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Intimate With G-d

The opening words of Parashat Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1–18:30)sets the theme and adds context to the care required for the service of the Kohen Gadol, specifically on Yom Kippur, the only time during the year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. These instructions were given to Aaron the same day his sons, Nadav and Avihu, died attempting to bring strange fire into the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In the aftermath of their deaths, Aaron was taught what is permissible and proper when standing in the presence of the Creator—even Moses is warned. It is a lesson in what is appropriate in an intimate relationship with HaShem in such close proximity. Though given on that tragic day, the commands would not be implemented for another nine months on the first Yom Kippur.

The instructions reflect the care and preparation necessary for such a holy task, especially the timing, the order of the services, as well as clothing worn by the High Priest. Aaron would exchange his splendid golden-threaded garments for white robes that would be changed five times during the ritual. And when the service was concluded, those white garments were never worn again.

One of the first commands in Acharei Mot is, "With this shall Aaron and only Aaron enter the Kodesh." The gematria of b'zoth ('with this') is 410. That is the number of years that the Bet HaMikdash (First Temple) stood. Rashi tells us that this distinguishes the High Priests of the Bet HaMikdash from those during the Second Temple in one respect; the former were all anointed with Shemen HaMishkach which had been hidden before the destruction of the First Temple.

The commandments for the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur can be likened to those that conclude Acharei Mot, where forbidden intimate relationships between men and women are listed.

As I write these words, Israel is counting the Omer, commemorating the daily trek of Israel to Sinai where the multitudes would rendezvous with the Creator and the giving of the Torah. That event is compared to a wedding ceremony where the thick clouds hovering over the mountain serve as a kind chuppa (wedding canopy).

The prophets likened the bond between HaShem and Israel to a marriage, hence Israel is forbidden to have an intimate relationship with other gods. “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the G-d of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5) Also, as I write these words, we are witnessing an alarming resurgence of antisemitism and the growing threat of Israel’s destruction, it seems only appropriate to remind us what is also stated in Isaiah 54: “No weapon formed against you shall succeed, and every tongue that contends with you at law, you shall defeat. Such is the lot of G-d’s servants, such is their triumph through Me—declares G-d.”

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