On this holiest of days, the Kohein Gadol entered the holiest of places — and changed worlds
Chananel’s brow wrinkled in confusion as he studied the neatly pressed garments waiting for his father. Something was different…
He couldn’t put his finger on it until he saw his father by the door, about to leave to complete his service in the Beis Hamikdash; he hadn’t even heard him getting ready to leave — that was it! It was too quiet!
Normally the hems of his father’s clothing were trimmed with bells and pomegranates, and their delicate tinkling announced his entrance. His father had explained to him that the chiming of the bells was a form of requesting permission before going into the Kodesh, for one cannot enter the King’s palace unannounced.
“Abba! The bells!” Chananel cried in alarm. His father smiled down at him. “Chananel, my dear, I’m going out now to practice the Avodas Yom HaKippurim. I’m wearing pure white garments. I don’t need bells.”
“But Abba, you once told me that the bells, which make noise that can be heard from far, represent the empty people of our nation!” Chananel tugged at his father’s hand. “And you said that when you wear them, it means you’re bringing all of Am Yisrael with you. Not just the zekeinim and gedolim, but the simple people, too. How can you leave them out on Yom Kippur?” There were tears in Chananel’s eyes.
His father crouched down and took both of Chananel’s hands in his. “Chananel, my son, on Yom Kippur, we are like malachim. Even the simple people are close to Hashem. They don’t need bells to bring them in.”
He stood up and gestured at his clothing. “On Yom Kippur, before going into the Kodesh Hakodoshim, I wear special white clothing. There are no bells and no noise. I’ll do the entire Avodah in complete silence. In the holiest place in the world, the place closest to Hashem, there’s no place for the noise and distractions of this world.
“It’s just the opposite — there’s a thin, still sound: complete concentration. It’s only the Presence of Hashem that fills the entire world. Do you understand?”
Chananel nodded. His father kissed his forehead.
“Chananel, I’m going now to the Lishkas Parhedrin, to practice the Avodah with my brothers, the Kohanim. I’ll stay there for seven days.
“I’ll also go to Lishkas Beis Avtinas — the chamber of the family in charge of making the Ketores. They’ll teach me the Avodah related to the Ketores. Don’t worry — you’ll go to the Mikdash with Uncle Yaakov, and im yirtzeh Hashem, we’ll meet when Yom Kippur is over.”
Chananel followed his father out the door and stood by the fence surrounding their courtyard. The street near his home was filled with people. Why was it so crowded?
His mother, who had followed him outside, saw his confusion. “You see all these people?” she gestured. “They’re here to show Abba that they trust him. They want to give him strength to prepare for his special Avodah on Yom Kippur.
“They hope that their coming here will fill Abba with fear and love for his Avodah. They’ll walk with him now for a bit, accompanying him with tefillos and hope.”
Chananel’s chest swelled. Were all of these people really here for his Abba? Why, there must be thousands of people packed into the narrow street!
He watched, entranced, until a loud cry broke through his reverie. “Rabbosai! The Kohein Gadol is leaving for his chamber in the Beis Hamikdash!” The crowd began to move, people pushed each other. They must all be trying to get close to his Abba, Chananel thought. But within a few minutes, the crowd had rearranged itself; it was now divided into groups.
Chananel frowned, trying to make sense of it. “Ima, what order are they in? The order of the shevatim?”
His mother shook her head. “Look, my Chanani. Here are those people who come from Malchei Yisrael, behind them are those from Beis Dovid, and behind them is Beis Levi. And here, look at the criers standing between each group!” She pointed excitedly.
“Give honor to the House of Dovid!” a tall man cried. Behind him, Chananel heard someone else call, “Give honor to the House of Levi!” Then Chananel saw the men begin walking opposite his father. These were the men of Beis Levi — the Kohanim and Leviim, who served Hashem in his Mikdash.
The deputies, the seganim, wore shiny, light-blue silk clothing. Their brothers, the Kohanim, wore white garments, and tens of thousands of Leviim walked together — the musicians, chatzotzros blowers, gatekeepers, and makers of the Ketores. Chananel recognized his uncles and cousins passing by.
“Look!” he pointed. “There are the paroches makers!”
“And there are the guards,” his mother added.
“Give honor to the Zekeinim!” another crier announced. Seventy of the elders appeared, walking slowly. Chananel thought that each one of them looked important — almost like a king. The Zekeinim were followed by one hundred Kohanim. And then, finally —“Look, Ima! There’s Abba!”
His Abba. The Kohein Gadol.
His father walked with his back straight and head aloft. Behind him walked the elders of the Kohanim.
Chananel felt his heart pounding. He jumped off the fence and began running after his father. He recognized some of the people in the crowd — his cousin had pointed some of them out; they were roshei yeshivah and talmidei chachamim. Chananel knew that they were important people. But now they were all following his father, calling out to him, “Ish Kohein Gadol! Go in peace! Daven to our Creator that He give us life so we can continue to study His Torah!”
Chananel had never seen his father look so serious, had never seen him walk so slowly and carefully. It must be scary to be the messenger of all Am Yisrael, Chananel thought. Everyone was looking at his Abba and hoping he would perform the Avodah properly.
The crowds stopped walking. Chananel looked up. They had reached the entrance to Har Habayis. Everyone began to daven for the kings of Beis Dovid, for the Kohanim, and the Beis Hamikdash. A great “Amen!” thundered Heavenward after each tefillah. Chananel heard a soft thud next to him and turned to see what it was. His mouth fell open. The force of their loud tefillos had felled birds flying in the air!
Chananel’s father turned and looked at the people gathered in front of him. The crowds met his gaze. He bowed his head, and then Chananel heard a sound he’d never heard before. Abba, crying? Two seganei Kehunah appeared and led him to his chamber.
“Your father is crying because of his responsibility,” a boy standing near Chananel told him. “All of Yisrael is depending on him.”
Chananel squared his shoulders. “This week, my father will practice and practice,” he said confidently. “He’ll make himself kadosh and rise to a very high level, he’ll learn the halachos of the Avodah with the Sanhedrin, and he’ll work long hours in the Beis Hamikdash. He’ll do the Avodah in the best way possible.”
On Erev Yom Kippur, Chananel slipped out of his house and headed for the Mikdash. Standing on his toes, he peered through the window of the chamber. He saw a wide seat for the Kohein Gadol, an elegant chair for the av beis din, nasi, king, and segan, and additional chairs for the elders of the Sanhedrin and other respected attendees.
Just then, the elder of the Kohanim stood up slowly. The room was absolutely silent.
“Kohein Gadol,” the elder Kohein began, “reflect on before Whom you’ll perform the Avodah. Know that if you lose your concentration, you’ll immediately die and Am Yisrael will lose their kapparah. Don’t deviate even one iota from the order of the Avodah as it’s meant to be performed!”
His voice rose. “Behold, all of Am Yisrael looks to you! Scrutinize your deeds to see if you have a sin, even a seemingly small one, because there are some aveiros that are equivalent to several aveiros… Also, examine your brothers, the Kohanim, and help them do teshuvah. Imagine seeing before your eyes, the King of kings, Who sits on the throne of judgment and sees all your failings. Can you approach Him accompanied by the enemy, by sin?” The older man sat down.
Chananel looked at his father. His face was red with shame. Chananel’s back stiffened with indignation. They think my father will change the order of the Avodah? My father’s a Tzaddik! What, do they think he’s a Tzedoki?
Chananel’s eyes welled with tears — and when he looked back at his father, he saw that he, too, was crying.
“I’ve searched to see if I have any aveiros, and I’ve already done teshuvah,” his father whispered. “I’ve also checked my brothers, the Kohanim, and I’m ready and prepared to serve the King in His Mikdash.”
Several of the elders were crying, too. They must be ashamed of even suspecting that his father would do the Avodah improperly, Chananel thought.
He watched the king stand and address his father, comforting him. “Don’t fear,” the king promised him, “you’ll come out of the Kodesh safely.”
Chananel saw his father look around the room, and suddenly scared of getting caught, he dropped down to his feet and ran back home. When he opened the door, he was greeted by delicious smells.
“What’s going on here? Why are you preparing a seudah?”
His grandmother smiled down at him from between the pots. “What do you mean why? I’m preparing a seudah in honor of my son, the Kohein Gadol! Tomorrow night, when the fast is over, multitudes of people will come to the house.”
Since his father had been appointed Kohein Gadol, Chananel knew that his grandmother would spend hours cooking, then would go to the arei miklat and give out the food to the people living there. Chananel shuddered. Wasn’t she scared to be there? After all, everyone there had killed someone; inadvertently, true… but still. And now they were forced to stay in the ir miklat until the current Kohein Gadol died.
Chananel knew that was what worried his grandmother — as she doled out the food, she would beg the recipients, “Please, listen to a mother’s heart. If you have gratitude for this food, then I beg you, please, please don’t daven for my son’s death.”
And now, on Erev Yom Kippur, she was cooking again, preparing food for the Seudas Hodayah to be celebrated at the end of the fast.
“Savta, can I ask you something?” Chananel’s voice quivered. “How do you know that everything will be okay? Yishmael Kohein Gadol went into the Kodesh Hakodoshim for 40 years in a row and came out unharmed, but since then, Am Yisrael doesn’t always gain forgiveness…”
Savta embraced the frightened boy in a tight hug. “Do you think there’s a mother who isn’t sure that her son is a tzaddik?” she whispered to him. “Do you think there’s a mother who isn’t sure her son will emerge unharmed?”
Chananel laughed. But his grandmother’s arms held him a bit too tightly, and she wouldn’t meet his gaze.
“Hey, here’s Uncle Yaakov!” Chananel smiled at his young uncle. “Will you go with me to the Mikdash tomorrow?”
“Prepare for bed, Chananel,” his mother said wearily, “so you’ll have strength for the big day that’s coming.”
“Abba will also go to sleep early, right? So that he’ll have strength for tomorrow.”
Uncle Yaakov shook his head. “Your father will stay up all night,” he told him. “He’ll give shiurim to help him stay awake.”
“But what if he falls asleep?” Chananel bit his lip. Could his abba really stay up the whole night?
Uncle Yaakov smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said. “There are plenty of young Kohanim around to wake him. They can place his bare feet on the cold, stone floor of the Mikdash, or snap their fingers to awaken him. Now off to bed with you! Only Abba stays up the whole night!”
Chananel awoke suddenly. He peered outside the window. It must be chatzos halailah, he realized. Now… now Abba is beginning the Avodah. When he finishes removing the ash from the korbanos, he’ll go back to Lishkas Beis Avtinas and learn there until alos hashachar. Chananel’s head drooped.
When he next opened his eyes, Uncle Yaakov was gently shaking him. “Come, Chananel!” he whispered. “It’s time.” Through the window, Chananel saw the first shades of light. He dressed quickly.
A pale sun emerged as they reached the Mikdash. Chananel looked around. It seemed as though all of Yisrael was waiting with them.
Suddenly, a hush fell over the crowd as the Kohein Gadol appeared. He immersed in the mikveh in Lishkas Beis Avtinas, then two young Kohanim hurried to spread out a linen sheet so he could change from his regular clothing for the bigdei zahav. After the tevilah, he went to the Kiyor to wash his hands and feet.
Chananel looked at the beloved figure, dressed in the familiar bigdei Kohein Gadol. “But my father said that he’d wear the bigdei lavan!” he cried.
“Those clothes are only for the special Avodas Yom HaKippurim,” Uncle Yaakov explained. “Now he’s doing other avodos, which he wears the bigdei zahav for.”
Chananel saw his father slaughter the Korban Tamid and splash its blood on the Mizbeiach. Then the Kohanim cut it up and put the pieces on the ramp of the Mizbeiach.
Afterward, Chananel’s father hurriedly prepared five of the lights of the Menorah. He then ran and offered the Ketores, before going back to the Menorah to prepare the other two lights. Next, he threw the limbs of the Korban Tamid into the fire on the Mizbeiach.
Suddenly, Chananel noticed activity around him. He saw people getting ready for something, concentrating and lowering their heads. “What’s going on now?” he asked Yaakov, and his uncle pointed toward the Kohein Gadol, who was turning to the steps of the Ulam.
“Bircas Kohanim!” he whispered.
Chananel would never forget that moment. All his brothers, the Kohanim, led by his father, lifted their hands and blessed the nation on the holiest of days. Their fingers were close to each other as they blessed Bnei Yisrael. “V’Yaseim lecha shalom.”
“May we just be zocheh to get through this day with shalom,” Chananel whispered a tefillah of his own.
He watched his father offer the Minchah and pour the wine on the Mizbeiach, then slaughter and offer the Korbanos Mussaf of Yom Kippur. When he finished, he immersed himself once again and exchanged his bigdei zahav for bigdei lavan.
Abba is going back to the Avodah of Yom Kippur, Chananel realized. His father turned to the bull standing between the Mizbeiach and Heichal, leaned his hands on it, and began saying the words of Vidui.
Chananel was confused. “Why is Abba saying Vidui?”
Yaakov looked down at him solemnly. “This is the first Vidui your father is saying today. He will say Vidui three times in all. See the bull? Your father bought it with his own money. Now he’s confessing for himself and your whole family.”
“For me?” Chananel’s eyes widened. Yaakov nodded, and Chananel stared at his father. He couldn’t make out the individual words of Vidui, but suddenly he heard his father call out the Shem HaMeforash in a loud, strong voice. Chananel felt the Shechinah surrounding him. He felt wrapped in Hashem’s love and compassion — and he sensed the gift of forgiveness.
He instinctively dropped to the floor and prostrated himself. All around him — the people standing with him, the Kohanim in the Azarah — people were doing the same. Together they called out, “Baruch Shem k’vod malchuso l’olam va’ed!”
After he’d returned to his standing position, Chananel realized something strange had taken place — even though the crowd was standing packed so closely together, when they’d bowed, each had their arms and legs spread out, yet none of them had touched each other. This miracle happened each of the nine times the Kohein Gadol would mention the Shem HaMeforash.
After Vidui ended, everyone rose to their feet.
“Here’s the box for the lottery! Finally, the lottery!!” Chananel could hear the crowds crying.
Chananel was glad to see his father walk toward the two se’irim —goats — waiting for him in the east of the Azarah. “They look like twins,” Chananel said, pointing at the two goats.
“They’re the same age and the same weight, and they’re very similar,” Yaakov agreed. “One will be sent to Azazel, and the other will be brought as a Korban for Hashem. Look!”
As Chananel watched, his Abba, flanked on his right by the segan Kohein Gadol and on the left by the Rosh Beis Av (the Kohein in charge of that day’s shifts), plunged his hands into the box. He pulled out one piece of wood in each hand, a word engraved in gold on each.
“Ishi Kohein Gadol,” said the Rosh Beis Av, “please raise your left hand.”
“That means that the piece of wood in his left hand says “La’Hashem,” Uncle Yaakov explained in a whisper. “If it were the one in his right, the segan Kohein Gadol would tell him to raise his right hand.”
Chananel’s Abba placed the goralos on the goats — the one in his right hand on the goat on the right, the one in his left hand on the left.
The lottery was cast! “This goat is for Hashem,” the Rosh Beis Av and the segan Kohein Gadol announced in unison, “and this one will be sent to Azazel.” They tied a red string between the horns of the goat going to Azazel and on the neck of the goat for Hashem.
“In the next few minutes, the goat that’s for Hashem will be sacrificed on the Mizbeiach,” Yaakov explained. “But the goat going to Azazel, the se’ir hamishtaleiach, will head out to the desert. It will die as a kapparah for Am Yisrael. Did you know that the se’ir hamishtaleiach is mechaper for all aveiros in the Torah?”
As Yaakov was speaking, Chananel watched as his father ran to the north side of the Mizbeiach, leaned his hands on the bull and began the second Vidui. Yaakov followed Chananel’s gaze. “Your father is saying Vidui again,” he told him. “Now it’s for the aveiros of the Kohanim.”
Chananel bit his lip. “Very soon, Abba is going into the Kodesh HaKodoshim, right?”
“Right!” Yaakov wrapped his arm around Chananel’s thin shoulders “Don’t worry, your father knows the Avodah. He’ll come out safely!
“Look, he’s walking toward the Kodesh HaKodoshim now, with a firepan of coals in his right hand and a golden spoon of Ketores in his left.”
The crowds suddenly fell utterly silent. Chananel looked around. Hundreds of thousands of eyes followed his Abba as he approached the Kodesh Hakodoshim. Chananel shuddered. He knew that his Abba had to complete the Avodah perfectly. If he made even one small change, he would die right there in the Kodesh Hakodoshim.
Another Kohein approached his father and bent down, tying what looked like a rope to his father’s leg.
“What are they doing?” Chananel tugged at Yaakov’s robes, forgetting to be silent. “Why are they tying a rope to him?”
“If he dies inside, chas v’shalom,” Yaakov whispered, “the Kohanim will need to pull him out, for no one is allowed to go inside.”
Chananel’s eyes welled with tears. He tried to etch the image of his father in his mind. “Hashem! Help him! He’s my father!”
Yaakov’s grip tightened on his small hand. Chananel squeezed his eyes shut and pictured his father completing the Avodah he’d described to him. Now he must be placing the Ketores between the poles of the Aron and offering the Ketores. Now he must be on his way out.
Perhaps he was already standing next to the paroches, where he would daven a short tefillah. This was the Kohein Gadol’s tefillah. “May it be Your Will, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that this year that is coming upon us and upon all of your nation, the House of Israel, be a year in which You open Your treasure house for us. A year of plenty. A year of blessing….”
Suddenly, Chananel felt Yaakov squeeze his hand. He opened his eyes. The paroches was pushed aside, and Chananel saw his Abba emerge! He was perspiring, but glowing. Chananel started to run to him, but Yaakov gently pulled him back, holding a finger to his lips.
His father took the blood of the bull he had slaughtered earlier — all this time, a Kohein had been stirring it so it wouldn’t congeal — and reentered the Kodesh Hakodoshim. Chananel pulled urgently on Uncle Yaakov’s sleeve. “I know this! Abba is going to sprinkle the blood opposite the Aron! He’ll do it once upward, and seven times downward.”
Chananel’s father emerged and set down the blood on a golden stand in the Heichal. He then took the goat designated for Hashem and slaughtered it, collecting its blood in a vessel, and then reentered the Kodesh Hakodoshim. Chananel knew that his father was now sprinkling the blood of the goat. Chananel’s father came out of the Kodash Hakodoshim again and set down the blood of the goat on the other golden stand in the Heichal. He took from the blood of the bull and sprinkled it toward the paroches — once upward and seven times downward.
Chananel watched his father closely. He could see his lips moving. Quietly, Chananel counted along with his Abba. One, one and one, one and two. One and three, one and four, one and five, one and six, one and seven.”
Suddenly, Chananel looked up; something had just occurred to him. “Why does he sprinkle it once upward and seven times downward?”
Uncle Yaakov smiled down at him. “I once heard a nice explanation,” he told him. “There are many ways to do an aveirah, but there’s only one way to become a better person — and that is through Torah. All other paths lead to the world of materialism and physicality.
“The Kohein Gadol wants to arouse Hashem’s compassion for Am Yisrael. When he sprinkles the blood, he says, ‘Ribbono Shel Olam, man’s designs are evil from his youth, and there is only one path leading upward, the path of the Torah. But there are seven downward! Most of man’s paths lead him downward, to the depths of the grave. Therefore, forgive their sins, even if they are many.’”
Chananel looked back at his father. Abba was mixing the blood of the bull with the blood of the goat. Then, he sprinkled some of the blood mixture on each of the four corners of the golden Mizbeiach, moved the coals aside, and sprinkled seven times. Then he walked to the outer Mizbeiach and spilled what remained of the blood onto its base.
Now the Kohein Gadol walked over to the se’ir hamishtaleiach.
Chananel watched his father. Was he talking to the goat? “What’s he doing?”
“Shh!” Uncle Yaakov held a finger to his lips. “This is his third Vidui. Your father will beg forgiveness for all of Am Yisrael — their only role is to bow before Hashem when your Abba says the Shem Hemeforash. Listen!”
Chananel listened. Was his Abba crying?
“Please, Hashem, Your Nation, the House of Israel has erred, perverted, and acted wantonly before You. Please, with Your Name, atone for the errors, crookedness, and wanton deeds…”
The people all dropped to the floor in prostration once again.
When his father finished saying Vidui, an elderly Kohein approached and took the goat.
“Who is that?” Chananel pointed.
“He’s the Ish Itti,” Uncle Yaakov explained. “They choose a Kohein who they know will die this year, according to the mazalos. He ‘ll accompany the goat all the way to Midbar Yehudah.”
“I know!” Chananel bounced up and down on his feet. “When they get to Midbar Yehudah, they throw the goat off a rocky cliff, right? It will die even before it’s halfway down the mountain — but isn’t Midbar Yehudah very far?”
“Yes, it’s pretty far,” Yaakov agreed. “It’s about seven miles! And it’s a difficult walk, especially since the Ish Itti is fasting. They set up ten succos along the way so that he can eat and drink. My friend Yisrael will escort him until the fifth succah and reassure him that he can eat and drink if he needs to.
“But the Ish Itti has never needed to break his fast,” Chananel recalled. Yaakov nodded.
“Now, we have to wait until we know that the goat reached the desert. Until then, the Kohein may not continue the Avodas Yom HaKippurim.”
Chananel made a face. “How can Abba know that?”
“It’s very simple,” Yaakov explained. “Before Yom Kippur, they built small towers at short intervals from each other. Lookouts will signal to each other by waving a cloth until the message reaches Yerushalayim.”
“And there’s another sign, too,” Yaakov continued. “The Ish Itti will tie a red string between the horns of the goat, and the other half of the string will be hanging in the entrance to the Heichal. As soon as the goat is pushed off the cliff, the string will change from red to white.
“When the color changes, your Abba will know he can continue the Avodah of the day. And the color changing will also tell Bnei Yisrael that the Avodah is being done properly and HaKadosh Baruch Hu will forgive their aveiros.”
“So what do we do while we wait?” Chananel frowned. When would they be forgiven already?
“Now your father will read from the Torah.”
Chananel watched his father stride toward the Ezras Nashim. He stood on the bimah facing the nation, and read parshiyos Acharei Mos and Emor, which deal with the Avodah of Yom Kippur, from the Torah scroll.
When he finished Emor, he kept reciting the words of the Torah, continuing with parshas Pinchas, which he recited by heart.
“What’s going on?” Chananel asked. “Why didn’t they roll the sefer Torah to the third parshah?”
Yaakov replied in a whisper. “They don’t roll the sefer Torah out of respect for the tzibbur, for it’s not proper to trouble them to stand until they finish rolling it. And if they were to prepare two sifrei Torah, opened to different places, people may mistakenly believe that the second sefer Torah was brought because the first one is passul, chas v’shalom.”
When his father finished reciting the Torah, he ran to immerse himself in the mikveh and change into the bigdei zahav in Beis HaParvah. From there, he ran to offer up the Korbanos Mussaf, the two rams, and the afternoon Korban Tamid.
Immediately afterward, he immersed himself in the mikveh and changed into the bigdei lavan. “Now, your father is entering the Kodesh Hakodoshim for the last time,” Yaakov explained. “He’ll remove the spoon from the Ketores and the firepan from the coals that he brought in this morning.”
Chananel watched his Abba exit the Kodesh Hakodoshim holding the vessels in his hand. He put them down and hurried to change back into the bigdei zahav. Now, he had to finish the Avodah of the Minchah of the Korban Tamid, offer the afternoon Ketores, and light the menorah.
The shadows were growing longer. Chananel was tired, but he stood tall, proudly watching his father light the menorah. Then he watched him wash his hands and feet. This was the tenth time, Chananel knew. His father removed his bigdei zahav and put on his everyday clothing. Chananel straightened and pulled on Uncle Yaakov’s hand. He felt like dancing! His father had finished the Avodas Yom HaKippurim and emerged unharmed!
Chananel stared at his father. Abba’s face shone with incomprehensible, indescribable joy! How magnificent he looked! His joy spread through the throngs of people packed together.
Chananel tried to squeeze in between people to reach his father, but it seemed as though all of Am Yisrael was trying to reach his father, to shake his hand and thank him, to kiss his hands in gratitude. No one had yet broken their fast, Chananel marveled, but no one was acting hungry.
By now, night had fallen, but the darkness of the night was illuminated by great light from the wax torches that seemed to be everywhere. Chananel saw mothers hurrying home, hanging festive embroidery over their windows and placing lit candles in the window frames. They too wanted to increase the light and joy of his Abba on the way to his house.
Chananel broke free from Uncle Yaakov’s hand and ran home. Bursting in through the courtyard, he excitedly hugged his mother and grandmother. “Abba did it! He did the Avodah perfectly! And we’re forgiven!”
His grandmother was wiping tears from her eyes when Chananel heard a knocking at the door. An unfamiliar man stood on the doorstep. “Are you Chananel, son of the Kohein Gadol?” he asked. Chananel nodded. “If so, please give your father this plaque,” the man said.
Then he smiled. “Take a peek, I think you’re also mentioned there.” He turned and disappeared into the night.
Chananel removed the cloth wrapping, revealing a beautiful golden plaque. He read the words engraved on it. “I am Yehudah Kohein Gadol, son of Aharon Kohein Gadol. I served as Kohein Gadol in the great and Holy House, in service of the One Who rested His Name there, in the year – – – – to the Creation of the world. May the One Who granted me the zechus of performing this Avodah give my sons after me the zechus to stand and serve before Him!”
Chananel’s fingers gently stroked the words give my sons after me the zechus. He closed his eyes. Please, Hashem.
“But due to our many transgressions, we have no fire offerings nor asham offerings… no Kodesh Hakodoshim nor Ketores; no Heichal nor sprinkling…
“We stray and are in captivity, hungry and thirsty… Orphans and impure, lacking and forsaken….
“But You are our King! O’ Living and everlasting G-d!’”
For many years, I davened Vasikin. Shacharis got my full strength and emotions, U’Nesaneh Tokef drew my heart into Mussaf, but I found the Avodas Kohein Gadol somewhat tiring.
By that point, I was starting to feel the fast. Sometimes I’d flip through the pages of my machzor, checking how many pages were left until the end…
But one year, the chazzan began saying the Avodah, and suddenly, the words took on shape and turned into striking, lifelike images that touched my heart.
That was the first time I found myself crying at the words, “But due to our many sins, we have no Mizbeiach nor Ketores nor Korban.”
That was when I started dreaming about learning the Avodah in depth.
I spent a month learning and researching and asking countless questions to my father and husband. In my research, I used over 50 sefarim — Gemaras, midrashim, sifrei halachah, aggadah, mussar, and machshavah, Rishonim, and Acharonim.
My sole goal of this piece is to make the Avodas Yom HaKippurim come alive. Each description has a source. The only product of my imagination is Chananel’s family. Please note that this story didn’t take place in any specific year, so the times of Bayis Rishon and Bayis Sheini are mixed together.
May this be the year that we merit standing in the rebuilt Yerushalayim with the Kohanim doing their Avodah in front of our very eyes!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)
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