The peak of the avodah on Yom Kippur was perhaps when the kohen entered the kodesh ha’kodashim, the only time of the year he would do so. The Mishnah (5:1) adds: “And there he would pray a short prayer in the outer chamber. He would not extend this prayer so that he would not frighten Yisrael.” He could not extend his prayer as everyone might fear that something terrible had happened to him, like the sons of Aharon when “they came before Hashem and died”. If this occurred, Yisrael would fear that their teshuva was not accepted.
The Gemara (Yoma 53b) explains that once the kohen gadol extended his tefillah. The other kohanim found this difficult and told him off. The kohen responded that he was praying that Beit Ha’Mikdash would not be destroyed. Nevertheless they still told him to never again behave in this manner citing our Mishnah, despite the importance of the tefillah’s content.
If such an important tefillah was to be withheld, what was the short tefillah that the kohen gadol would pray? One would expect that at the climax of the most import avodah of the year the kohen gadol would take the opportunity to ask for general requests like the upkeep of Torah and mitzvot or at least something connected to sustenance, eg, peace, health, etc. Yet to our surprise, the Gemara described this tefillah as follows: “May it be Your will before you, Hashem, our G-d, that it be a year of rain.” A request for rain, for water, is the request that precedes all others!
The Gemara expands on the tefillah with three other requests:
“That the rulership should not leave the house of Yehudah”
“That people should not need to be sustained by one another.”
“That the prayers of the travellers (ovrei derachim) should not come before you.”
In essence, the first two requests relate to the physical needs of the nation on both communal and individual levels. The third request however is strange as it is constructed in a negative form. HaRav Shimon Shalom MeAmshinov ztz”l asks: Who are these ovrei derachim? Are they tzadikim? If so, would they pray against rainfall if the earth required it? If they are resha’im – would one think that their tefillot, which would be to the determent of others, be accepted? If so, to whom does this tefillah refer? He explains that it refers to a person that worked all day, and is now returning home. It begins to rain and the paths get filled with mud. His wagon gets bogged and he is stuck in the middle of the road. Whilst drenched he calls out, “Oy! How will I ever get home?!” Such a heart-wrenching call requires a response. It is regarding such a person that the kohen requests that his tefillah not be heard because the nation as a whole depends on the rain and that klal Yisrael comes before Reb Yisrael.
How do we understand this tefillah? Is there a common theme that runs through these requests?
The Gemara (Brachot 7a) explains: “It was taught in a Beraitah: R’ Yishmael the son of Elisha said, Once I entered the kodesh ha'kodashim [on Yom Kippur] to burn the ketoret, and I saw Achasri'el (a prophetic vision of Hashem; some explain, an angel of Hashem) sitting on an exalted throne. He asked me to bless Him. I said: ‘May it be Your will that Your mercy overpower Your anger, and Your mercy overcome Your attributes, and that You should treat Your children with mercy, and go beyond the letter of the law with them. (lifnim mi’shurat ha’din)’ He nodded His head to me.”
In truth we should be judged as being guilty, but he requests that Hashem judge lifnim mi’shurat ha’din. Perhaps the short tefillah also expresses this idea. Yisrael – “the land on which Hashem eyes are constantly trained” – requires that we pray for rain. The rain in Yisrael reflects the spiritual status of the people. When we ask for rain we essentially are asking that He not truthfully assess whether we deserve it, but just that He provide rain. If we had behaved properly, we would not have needed to ask. The request for enduring malchut, independence in sustenance and seeing the needs of the community over a deserving individual at times my also require Hashem overlook our failings and judge lifnim mi’shurat ha’din.
In this brief moment that the kohen gadol stand before Hashem in the kodesh ha’kodashim he asks Hashem to judge lifnim mi’shurat ha’din whether they be for sustenance on an individual level (rain and parnasa) or on a national level (malchut).
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