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Home » Acharei Mot

Every Jew A High Priest

Submitted by on April 24, 2023 – 10:10 pmNo Comment | 554 views

Did you know that every Jew is a High Priest? I don’t say this tongue-in-cheek. According to the great commentator Rabbi Yakov Bal Haturim, this is precisely what G-d meant when he told our ancestors at Sinai, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests.”[1] Not only priests but kings among priests.

He puts it this way. “Had they merited, all Jews would have been appointed high priests. In the Messianic era, this honor will be restored to them, as it is written, “And you will be designated priests of G-d.”[2] Now, this is something to look forward to. When Mashiach comes, you and I, not just the descendants of Aaron, will be high priests.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that the Holy of Holies was off-limits to all Jews but the High Priest. Even the high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. Every Jewish child knows this.

Today, I will share a teaching that you might not have known. The Midrash tells us that Yom Kippur is when the High Priest was required to perform the rituals by which he entered the Holy of Holies. However, had he wanted to, the high priest could perform those rituals and enter the Holy of Holies any day of the year.[3]

Taken together, these two teachings present a powerfully uplifting message. When Mashiach comes, and we anticipate his arrival every moment, you and I will be permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. And if we could, chances are that we would. Unlike Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons, who entered the Holy of Holies unbidden and paid the ultimate price for their entry, you and I will be welcomed with open arms.

Yes, we will need to bring special incense and offerings. It won’t be easy. After all, the rituals that the high priest performed on Yom Kippur were physically taxing and consumed most of his day.  But that is a small price to pay to enter G-d’s inner sanctum, the holiest place on earth.

A Glimpse
Until Mashiach comes, only the high priest is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies.[4] Nevertheless, during the era of the second Temple, all Jews were given a glimpse of the Holy of Holies.

The Talmud relates that during the festivals when all Jews came to Jerusalem, the priests would draw the curtains and give all Jews a glimpse of the Holy of Holies. They would behold the cherubs locked in an intimate embrace, and the priests would declare, “See, you are beloved to G-d like husband and wife.”[5]

Although they were unable to enter the Holy of Holies, they experienced the intimacy with G-d that is manifest in the Holy of Holies. In the rest of the world, G-d is invisible. In the Holy of Holies, G-d’s presence is palpable and pervasive. You can’t be in the Holy of Holies and think of yourself. In the Holy of Holies, you know the one true existence. It fills your every pour and consumes your entire awareness. You feel G-d’s presence in your bones. It permeates you completely from your head to your toes.

Outside of the Holy of Holies, you can feel yourself. However, when you are offered a glimpse of the Holy of Holies from the outside, you experience love, all-pervasive love. You are still aware of yourself, but you feel an intimate and inexorable bond with G-d that permeates you completely.

It is impossible to describe this; it can only be seen. When you see something, you capture its essence in a way that you can’t capture through hearing or thinking about it. Similarly, it enchants you in a way that words and thoughts can’t. Although thoughts can be immersive, as in the adage, “You are where your thoughts are,” they are not as immersive as sight. When our ancestors saw the Holy of Holies, they experienced it—at least from the outside.

They experienced it from the outside. When Mashiach comes, we will experience it from the inside. The immersive awareness of G-d as the only true existence and the realization that we exist only by dint of His existence will follow us wherever we go. This plain truth will be so manifest that we will never lose sight of it, no matter where we are.

Torah Study
Today, this seems like a dream. It seems so far-fetched that it feels like a fantasy tale. However, it is not as distant as it seems at first blush. You see, our sages declared that when the Temple was destroyed, G-d removed His presence from the Holy of Holies and confined Himself to the four cubits of Torah study.[6] In fact, the Talmud tells us that many sages made a point of praying in their study halls rather than in the synagogue because that is where G-d is most present.

This tells us that if we want to experience the Holy of Holies today, we need to create an environment of Torah study. If we study Torah and think Torah thoughts wherever we go, we create a moving four-cubit environment that is Holy of Holies.

Even if we don’t sense the sanctity in this environment, we have nonetheless created it. The more often we study Torah, the more often we play host to G-d. In a sense, this is even more marvelous than entering the Holy of Holies. When we enter the Holy of Holies, G-d is our host. When we study Torah, we are G-d’s host. Wherever we go, G-d follows. Our four cubits become G-d’s home. Even if we don’t feel G-d’s presence, we are still His host.

Think about it. We are each, at the very least, required to study Torah for a few moments at the beginning and end of our day. Before you begin, pause to reflect on the profundity of what you are doing. You are hereby creating a home for G-d, where you will be His host, and  thereby transform your immediate vicinity into a Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was off-limits to all Jews except for the High Priest. Every Jew aspired to be hosted by G-d in His room. And here, you will play host to G-d in your room.

When you study after this reflection, the study session will be much more meaningful and inspiring. If you pray to G-d after your study session, it will truly be uplifting to know that G-d is right here and that you have His ear.

Most dramatic, though, is the realization that you are laying the groundwork for the time when the entire nation will be permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. For that day, may it come speedily in our times, when the eye of flesh will perceive the ultimate presence of G-d.[7]

[1] Exodus 19:6.

[2] Isaiah 61:6.

[3] Vaykrah Rabbah 21:7; Shemos Rabbah 38:8.

[4] Exceptions were made for maintenance workers and to inspect the Torah scroll that Moses wrote that was stored there.

[5] Babylonian Talmud, Yuma 54a.

[6] Babylonian Talmud, Berachos 8a.

[7] This essay is based on Toras Menachem 5748:4, p. 248 and Likutei Amarim 34.