Gadol is forbidden to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim (Holy of Holies)
in his regular, golden-thread priestly vestments ("Bigdei Zahav").
Rather, special white garments ("Bigdei Lavan") are required for
Yom Kippur Avodah in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. Chazal explain that
this rule is predicated upon the negative inferences of the
golden-thread vestments, for they invoke the memory of the Chet
Ha-Egel (Sin of the Golden Calf), which is surely not appropriate
to bring up as the Kohen Gadol seeks forgiveness.
It may be asked why Bidgei Zahav were banned only from the Kodesh
HaKodoshim. Certainly, the entirety of the Yom Kippur Service is
geared toward forgiveness. Should not Bigdei Lavan be the
exclusive, required dress at all times on that most holy day?
The answer may be based on the unique quality of the Kohen Gadol's
activity in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. The Kodesh HaKodoshim housed
the Aron (Ark) which contained the Luchos (Tablets). Only the
Kohen Gadol was licensed to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, and his
entry was limited to Yom Kippur. If we think about it, we can
deduce that the Kohen Gadol's entry to the Kodesh HaKodoshim was a
manifestation of Moshe's encounter with Hashem following the Chet
Ha-Egel. Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the mount by himself,
unaccompanied by anyone else. As part of the rapprochement, Hashem allowed
Moshe to experience the Shechinah (Divine Presence) in a manner
unparalleled by any other human. Moshe's ascent culminated with
the creation of new Luchos and the granting of divine forgiveness;
this happened on Yom Kippur. Similarly, on Yom Kippur, the Kohen
Gadol communes with God in a setting of ultimate holiness and
privacy, the meeting is at the site of the Luchos, and it serves
to grant expiation for sin. The Kohen Gadol thereby replicates
Moshe's encounter with God at Sinai on Yom Kippur. The entirety of
Moshe Rabbeinu's ascent was precipitated by the Chet Ha-Egel and
served to negate its effects; thus, the replication of this
ascent, as enacted by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, dare not
invoke the memory of the Chet Ha-Egel. This is why Bigdei Lavan
are a unique requirement for service in the Kodesh HaKodoshim on
The role of the Kohen
Gadol (High Priest) in the Yom Kippur Avodah (Temple Service) is quite
intriguing. Halachah mandates that the Kohen Gadol sacrifice a bull as a
Korban Chatas (Sin Offering) and confess (1) the sins of himself and his
household, and (2) the sins of the Kohanim, prior to slaughter. This bull
must also be the personal properly of the Kohen Gadol; it is not purchased
with public funds. The Kohen Gadol then offers a goat as a Chatas on
behalf of the entire nation. After sacrifice, both animals are intertwined
and burned together.
Why is the bull reserved for Vidui for the Kohen Gadol, his family and his
fellow Kohanim, and is not utilized for confession on behalf of the entire
Jewish People? Why must the bull be the Kohen Gadol's personal property?
The answer is that teshuvah (repentance) and kapparah (forgiveness)
function on two levels: that of the individual and that of the general
community, in which Jews as one public body supplicate to Hashem and are
communally forgiven. The Kohen Gadol's personal sacrifice and confession
("Vidui") represent the teshuvah and kapparah process of the
individual; sacrifice of the goat symbolizes the teshuvah of the tzibbur
(community). We are bound to engage in both levels of teshuvah on Yom
Kippur. Furthermore, God bides us to repent and take responsibility for
our own misdeeds, and He also mandates that we link up with the tzibbur
and repent through public Avodah, which is given unique attention. The
intertwining of the bull and goat reflect the interrelationship of
teshuvah of the individual and the public, such that we must entreat God
as both private citizens and members of the Jewish community as a whole.
This two-tiered teshuvah system is the basis for Avodah and forgiveness on
The first mishnah in
Yoma stipulates that the Kohen Gadol must be sequestered for one compete
week prior to Yom Kippur to purify himself and prepare for the holiday.
The Gemara compares this sequestering to the full week of sequestering and
purification of the Kohen who burned the Parah Adumah ("Red Heifer")
before performing that mitzvah. The basis for comparison is that
instruments of public purification must themselves be pristine and
untainted in order to represent the tzibbur and effect taharah
(purification) for it. The Parah Adumah and Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur are
Klal Yisroel's (the Jewish People's) emissaries for attaining spiritual
purification. If these emissaries are unfit or even slightly lacking in
their own spiritual readiness, they do not merit to function as conduits
for God's endowment of taharah upon His nation. So, too, must we be ever
aware that in order to perform any roles as public functionaries (whether
we perform as rabbis, chazzanim, teachers, leaders or otherwise), it is
first necessary to purify ourselves so that we can most effectively be
conduits of kedushah (holiness) between Hashem and His nation.
The Yom Kippur Avodah
features two goats. The first was a Korban Chatas, as noted above, and the
second was sent off a cliff in the barren desert. This second goat had a
scarlet ribbon attached to its horns, and a separate fragment of that
ribbon was likewise tied to the top of the cliff where the goat was led.
When the goat reached its final destination, the ribbon on the cliff
turned white, indicating the Hashem forgave His people. What do this
second goat and the ribbon symbolize?
Chazal (our sages) have noted that forgiveness is a divine gift. The
ability for sins to vanish is illogical and impossible in human terms;
only God can effect such a miracle. This is the message of the goat. The
goat is discarded, never to be seen again, in a location which assures its
irrevocable removal and destruction. The ribbon spontaneously turns white;
neither the person who leads the goat nor anyone else is involved with the
color change; it is clearly a divine effect. So, too, sins once ominous
vanish, and God purifies us in defiance of human logic and capability.
This is the miracle of Yom Kippur.
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