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Home » Acharei Mot, Yom Kippur

Acharei Mot: G-d’s Space

Submitted by on April 22, 2007 – 3:21 amNo Comment | 1,602 views

The Holiest Day

The nation had pinned their hopes on two young men. Rising stars of the Levitic tribe, they were hailed as leaders of the next generation. Pious, righteous, passionate and devoted, Aaron’s eldest sons were expected to respectively succeed their illustrious father and uncle.
Tragedy struck. Like a bolt of lightening, Nadab and Abihu, were cut down in their prime. What was their crime? They entered the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of G-d’s sanctuary, unbidden. (1)
Immediately after their passing G-d instructed Moses to bar all entry into the Holy of Hollies with, but, one exception. Aaron, the High Priest, God's Space innerstreamwould be permitted to enter this holiest place, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. (2)
The question poses itself: If ordinary mortals could not withstand the sanctity of the inner sanctum  on an ordinary day, how would Aaron withstand it on Yom Kippur, when the room’s sanctity was surely intensified?

Suffused

Simon the righteous, the last of the truly righteous high priests, emerged from the Holy of Holies on the last Yom Kippur of his life to inform his family that he would die that year. He explained that he always had a vision of an elderly gentleman, resplendent in white, who accompanied him into and out of  the inner sanctum. This year the vision entered with him, but did not accompany him upon his exit.
The Midrash amends the tale somewhat and proclaims that it was not a gentleman that Simon saw, but the spirit of G-d. Furthermore, Simon did not see the vision outside of himself, but within, for when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies he was suffused with a divine spirit.
This explains how Aaron could enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, but not on an ordinary day. On Yom Kippur Aaron entered on G-d’s instructions. When he entered by divine instruction he was suffused and thus protected, by a divine aura. On any other day Aaron would have entered on his own. If he were to enter on his own he would be exposed and therefore vulnerable, to a sanctity too intense to survive.
Aaron’s sons were learned and holy men. They knew that entry into G-d’s inner sanctum was forbidden and fraught with danger, but they couldn’t contain themselves. So aroused were they with love, so overcome by passion, that they burst into the divine chamber and expired in a rush of exalted ecstasy. They knowingly surrendered their lives for a pleasure they valued beyond their lives.
Notwithstanding their glorious passion and religious inspiration, they had entered without divine permission .Without the cloak of divine protection, their lives just could not be spared. (3)

Priesthood for Hire

The final decades of the second temple saw Roman Procurators tender the High Priesthood to the highest bidder. High priests during this era were men of means and influence, but hardly of piety. These high priests actually expected to expire on Yom Kippur when they entered the Holy of Holies  Chains were placed around their legs before they entered so that they could be extracted in the event of their demise.
Why did these high priests routinely expire in G-d’s inner sanctum? Were they guilty of blasphemy or perhaps crimes of conscience?

Invasion

Your home belongs to you. You may choose to invite others and you may choose not to. Guests, who enter unbidden can be invited to stay or asked to leave. It is your home. Others are there at your sufferance. As long as they acknowledge your dominion and comply with your rules their crossing of your threshold does not constitute an invasion of your space.
Your space belongs to you only when others respect your borders. The moment your borders are violated, the space within them is no longer your own. When others flout your authority in your home, they invade your space. Once invaded, your space is no longer your own.
You now have two choices. You can either submit and allow your space to be occupied or you can assert yourself and reclaim your space. These are your only choices. You might pretend that your space it your own after it has been invaded, but that won’t change reality. Your space is either yours or it is not. It cannot belong to you and to someone else at the same time.

G-d’s Space

When the high priest entered the holy of holies he was in G-d’s sanctum, in G-d’s space. He was there at G-d’s sufferance and could only enter on G-d ‘s invitation. Unbidden entry by unworthy high priests constituted an attempt at invading G-d’s space.
Invasions can only be concluded in one of two ways. The former owner can withdraw and cede his space or the invader can withdraw and end the invasion. Because G-d fills all space and cannot withdraw from any space, the invader would have to withdraw. But since the high priest insisted on entering, the only alternative was the immediate cessation of the invader’s existence.

As they Entered

Passionate though they were, Aaron’s sons entered G-d’s room unbidden and with that, attempted to effect a subtle transformation of the room. They didn’t intend to invade G-d’s space; they were simply overcome by an incredible urge to be in G-d’s presence and glimpse his sacred beauty. Yet such a glimpse was not sanctioned by G-d and thus constituted an attempt at invasion. Their death was not a punishment as much as a consequence of their zeal.
Simon, on the other hand, was suffused with G-d’s spirit when he entered the Holy of Holies. Simon didn’t belong in that room; G-d’s visitor did. And so it was: Simon was not in that room. When he entered, Simon, suffused with the spirit of G-d, he ceased being Simon and became a divine visitor. G-d made space for those he invited
The divine spirit not only shielded the high priest from the room’s intense sanctity, it transformed him into a Divine being. Once transformed, his entry wouldn’t constitute an invasion of G-d’s space and he would be able to  survive the visit. Had he remained himself when he entered, even if that self were pious, his presence in the Holy of Holies would have constituted an invasion and he could not have survived.

Footnotes

  1. Leviticus 10: 1-2.
  2. Leviticus 16: 1-2.
  3. Torah Moshe (R. Moshe Alshich, Tzefat, 1508-1600) ibid.
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