For the Honour of the Kohen Gadol

Yoma (4:5) | Yisrael Bankier | 11 years ago

Over the past week in Mishnayot, we followed the kohen as he began his avoda in the Beit HaMikdash on Yom Kippur. The Mishnah points out that there were a number of instances where the kohen gadol behaved differently from the rest of the year. One such case was that ordinarily the kohen gadol would wash his hands and feet from the kiyor (laver) whereas on Yom Kippur he would use a golden kiton(pitcher) (4:5).

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that this change was to give honour to the Kohen Gadol in that he used a different utensil than all the other kohanim. This is the same reason given as to why the Kohen Gadol would ascend and descend the ramp of the mizbeach in its centre, as apposed to the rest of the year where those ascending and descending would use different sides.

Granted that we want to show the Kohen Gadol honour, is doing so with the kiton a valid means? The Torah writes, “Make a kiyor of copper, and its base of copper, for washing; and place it between the Ohel Moed and the Mizbeach, and put water there. Aharon and his sons are to wash their hands and feet from it” (Shemot 30:18-19). The pasuk seems to suggest that the kiyor alone is meant to be used for this purpose! The Tosfot (Yoma 44b) cites Gemara Zevachim (22a) that explains that the word yirchatzu in the pasuk that follows is superfluous and teaches that even water that has been sanctified in a kli sharet would satisfy.

While a kohen can wash his hands using water from a kli sharet, should he do so as apposed to using the kiyor? The Rambam seems to suggest he should not. In his Mishneh Torah he writes (Bi’at HaMikdash 5:9): “It is a mitzvah le’kadesh from the water of the kiyor,and if one washes from one of the kli sharet it is valid.” It appears that ideally one should use the kiyor, so how can the kohen gadol use the kiton on Yom Kippur? Rav Soloveitchik (Kuntrus Avodat Yom HaKippurim p44) who asks this question, cites the following Ramban whose position is contrast to the Rambam because of our Mishnah: “The washing is mitzvah, but the kiyor, its commandment was to make it available, but it is not me’akev (an absolute requirement) nor a mitzvah [to use it]…” Returning to the Rambam, how could the Kohen Gadol use the kiton if it is preferable to use the kiyor?

The Rav explains that the answer is found if we are more particular with the words of the Rambam. The Rambam wrote, “It is a mitzvah le’kaedseh from the waters of the kiyor.” As long as the water came from the kiyor, even if it was transferred to another kli sheret, the ideal mitzvah has been performed. The reason is that sole purpose of the kiyor was to sanctify water for washing the kohanim’s hands and feet. This was not that case for other klei sharet. According to this understanding, the kiton that was used by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur must have had its water filled from the water in the kiyor.1

1 One question remains, according to the Ramban, what was the purpose of the kiyor. If there was no preference in using its water, then why was it there? The Rav explains that when the Ramban writes “tziva lo le’hazmana” he means that it was to be there as part of the structure or building of the Beit HaMikdash. There were many keilim that little to no avodah performed with them, but were required for the fulfillment of “ve’asu li mikdash”. According the Ramban, even though the kiyor had a utility, that is not the reason why its construction was commanded. It was command to be there as part of the Beit HaMikdash. See the Rav’s explanation inside for more details.


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