Preparing the Kohen Gadol for Yom Kippur (1:1)

Yoma (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 11 years ago

Much of masechet Yoma discusses the avodah of the kohen gadol in the Beit HaMikdash on Yom Kippur. The first Mishnah opens by explaining that the Kohen Gadol was separated from his home and taken to the Beit HaMikdash for the seven day prior to Yom Kippur. What is the source of this law?

The Gemara (2a)*provides two opinions. R’ Yochanan explains that source is from the consecration of the kohanim (miluim) – Aharon and his sons – who were inaugurated over the period of a week. The pasuk there writes: “As he did on this day, so Hashem has commanded to be done to provide atonement for you” (Vayikra* 8:34).

Reish Lakish however understands that the requirement for separation is learnt from Har Sinai. The pasuk reads: “The glory of Hashem rested on Har Sinai, and the cloud covered it for a six-day period. He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud.” (Shemot 24: 16) We learn from this pasuk that anytime one is to enter machane Shechina, there must be a separation for seven days.

Rav Soleveichik (Kuntrus Be’inyan Avodat Yom HaKippurim) explains that the debate is not only about the source of this law, but also the nature of its obligation. If the source of the law is from Har Sinai, it is entering the mikdash that obligates this separation. However, if the source of the law is from miluim, then separation is part of the kohen gadol’s preparation for the avodah he will be performing on Yom Kippur (much like the preparation of the days of the miluim). According to this understanding, the Rav suggests that perhaps the preparation of the second “backup” kohen, is indeed part of the fulfilment of this law as it too is a part of the preparation for the day.

According to R’ Yochanan who learns the law from miluim, the Rav continues, the kohen gadol (lechatchila1) only attains the status of kohen gadol for Yom Kippur if undergoes these days of preparation. We find a similar idea in the Rambam. When discussing the inauguration of a new kohen gadol by means dressing him in the clothes of a kohen gadol for a seven day period (meruba begadim), the Rambam rules that ideally the kohen gadol should not perform avoda in the Beit HaMikdash during this period. The Raavad disagrees arguing that he could work during this period. The Rav explains that while indeed he is a kohen gadol immediately, the Rambam understand that he has not achieved that status of a hechsher kehuna gedola until the period of seven days is complete.

Another difference can be seen in the preparation of the kohen gadol during this period. The Gemara (4a) find a source of the kohen gadol being taught by two talmidei chachamim from the days of the miluim where Aharon was taught by Moshe. The Rav explains that according to R’ Yochanan, the training and teaching of the kohen gadol is part of the obligation of separating the kohen gadol prior to Yom Kippur. If however the source of the separation is from Har Sinai, the kohen gadol’s training would be rabbinic in nature and for the practical reason of ensuring that no mistakes are made.


1 Bedieved, R’ Yochanan would agree that the seven day separation is not essential as the second kohen that was separated if necessary did not undergo the same seven day separation.

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