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Torah Attitude: Parashas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim: The holiness of the mundane
The purpose of immersion in a mikvah is not only for the sake of purification but also for a person who goes through a change of status. Why would the Kohein Gadol have to immerse himself when he came out of the Holy of Holies to go down to a lower level of holiness? What is the purpose of spending an hour after prayer? G'd commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply on the very day they were created. "In all your ways you shall be aware of Him [G'd]." The main place where we serve G'd is not necessarily in the house of worship but rather in our home and wherever we go. Nazirite sinned by depriving himself of drinking wine. It is a much higher level of holiness to eat and drink with the right intent on Purim than it is to refrain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur. The Early Righteous needed the same amount of time to prepare themselves to serve G'd in their mundane daily pursuits as they needed to elevate themselves for prayer. When the Kohein Gadol came out of this most holy of all places, he needed no less preparation to serve G'd on that lower level, and therefore he again had to immerse himself in the mikvah. We are missing out the special service that the Kohein Gadol performed when he entered the Holy of Holies.
Kohein Gadol's five immersions
In the beginning of the first of this week's two parshios, G'd told Moses to instruct Aaron about the service in the Sanctuary on Yom Kippur. As we mentioned in last week's Torah Attitude, the Yom Kippur service necessitated that the Kohein Gadol immersed himself in a mikvah five times. Throughout the year, whenever the Kohein Gadol performed part of the service, he would wear his special eight garments, described in Parashas Tetzaveh (Shemos 28:3-49). However, twice during the Yom Kippur service the Kohein Gadol had to enter the Holy of Holies, and for this service he had to wear special white linen garments, as we read in this week's parasha (Vayikra 16:4). It was when the Kohein Gadol changed from one set of garments to another that he had to immerse in the waters of a mikvah. As we mentioned last week, this shows that the purpose of immersion in a mikvah is not only for the sake of purification but also for a person who goes through a change of status.
Why immerse for lower holiness?
However, there appears to be a difficulty with some of these immersions. One can understand that the Kohein Gadol had to immerse himself before he put on the garments to start the service of Yom Kippur. It is also understandable that he had to immerse himself the two times he had to put on the special linen garments before entering the Holy of Holies. But why would he have to immerse himself when he came out of the Holy of Holies to go down to a lower level of holiness and change back into his regular eight garments? At every other instance when we find immersion in connection with a change of status it is because a person goes from a lower level to a higher level of holiness. That is why a convert is required to immerse in a mikvah before entering into the Jewish nation. And that is why Aaron and his children had to immerse in a mikvah when they were appointed as kohanim, as mentioned in the last week's Torah Attitude.
Why spend one hour after prayer?
A similar question arises in connection with a statement in the Talmud (Berachos 32b). The Talmud teaches that a person should spend an hour in preparation prior to praying, pray for an hour, and spend an additional hour after prayer. The commentaries explain that this refers to people on a very high spiritual level (see Mishnah Berurah 93:11), as the Talmud later relates that this is how the Early Righteous used to conduct themselves. But here again the obvious question arises. We may be able to understand that someone would need a hour in preparation before being ready to stand in front of G'd and pray. But what is the purpose of spending an hour after prayer?
Be fruitful and multiply
We may be able to answer these questions by analyzing the Torah's approach to life itself. It says later in the first of these week's parshios (Vayikra 18:5): "And you shall keep My decrees and My ordinances that man shall do and live by them." This teaches us that G'd does not want the Jewish people to abstain from life and its pleasures. Rather, He wants us to elevate what this world has to offer to a level of holiness. This is evident from the very first commandment in the Torah. G'd commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply on the very day they were created (see Bereishis 1:28). Marital relations are not sinful, but the laws of family purity teach us how to live in holiness and purity. There is nothing wrong in eating the various kinds of food available to mankind, but a host of commandments regarding dietary laws and how to conduct oneself when one eats refines and brings holiness to the ones who follow these commandments.
Be aware of G'd
This is what King Solomon (Mishlei 3:6) says: "In all your ways you shall be aware of Him [G'd]." The Talmud (Berachos 63a) teaches that everything depends on these few words. Whatever we are involved in we are expected to keep in mind that our activity can be turned into a service of G'd. When we go to our business or job, we have to keep in mind all the various commandments that govern monetary matters. The Shulchan Aruch clearly outlines the mutual obligations between employer and employee, as well as the conduct of business. At the same time, we should be aware that by providing our family with both their physical and spiritual needs we fulfill a Torah obligation.
Main place serve G'd
The same applies in our homes. The relationships between spouses, parents and children, as well as between neighbours, are all governed by Torah law. And when a housewife takes care of her daily chores, she should feel fulfilled in the awareness that she is creating a home and environment for her husband and children, nourishing them and taking care of all their needs. With this in mind, we will come to realize that the main place where we serve G'd is not necessarily in the house of worship but rather in our home and wherever we go.
In Parashas Nasso (Bamidbar 6:1-21) the Torah teaches the laws of the Nazirite. The Nazirite would undertake to elevate himself to a higher level of holiness than the Torah in general obligates. On one hand, this person is referred to as holy (ibid 5). On the other hand, it says that he needs atonement for having sinned (ibid 11). Rashi quotes the Talmud (Nedarim 9a) that explains why the Nazirite is considered as having sinned. One of the explanations in the Talmud is that the Nazirite sinned by depriving himself of drinking wine. In most instances, the Nazirite would undertake his special status for the duration of one month as a means to control his craving or due to other special circumstances. However, the Torah clearly teaches that this lifestyle is not what G'd, in general, wants anyone to live by.
Purim and Yom Kippurim
The great Kabbalist, the Arizal, explains that the name of Yom Kippurim, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar, alludes to that in a sense this day is secondary to the Festival of Purim (the word "Kippurim" translates into "like Purim"). For it is a much higher level of holiness to eat and drink with the right intent on Purim than it is to refrain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur.
Mundane daily matters
When the Early Righteous, and other people on a high spiritual level, would prepare themselves for prayer they needed a full hour to elevate themselves and focus on their encounter with the Creator. And as the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 98:1) describes, they would reach such a high level of spirituality that they got close to the level of prophecy. They would spend this hour to get above anything physical. And this is how they would be throughout their hour of prayer. But after finishing to pray, they would need to "come down to earth", so to say, and resume the natural, physical life in this world. And they needed the same amount of time to prepare themselves to serve G'd in their mundane daily pursuits as they needed to elevate themselves for prayer.
Kohein Gadol and mikvah
No doubt, when the Kohein Gadol had to enter the Holy of Holies, one day a year on Yom Kippur, he had to elevate himself to the highest level of holiness he could attain. The eight garments that he would use for the regular service in the Sanctuary were not suited for this special appearance. As part of his preparation, he needed to immerse himself in the mikvah. But when the Kohein Gadol came out of this most holy of all places, and had to resume the other parts of the service, he needed no less preparation to serve G'd on that lower level, and therefore he again had to immerse himself in the mikvah.
Special service of the Kohein Gadol
Although we celebrate Yom Kippur even nowadays, during our exile we are missing out the special service that the Kohein Gadol performed when he entered the Holy of Holies, as well as the other parts of the service on Yom Kippur. It is our fervent hope and prayer that we should soon merit to experience this special service, hopefully already with the upcoming Yom Kippur.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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