The Kohain Gadol prepared the Ktores- incense
offering and entered into the Holy of Holies. Leaving the burning incense
behind, he exited, took the blood of his bull offering, reentered the H.O.H
and sprinkled the blood. Exiting again he then shechted the goat offering and
reentered the H.O.H to sprinkle its blood. He exited and sprinkled the blood
of his bull a 2nd time in front of the Paroches - dividing curtain, and then
did the same with the blood of the goat. Then the 2 bloods were mixed and
sprinkled on the Golden Alter.
8. (B.821; A.566; M.553) The Kohain Gadol then confessed over the 2nd goat on
behalf of the entire nation, and sent the goat into the desert to be killed at
the Azazel. The bull and goat sacrifices were then prepared to be burned on
the Mizbeach after which he immersed for the 3rd time and changed into the
Golden garments. He then offered a second set of sacrifices, the Oleh, for
himself and the people, along with the Musaf offering.
9. (B.823; A.568; M.556) The Kohain Gadol immersed a 4th time, changed into
his linen garments and entered the H.O.H to retrieve the fire pan used for the
burning of the incense. Exiting, he removed the linen garments, never to be
worn again, and immersed a final 5th time, and put on his Golden garments. He
then offered the daily afternoon offering along with the daily incense
offering, and lit the Menorah.
10. The remainder of the Avodah describes the magnificence of the Kohain
Gadol's triumphant appearance and celebration. This is followed by the
mournful recognition that we are no longer able to witness the glory and
majesty due to our sins and those of our ancestors.
11. Note that in addition to the 5 immersions that the Kohain Gadol underwent
between changes of clothing, there was also 10 times that he "washed his hands
and feet". He would wash his hands and feet before removing his garments and
after putting on the change of garments. The 5 Tefilos that we recite are
symbolic of the 5 immersions, and the 10 confessions are reminiscent of the 10
washings of hands and feet.
12. (B.837; A.586; M.575) A moving telling of the Ten Martyrs is part of our
Musaf confession and is one of the emotional highlights of Yom Kippur.
Although each story is historically accurate, the combined stories are not.
The history spans approx. 150 years from before the destruction of the 2nd
Temple until after Bar Kochva's revolt. The Gemara tells us that the death of
Tzadikim is a form of sacrifice and redemption. May it be Hashem's will that
the need for all such offerings end, and that we will soon merit the coming of
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.