Even Aaron the High Priest could not saunter into the Holy of Holies at will.
Table for Five: Acharei-Kedoshim
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to your brother Aaron, that he should not come at will into the Holy behind the dividing curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die, for I appear in the cloud over the ark cover. Lev. 16:2
Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Beis Knesses of Los Angeles
Do not just come sauntering into the Holy, behind the curtain. One may not be cavalier about how to serve God. When Aaron’s sons did so, barging into the Holiest of places in a moment of inspiration and passion driven by youthful idealism, they paid with their lives.
An unmistakable message of the Torah is that feelings and inspiration, important as they are, are just not enough. There is a way that things must be done. How many people have attempted to help others, and instead harmed them? It is truly one of the great historical truths that many sociopolitical systems caused terrible harm to the people who they purported to help! The good intentions of those people did not change a thing for the people that their misguided programs were harming.
We need to help the needy. We need to improve the world. But are we doing it correctly? The Torah tells us that this matters. There is a way to do what’s right, and to serve God. Failing to adhere to His instructions, no matter how well meaning that person may be, is a violation of the Torah, a betrayal of our commitment at Sinai of “naaseh vnishma – we will do, and then we will understand.” Every soul ever to be part of the Jewish people committed itself to be loyal to His word, and adjust our emotions and attitudes to the Truth, as defined by Hashem. Our credo, “Shema,” means “Listen.” The stakes are high!
Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO-SANE; Counselor; Author
Hashem has designed a process that will allow our mind, body, and soul to function in the greatest harmony. Aharon represents love and the avodah of tefilah, prayer. Our morning prayers prepare our bodies to become a pure vessel into which our soul can return anew each day. Our prayers also ignite the love of Hashem, which arouses our deepest passions. Prayer therefore should be followed immediately by Torah learning, so that intellect will temper these passions and guide them into proper channels, helping us avoid the pitfalls of negative pathways.
Kuntres HaMaayan explains that all disorders arise from having an abundance of holy energies (emotions) but no vessel to contain them. Essentially, without a strong enough vessel, these holy energies flood out indiscriminately, and their positive potential can manifest in a negative way. Hashem warns Aharon in this verse not to enter His sanctuary “at will,” indiscriminately. As the preceding verse relates, Aharon’s sons had such a fiery passion to reach spiritual heights that they tried to do so “at will”–*their* will, not Hashem’s. As a result, they were overwhelmed and totally consumed by the experience.
To bake a cake, you have to follow the recipe–specific ingredients in specific amounts, baked for a specific time at a specific temperature. Otherwise, it won’t succeed. Hashem is presenting us with the recipe for becoming our best selves. If we follow the Torah’s guidelines, in order and with attention to details, we can reach new heights in total harmony.
Romain Hini-Szlos, Photographer/www.rhsgallery.com
After Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, die when bringing an extra offering to Hashem, He requisitions Moshe to speak to Aaron. Moshe explains that there is a specific time for the Cohanim to appear close to Him by making an offering.
Nadab and Abihu perish in what is mystically known as “Death by Divine Kiss.” But whereas Moses and Aaron later die when the Divine Kiss comes to them, Nadab and Abihu approach the Kiss themselves.
It can be deduced that Aaron’s sense of loss and grief over his sons’ demise might have left him so depressed that he contemplates leaving the physical world. But Hashem understands that one of the worst pains for a parent is to lose a child. Therefore, in instructing Aaron that he should not come “at will” himself, Hashem might also be entreating Aaron to not make a grievous decision in taking his own life after his sons’ death.
Hashem warns that he will appear as a “cloud” over the ark. This may also be interpreted as a metaphor for the dark cloud that would overwhelm Aaron’s legacy and his future generations if he were to take his own life.
Aaron’s essence was of such peace and compassion that Hashem felt compelled to make it perfectly clear, even painfully so, that Aaron should take extra precaution with his own life. Like an eternal father, Hashem must instruct with one hand and love with another.
David Sacks, instagram.com/davidsacksspiritualtools
Aaron wasn’t allowed to enter the Holy of Holies whenever he wanted to. Much of life is contained in this Divine directive. Because on a deep level this command is all about living with boundaries. The Ramban teaches that the Mishkahn experience closely paralleled the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. When G-d gave us the Torah, He placed a boundary around the mountain and told us not to cross it. So, too a boundary separated us from the Holy of Holies.
Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frummer teaches that this was a test. Before G-d gave us the Torah, G-d wanted to know… Are we capable of living with boundaries? And not just physical boundaries. Can we live with the knowledge that there will be things in our lives that we’ll never fully understand? And even more importantly, can we do this while still maintaining faith in G-d and in His goodness?
It’s challenging. Not because we always need answers. Sometimes we just long for that closeness with Hashem. Hashem knows this, and during those times, He lifts up the boundaries and welcomes us in.
*The Rambam teaches that if something in the Holy of Holies was broken even a simple craftsman has permission to enter anytime during the year in order to fix it.* Every person has within them that sacred place which is their Holy of Holies. Hashem allows us in during those times when we need fixing the most. And in His goodness, He comforts us there.
Rabbi Rebecca Schatz,, Assistant Rabbi, Temple Beth Am
The moment a person dies, those mourning enter a state of limbo, “aninut”, “between” time. This category of “being” comes with Jewish laws that prescribe against most of our routine daily obligations, focusing us on preparation for burial and grieving a loss. A few parshiyot ago, Aaron’s children were unfairly destroyed based on their attempt at closeness to God. And here, Aaron is yet again put in-between the mundane and the holy just as in loss we are in-between during aninut, in between life and death. The images of the mishkan’s holy furnishings, curtains and cover, reinforce this in-betweenness of the high priest’s duties, privileges and limits.
Imagine a theatre performer, waiting behind the unopened curtain, ready to act, conjuring and controlling the emotions that will spew forth only after the curtain is lifted. Aaron sandwiched between a curtain and a cover. Aaron needs this boundary, this literal form of Kedusha or separation, distinguishing between everyday holiness and the holiest of holiness. He needs to be held in between.
The 16th Century Torah commentary Shney Luchot HaBrit equates this moment of “in-between,” or metaphorical aninut, to the laws of kashrut that recognize holiness sandwiched between intentionality and excessiveness. The people need these laws to stand at a distance, to create mundane moments of kedusha and find that holiness between intentionality and excessive access. Aaron needs to stay backstage until his big number, behind the curtain. On Yom Kippur, Aaron can resume his loftiest role, until then, held back by the curtain, cradled between the world of self and an audience craving his and their redemption.
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