June 8, 2021

Yoma 58

In today’s daf (Yoma 58b) we are taught that having performed the blood sprinkling service, the Kohen Gadol then daubed blood on each of the four corners of the incense altar. Yet, what is significant is that the corner which the Kohen Gadol first encounters (as he walks towards the altar) is not where he first daubs the blood.
As Rabbi Akiva observes, this seems strange given the rule – taught by Reish Lakish – that אין מעבירין על המצות, meaning ‘we do not pass by mitzvah opportunities’. However, based on the biblical verse stating that ויצא אל המזבח – ‘and he shall go out to the altar’ (Vayikra 16:18), we learn that he does not begin this ritual ‘until he passes the entire [length of the] altar’.
Significantly, Rav Hirsch (commentary on Vayikra 16:18) describes the journey from the Kodesh Kodashim to the altar as one where the Kohen Gadol ‘moves progressively back to real life’ and how, having faced the ark in the Kodesh Kodashim, the Kohen Gadol is charged with making the teachings and values that he represents ‘a reality outside in everyday life, with the rising and setting of the sun each day’. And it is in this spirit that I believe that the Kohen Gadol is required to pass the entire length of the altar before beginning his next task. And why? Because this short walk of the Kohen Gadol would have helped him have a few moments of peace amidst the many activities he was obliged to perform on Yom Kippur, and thereby enhance his service.
As we know, within Sifrei Torah there are gaps between some words which, as Rashi explains in his commentary to Vayikra 1:1, reflect the times when Moshe took a break from G-d’s dictation of the Torah to reflect and contemplate. Moreover, according to the halacha (see for example Rambam Hilchot Tefillin 7:11), a Sefer Torah without such gaps is pasul (invalid).
Based on this, and while speaking about the value of between-semester-breaks, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (see ‘Reb Yaakov’ p. 177) once explained that “just as the divisions of the sefer Torah are necessary, so are the breaks in the learning year; and just as the empty spaces in the Torah scroll possess the same kedushah (holiness) found anywhere else in a Torah scroll, so, too, the breaks in the learning year must reflect kedushah.”
And this too is why I think the Kohen Gadol had this slightly longer stroll alongside the altar, so that he could have a brief break, take a moment, and consider the fact that in order to successfully incorporate divine service in our everyday life, it requires self-care and the need for each of us to have gaps in our day – just like the gaps of a sefer Torah.
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