Aharei Mot-Kedoshim/Yom Hazikaron- The Courage to Enter the Kodesh

This idea was developed and many sources were found with the assistance of Rav Menachem Akerman, one of my rabe’im at Machon Lev-JCT.

In introduction to the avoda done by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Hakipurim, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל־מֹשֶׁה דַּבֵּר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאַל־יָבֹא בְכָל־עֵת אֶל־הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת אֶל־פְּנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל־הָאָרֹן וְלֹא יָמוּת כִּי בֶּעָנָן אֵרָאֶה עַל־הַכַּפֹּרֶת:

And Hashem said to Moshe: tell Aharon your brother never (lit. not at all times) to enter the Kodesh inside the hall of the parochet past the covering which is on the ark, and he shall not die, for I shall appear on the covering in a heavenly anan. (ויקרא טז:ב)

In apparent reference to the recent deaths of Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu for bringing an “אש זרה,” G-d commands Aharon (via Moshe) never to enter the Kodesh (understood to be the Kodesh Hakadashim, the innermost sanctum of the Mishkan housing the Aron Habrit). However, there is one exception:

בְּזֹאת יָבֹא אַהֲרֹן אֶל־הַקֹּדֶשׁ…

With this, Aharon may enter the Kodesh (שם ג)

And the pesukim continue with a lengthy description of the special avoda of Yom Hakipurim, the only time that anyone is allowed to enter theKodesh Hakadashim. With this qualification, the initial warning becomes a little sharper- Aharon is not warned to never enter the Kodesh Hakadashim, but is rather told that he may not go in there except for when he is supposed to (“בזאת יבא…”). From this, it can be inferred that any time that he is commanded to be there, he may enter with impunity.

While this warning is very timely, and Ramban highlights the power of using Nadav and Avihu’s death as caution against inappropriately entering the Kodesh, there is just one difficulty- there was no warning of “ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקודש” until after their deaths. As far as we can tell, any Kohen could enter the Kodesh (albeit with the correct mindset only, of course) until Parshat Shemini. Afterwards, warnings began to be given to the Kohanim about their conduct and where they could and could not go while doing avoda, but, it appears that the issur of “ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקודש the Kodesh Hakadashim limited to only this Kohen, on only one day of they year.

Rav Yitzchak of Corbeil, the author of Sefer Mitzvot Katan (SMa”K), writes that this caused a certain stigma in some of the Kohanei Gadol on the eve of Yom Kippur. Knowing that the following day, they would enter the Kodesh Hakadashim to bring ketoret, an action which led to Nadav and Avihu’s untimely deaths, terrified them. In the context of what we’ve just seen, this fear makes even more sense- while Nadav and Avihu’s actions don’t seem very appropriate, they don’t appear to have violated any issurim, and yet they were instantly killed. While the comforting words of “בקרובי אקדש” may have been enough to silence Aharon after his sons’ deaths, no Kohen Gadol looked forward to risking death by divine fire.

The Ba’al HaSMa”k writes that at this time of fear on Yom Kippur Eve, the Kohen Gadol would read our passuk of “בזאת יבא אהרון אל הקדש.” With this crucial reminder of the purpose of his avoda– his responsibility as a spiritual leader and to atone for his people’s sins on Yom Kippur- the Kohen Gadol would realize that the stakes were simply too high, and there was no room for fear of failure. He would emerge strengthened and ready to do the avoda on this holiest of days.

I believe that this same idea also applies to life in Eretz Yisrael. Over two thousand years ago, our ancestors sinned and lost their right to live in Israel- they were exiled to the four corners of the land to atone for their sins. Like the Kohen Gadol, they were forced to stay in exile, warned to stay away from the Holy Land. However, just like the Kohen Gadol, this warning was not absolute- they were told “ואל יבא בכל עת,” but, with the caveat of “בזאת יבוא אל הקדש”- when the time is right and the intentions are pure, they may come home to Artzeinu Hakedosha.

Now is the time of “בזאת יבא אל הקודש.” In recent times, Hashem has seen fit to return us to the land of our forefathers. The miracles that took place sixty seven years ago with the founding of Medinat Yisrael are as strong of a beacon as Nadav and Avihu’s terrible deaths, yet for opposite reasons. The death of Aharon’s sons led to the end of access to the Kodesh for all Kohanim, but for us, the birth of the State of Israel is a reminder that the status quo needs to be changed, but for good- the Holy Land, once out of bounds to all Jews, must now be accessible to all of Am Yisrael. It is time to go home.

Yet, within our now permitted “בזאת יבא אל הקודש,” there is still a stigma. Like the Kohen Gadol on the eve of Yom Hakipurim, the Jew who is getting ready to enter Artzeinu Hakedosha is afraid. He has seen those whose lives have tragically ended in the name of “בקרובי אקדש,” our beloved Jews who died al kidush Hashem, and he is afraid that if he moves to Israel, he may risk a similar fate.

To this Jew, I repeat the teaching of Rav Yitzchak Ba’al HaSMa”K. There is something bigger at stake than each of our individual existences. We have a commandment of “בזאת יבא אל הקודש,” and an obligation to one another to return to Eretz Yisrael, to bring the ge’ulah closer. Yes, we have suffered many unfortunate losses, and each one is more painful than the last. But, we also have a purpose. Our avoda, our effort and actions to return home, will help and strengthen all of am Yisrael, and with the knowledge that we are doing Hashem’s Will, and He is watching over us, we can emerge confident and ready to enter the Kodesh that is Eretz Yisrael.

Today, on Yom Hazikaron, we remember and feel the hurt of those who lost their lives to establish and keep safe the Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael. Jews around the country gather in cemeteries and at memorials to join in each other’s pain and remember those kedoshim who tragically became “בקרובי אקדש”. Yet, tonight, only a few hours later, we will come together again, and this time celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the result of these losses. We will thank Hashem for the continued opportunity to return home and live in our Kodesh, and we will pray for a future of peace from our enemies, where we will no longer suffer any losses at their hands. The juxtaposition of two such different yet eternally linked holidays is a reminder of our obligation of “בזאת יבא אל הקודש”- we must return home to land of our forefathers. We cannot let the deaths of these kedoshimbe in vain.

May we merit to see an end to all of our suffering with the coming of the complete redemption, very very soon. 

מועדים לשמחה לגאולה שלמה!