Yom Kippur: Why the High Priest Went Home


Seven days before Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol (“High Priest”) is removed from his home to his chamber in the Holy Temple.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Yom Kippur Service, 1:3

[Upon concluding the Yom Kippur service, the Kohen Gadol] washed his hands and feet, removed the golden vestments, dressed himself in his own clothes, and set off for his home. The entire people would accompany him to his home. He would celebrate a festival over the fact that he had emerged in peace from the holy.

Ibid., 4:2

Holiness is transcendence, holiness is withdrawal. Holiness is disengagement from the physical, disavowal of the mundane, departure from the familiar and the everyday.IT sales banner

But holiness is not an end in itself. Holiness has an aim: to return to the very arena it has escaped and remake it in its image. To sanctify the material, to rarefy the mundane, to sublimate the everyday.

On the holiest day of the year, the holiest human being entered the holiest place on earth. To prepare for this confluence of the most sacred points of time, space and spirit, the Kohen Gadol underwent a process of sanctification. He withdrew from his home, from his marriage and family life, from his everyday self. For seven days he secluded himself in the Holy Temple, divorced from the cares and wants of physical life. Only then could he enter the innermost and most sacred chamber in the Holy Temple, the “Holy of Holies,” to draw forth the spiritual essence of life for the year, world and humanity.

When he concluded the Yom Kippur service, he went home. This is not just a fact but a halachah, a law, an integral part of the observance of Yom Kippur. The entire people accompanied him home, for this was the last of a long schedule of offerings and services he performed that day on behalf of the people. For the Kohen Gadol’s return to home life was the ultimate test and validation of the sacredness of the day. It emphasized the fact that not only had he entered into the holy, but he had also “emerged in peace”—that he had succeeded in making his post-Yom Kippur life a tranquil continuum of the day’s holiness.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Av 25, 5746 (August 30, 1986)[1]


[1]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXXII, pp. 106-111.

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7 years ago

With the help of the late Timothy Treadwell, “Grizzly Man”, 1957-2003, I am going to describe to you what it must have felt like to Caiaphas the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur. No one enters the Holy of Holies except for the High Priest, and that but once a year.

Before the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), he had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring sacrificial blood with him to make atonement for his sins.

Any weakness/chink in his armor (so to speak) meant certain death. The sons of Aaron the High Priest (Moses’ brother) had died in there. A rope was tied around the High Priest’s ankles to pull him out in the event of his
death. Bells were also placed on him so that the Levites could hear if the High Priest was still alive.

Imagine below Caiaphas the High Priest describing his past personal experience(s).


I’m out in the prime cut of the Holy Place next to the Altar of Incense.
Behind me is Ed and Rowdy, members of an up-and-coming subadult Levite gang. They’re challenging everything, including me. Goes with the territory.

Once I enter the Most Holy Place…
If I show weakness, if I attempt to retreat unnecessarily, I may be hurt, I may be killed. I must hold my own if I’m going to stay behind that veil.

For once there is weakness, YAHH will exploit it, He will take me out, He will decapitate me, chop me into bits and pieces. I’m dead.
But so far, I persevere. Persevere.

Most times I’m a kind warrior in there.
Most times, I am gentle, I am like a flower, I’m like… I’m like a fly on the wall,
observing, noncommittal, noninvasive in any way.

Occasionally I am challenged.
And in that case, the kind warrior must, must, must become a samurai.
Must become so, so formidable, so fearless of death, so strong
that he will win, he will win.
Even YAHH will believe that you are truely powerful.
And in a sense you must be truely powerful if you are to survive in the Most Holy Place with G-d.

No one knew that. No one ever friggin’ knew that there are times when my life
is on the precipice of death and that our G-d can consume, He can kill.
And if I am weak, I go down.

I love YAHH with all my heart. I will protect His Rituals and Temple.
I will die for Him, but I will not die at His righteous indignation.
I will fight. I will be strong. I’ll be like one of the Cheribum.
I will be… master. But still a kind warrior.
Love you, YAHH.
Give it to me, baby.
That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

I can smell death all over my fingers.


Ideas for improvement are always welcome.
Observation: why does Hebrews chapter 9 think the Altar of Incense is within the Holy of Holies (Most Holy Place)?

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