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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 to purify someone who has become impure, but also to prepare a person to go through a change of status. Why did 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. The 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 the most holy of all places, he needed preparation to serve G'd on that lower level, and therefore he again had to immerse himself in the mikvah. We are missing the special service that the Kohein Gadol performed on Yom Kippur.
Kohein Gadol's five immersions
In the beginning of the first of this week's two parshios, G'd tells Moses to instruct Aaron about the service in the Sanctuary on Yom Kippur. The Kohein Gadol had to immerse himself in a mikvah five times in connection with the Yom Kippur service. During the rest of the year, whenever the Kohein Gadol participated in the service, he would wear his special eight garments, described in Parashas Tetzaveh (Shemos 28:3-49). He used them on Yom Kippur as well, but twice during the Yom Kippur service, when the Kohein Gadol had to enter the Holy of Holies, he had to wear special white linen garments, as described 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 himself in the mikvah. This teaches that immersion in a mikvah is not only to purify someone who has become impure, but also to prepare a person to go through a change of status.
Why immerse for lower holiness?
However, we need to clarify the need for these immersions. We 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 did 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 the person goes from a lower level to a higher level of holiness. That is why a convert has to immerse in a mikvah before entering the Jewish nation. And that is why Aaron and his children had to immerse in a mikvah when they were appointed as kohanim.
Why spend one hour after prayer?
We have a similar question in connection with a statement in the Talmud (Berachos 32b). The Talmud teaches that a person should spend an hour in preparation before 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). The Talmud relates that this is how the Early Righteous used to conduct themselves. But here again the obvious question arises. We can understand that someone needs an hour to prepare prior to standing 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 us to abstain from life's 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. On the very day they were created, G'd commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (see Bereishis 1:28). Obviously, marital relations between husband and wife are not sinful. And when we follow the laws of family purity, we live in holiness and purity. Similarly, there is nothing wrong in eating the food G'd created. However, we have a host of dietary commandments that refine and elevate us and bring our eating to a level of holiness.
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 these few words make all the difference. With this in mind, we realize that the main place where we serve G'd is not in the house of worship but rather in our home, at our job or business, and wherever we go. Whatever we are involved in, we must keep in mind that our activity can be turned into a service of G'd. When we go to our business or job, we must be aware of all the 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 shall always keep in mind that when we provide for our family, with both their physical and spiritual needs, we fulfill a Torah obligation.
Main place serve G’d
The same applies in regards to our homes. The relationships between spouses, parents and children, as well as between neighbours, are all governed by Torah law. Nowadays, many women feel a void if they do not have a job. The truth is that when a housewife takes care of her daily chores, she should already feel fulfilled. For she is creating a Jewish home and environment for her husband and children, nourishing them and taking care of all their needs.
We can gain a better understanding of how we are expected to conduct ourselves in our daily lives from the Torah's approach to a Nazirite (see Bamidbar 6:1-21). The Nazirite undertook to elevate himself to a higher level of holiness than the Torah in general obligates. On one hand, the Nazirite is referred to as holy (ibid 5). On the other hand, it says that he needs atonement for having sinned (ibid 11). Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Nedarim 9a) that the Nazirite sinned by depriving himself of drinking wine. In most instances, someone would become a Nazirite just for a month as a means to control his craving or due to other special circumstances. However, the Torah clearly teaches that this lifestyle is not how G'd, in general, wants us to live.
Purim and Yom Kippurim
The great Kabbalist, the Arizal, explains that Yom Kippurim, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar, is in a sense secondary to Purim. For "Yom Kippurim", that in general is translated as "Day of Atonement", can also be translated as "Day similar to Purim". The reason for this is that one needs a much higher level of holiness to eat and drink with the right intent on Purim than to refrain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur.
Mundane daily matters
With this insight, we can answer our questions. When the Early Righteous, and other people on a high spiritual level, prepared themselves for prayer, they needed a full hour to elevate themselves to focus on their encounter with the Creator. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 98:1) describes that they would reach such a high level of spirituality that they got close to prophecy. They would spend this hour to reach above anything physical. And this is how they would be throughout their 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. They needed as much time to prepare themselves to serve G'd in holiness when there were occupied with 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
We are able to observe Yom Kippur nowadays; however, due to our exile we miss the special service of the Kohein Gadol. May we soon merit to experience this special service, hopefully already this upcoming Yom Kippur.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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