The Service of the High Priest

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

 


A prominent element of the Yom Kippur service is the Avodah, the poetic description of the tasks of the High Priest in the Beit HaMikdash on Yom HaKippurim.

 

Recounting the service in the Beit HaMikdash remains profoundly significant for us, since the offering of a sacrifice was far more than a physical activity. Every activity carried out in the Beit HaMikdash is paralleled within the spiritual sanctuary of every believer’s heart.

 

The physical procedure of offering a sacrifice, for example, is an external manifestation of a certain process of spiritual growth. Although the sacrifices bore spiritual significance throughout the year, their effect was heightened on Yom HaKippurim, when they were offered by the High Priest as the emissary of the entire congregation:

 

Seven days before Yom HaKippurim the high priest was taken away from his home and placed in the Chamber of the Counselors, and another priest was prepared to take his place, in case something should happen to him and he should become unfit for the service.

 

All seven days the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the daily sacrifices, and burn the incense, and trim the lamps, and sacrifice the head and the hind leg of the sacrificial animals. On all other days if he wished to sacrifice he could; for the High Priest was the first to sacrifice a portion, and had first choice in taking a portion.

 

The High Priest would be given Court elders to read before him daily for seven days out of the Order of the day. They would say to him: My lord High Priest, read yourself with your own mouth; perhaps you have forgotten, or perhaps you did not study.

 

On the morning of the eve of Yom HaKippurim, they would have him stand in the Eastern Gate and have oxen, rams, and sheep pass before him that he might know and be familiar with the service.

 

Neither food nor drink would be kept from him all the seven days. But he would not be allowed to eat much toward nightfall of the eve of Yom HaKippurim, for eating brings about sleep.

 

The Court elders would pass him over to the elders of the priesthood, and they in turn would take him up to the upper chamber of the house of Abtinas [which prepared the incense], and adjure him, and take their leave, and go their way saying:

 

"My lord High Priest, we are the messengers of the Court, and you are our messenger and the messenger of the Court. We adjure you by Him who rested his Name in this house to alter nothing of all that we have said to you." He would turn aside and weep, and they would turn aside and weep.

 

If the High Priest was a sage, he would expound, and if not, the disciples of the sages would expound before him. If he was familiar with the reading of the Holy Writ, he would read; if not they would read before him. The would read before him from the Books of Job and Ezra, and Chronicles. Zechariah ben Kebutal said: Many times I read before him out of the Book of Daniel.

 

When the High Priest seemed to be about to fall asleep, the young priests would snap their middle fingers before him and say to him: "My lord High Priest, stand up and drive sleep away by walking on the pavement." They would divert him until the time came for the slaughtering of the daily morning offering.[1]

 

It has been taught: They did not entertain the High Priest with their harps or with their lyre, but with the music of their voices. And what they sang was: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Psalms 127:1). Some of the worthiest people in Jerusalem would not sleep all that night, in order that the High Priest might hear the sound of people talking, and sleep might not overtake him.[2]

 

On ordinary days the altar would be cleared of ashes at cockcrow, or near that time, either before or after it, but on Yom HaKippurim it was cleared of ashes at midnight and on the Three festivals at the first watch. Before the cock crew the Temple Court would be full of Israelites.[3]

 

The officer would say to them: Go out and see if the time has come for the slaughter of the continual morning offering. If it had come, he who saw it would cry: "Daylight!" Mattiah ben Samuel said: He who saw it would cry: "All the east is lit up!" "As far as Hebron?" - And he would say: "Yes." Now the reason why that question was necessary was because once the moon came up and they imagined that it was the dawn and slaughtered the continual morning offering, which later had to be taken out to the place of burning.

 

The High Priest would then be taken to the place of immersion. This was the rule in the Sanctuary ... no one entered the Temple Court for the service until he had immersed himself, even if he was clean. On this day the High Priest would immerse himself five times and make ten sanctifications. ...

 

A linen sheet would be spread between him and the people. The High Priest would take off his clothing, go down, and immerse himself. Then he would come up and dry himself. He would be brought the garments of gold and would dress. Then he would sanctify his hands and feet. The continual offering would be brought to him. He would make the incision and someone else would finish it for him. He would receive the blood and sprinkle it. He went on to burn the morning incense, and to trim the lamps; afterward, to offer up the head, and the limbs, and the pancakes, and the wine-offerings.[4]

 

The morning incense would be burned between the sprinkling of the blood and the burning of the limbs of the sacrificial animal, that of the afternoon between the burning of the limbs and the offering of the drink-offerings. If the High Priest was either old or a weakling, some water would be warmed up and poured into the cold water to dissipate the coldness.

 

The High Priest would be brought to the Parvah Chamber which was on holy ground. A linen sheet would be spread between him and the people. He would sanctify his hands and his feet and strip... Then he would go down, and immerse himself, and come up, and dry. He would be brought white clothing, would dress, and sanctify his hands and feet...In the morning he would put on Pelusium linen worth eighteen minas, and in the afternoon Indian linen worth twelve minas, together worth thirty minas, all told. The thirty minas came from the public funds, and if he wished to spend more, he could add some of his own money to the public funds.[5]

 

The High Priest would come to his bullock. His bullock would be standing between the hall and the altar, it's head to the south and it's face to the west. The High Priest would stand in the east facing the west, and press his two hands upon it, and make confession. And this is what he would say: "O Lord, I have committed iniquities, I have transgressed, I have sinned before you, I and my house. O Lord, forgive, I pray, the iniquities, the transgressions, and the sins which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before You, I and my house, as it is written in the Torah of your servant Moses: 'For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the Lord'" (Leviticus 16:30). And the priests and the people would answer him: "Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever!"

 

He would then go back to the east of the Temple court, to the north of the altar. The Deputy High Priest would be on his right and the head of the family [ministering that week] on his left. There would be two he-goats, and an urn would be there, and in it two lots. They were of boxwood, and Ben Gamala made them of gold, for which he was praised...King Monobaz of Adiabene had all the handles of the vessels used on Yom Kippur made of gold...for which he was praised.[6]

 

The High Priest would shake the urn and take up the two lots. On one would be written, "For the Lord," and on the other, "For Azazel." The deputy High Priest would be on his right hand and the head of the [ministering] house on his left. If the lot "For the Lord" came up in his right hand, the Deputy High Priest would say to the High Priest: "My lord High Priest, raise you right hand." And if "For the Lord" came up in his left hand, the head of the [ministering] house would say to him: "My lord High Priest, raise your left hand." Then the High Priest would lay the lots on the two he-goats and say: "A sin offering to the Lord!" . . . And the people would answer him: "Blessed be his Name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever!"

 

The High Priest would tie a thread of crimson wool on the head of the he-goat to be sent forth, and stand it [at the gate] where it was to be sent, and stand the he-goat to be slaughtered facing the place where it was to be slaughtered. He would go to his bullock a second time and press his two hands on it and make confession. And  this is what he would say: "O Lord, I have committed iniquities, I have transgressed, I have sinned before you, I and my house and the children of Aaron, your holy people. O Lord, forgive, I pray, the iniquities, the transgressions, and the sins which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before You, I and my house and the children of Aaron, your holy people. As it is written in the Torah of your servant Moses: 'For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the Lord'" (Leviticus 16:30). And the priests and the people would answer him: "Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever!"

 

The High Priest would slaughter the bullock and receive its blood in a bowl and give it to the one who was to stir the blood on the fourth terrace of the Sanctuary that it might not congeal. He would take the coal-pan and go up to the top of the altar, and clear the coals on either side, and scoop out some of the glowing cinders at the bottom. Then he would go down and lay the coal-pan on the fourth terrace in the Temple Court.

 

On every other day he would scoop up the cinders with a coal-pan of silver and pour them into one of gold; but on this day he would scoop up the cinders with a pan of gold, in which he was to bring them [into the Inner Temple]. On every other day he used to scoop up the coals with a pan holding four kabs...but on this day he would scoop up the cinders with a pan holding three kabs. On every other day the pan would be heavy, on this day it would be light. On every other day the handle of the pan was short, on this day it was long. On every other day the gold was yellow, on this day it was red...On every other day he would offer up a portion in the morning and a portion in the afternoon, but on this day he would also add his two palmfuls. On every other day the priests would go up on the east side of the ramp and come down on the west side, but on this day the High Priest would go up the middle and come down the middle....On every other day the High Priest would sanctify his hands and his feet from the laver, but on this day from a golden ladle....On every other day there were three piles of wood, but on this day there were four.[7]

 

The ladle and the pan would be brought out to him, and he would take two palmfuls [of incense] and put them into the ladle. Tall High Priests would take large palmfuls and short High Priests would take small; that was the measure. The High Priest would take the pan in his right hand, the ladle in his left. Then he would go through the Holy until he would come to the place between the two curtains which separated the Holy from the Holy of Holies, and there was a cubit between them. The outer curtain was held back by a clasp on the south side; and the inner curtain by a clasp on the north side. He would walk along between them until he would reach the north side. When he would reach the north side , he would turn to the south. Then he would go on to his left along the curtain, until he reached the Ark. When he reached the Ark, he would put the pan between the two bars. He would heap the incense upon the coals and the whole house would fill up with smoke. He would go out the way he came in, and pray a short prayer in the outer House. He would not prolong his prayer, in order not to disquiet the people.

 

After the Ark was taken away, a stone from the days of the Early Prophets was left standing there three fingerbreadths above the ground, and it was called Shetiyah [foundation stone], and on it the High Priest would place the pan of glowing coals.

 

He would take the blood from the one who was stirring it, and re-enter the place where he had entered [the Holy of Holies], and stand in the place where he had stood [between the bars of the Ark], and sprinkle of the blood once upward and seven times downward, but not as though he wished to sprinkle either upward or downward, but motioning as though he were cracking a whip. And thus he would count: One, one and one, one and two, one and three, one and four, one and five, one and six, one and seven. Then he would come out and lay the bowl on the golden stand in the Holy.

 

Then they would bring him the he-goat. He would slaughter it and receive the blood in a basin. He would then enter the place where he had entered [the Holy of Holies], and stand again in the place where he had stood [between the bars of the Ark], and sprinkle of the blood once upward and seven times downward, but not as though he wished to sprinkle either upward or downward, but motioning as though he were cracking a whip. And thus he would count: One, one and one, one and two ...Then he would come out and lay the basin on the second golden stand in the Holy...

 

Then the High Priest would take the blood of the bullock ...and sprinkle of it on the outside curtain facing the Ark once upward and seven times downward, but not as though he wished to sprinkle either upward or downward, but motioning as though he were cracking a whip. And thus he would count [see above].

 

Then he would deposit the blood of the bullock and take the blood of the he-goat and sprinkle it on the outside curtain facing the Ark, once upward and seven times downward, but not as though he wished to sprinkle either upward or downward, but as though he were cracking a whip. And thus he would count [see above]. Then he would pour the blood of the bullock into the blood of the he-goat, thus putting the full basin into the empty one.[8]

 

"And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord"[9] - that is, the golden altar. He would begin to sprinkle downward from the northeast horn of the altar, then the northwest, then the southwest, then the southeast. There where he began the sprinkling of the outer altar he would finish sprinkling of the inner altar. And he would sprinkle every horn of the altar from below upward, except for the horn where he was standing, which he would sprinkle from above downward. He would sprinkle on the top of the altar seven times, and the remainder of the blood he would pour on the western base of the outer altar.[10]

 

....He would then go up to the scapegoat and press two hands on it and make confession. And thus he would say: "Pray, O Lord, your people, the house of Israel, have committed iniquity, transgressed and sinned before You. Pray, O Lord, atone, I pray, the iniquities and the transgressions and the sins that your people, the house of Israel have committed and transgressed, and sinned before You, as it is written in the Torah of your servant Moses, saying: 'For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the Lord'".[11]

 

And the priests and the people standing in the Temple Court, when they heard the explicit Name coming from the mouth of the High Priest, would bend the knee and bow and fall on their faces and cry: "Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever."

 

The scapegoat would be delivered to him that was to lead it away. Anyone was allowed to lead it away, but the High Priests made it a rule not to allow an Israelite to lead it away. Rabbi Yose said: It once happened that Arsela of Sepphoris led it away, although he was an Israelite. And a special passageway was made for the scapegoat, because of the Babylonians, who used to pull its hair and cry: Take our sins and begone, take our sins and begone!

 

Some of the worthiest men in Jerusalem would accompany him to the first booth. There were ten booths between Jerusalem and the Peak ninety ris away, seven and a half ris making a mil. At every booth they would say to him: here is food and water. And they would accompany him from booth to booth except for the last booth, for no one might go up the Peak with him, but might only stand at a distance and watch what he did.

 

What the priest would do was to divide the thread of crimson wool, tie half of it to the rock and half between the two horns of the scapegoat, and push the scapegoat from behind, and it would fall down the Peak. Its limbs would be smashed to bits before it was halfway down the hill.[12]

 

Then the High Priest would come to the bullock and the he-goat that were to be burned, cut them open and take out the sacrificial parts, put them on a tray and burn them on the altar. He would twist the limbs on poles and have them taken out to the place of burning...

 

They would say to the High Priest: "The he-goat has reached the wilderness." How would they know that the he-goat had reached the wilderness? They used to set up guards at stations on the way, who would wave cloths; and so it would be known when the he-goat had reached the wilderness.[13]

 

Then the High Priest would come to read. If he wished to read wearing linen clothing, he could read in that dress. If not, he could wear his own white vestments when he read.

 

The attendant of the House of Prayer would take the Torah Scroll and give it to the head of the House of Prayer, and the head of the House of Prayer would give it to the deputy High Priest and the Deputy High Priest would give it to the High Priest, and the High Priest would stand and receive it. And he would read the sections beginning, "After the death of the two sons of Aaron"[14] and "Howbeit on the tenth day"[15]. Then he would roll up the Torah Scroll and lay it in his bosom and say: "There is more written here than I have read to you." Then he would recite by heart the section beginning, "And on the tenth day," which is in the Book of Numbers (29:7-11). Then he would recite the eight benedictions...

 

Those who saw the High Priest reading would not see the bullock and the he-goat being burned, and those who saw the bullock and the he-goat being burned would not see the High Priest reading. Not that it was not permitted, but because the distance was great and both rites were carried out at the same time.

 

If the High Priest had read wearing linen clothing, he would sanctify his hands and feet and strip and go down and immerse himself and come up and dry. He would be brought golden clothing and put them on and sanctify his hands and his feet. Then he would go out and offer up his own ram and the ram of the people and the seven he-lambs of the first year and without blemish.

 

The High Priest would then sanctify his hands and his feet and strip and go down and immerse himself and come up and dry. He would be brought white clothing and would put them on and sanctify his hands and his feet. Then he would go in to bring out the ladle and the fire-pan. He would sanctify his hands and his feet and strip and go down and immerse himself. Then he would come up and dry. He would be brought golden clothing and he would dress and sanctify his hands and his feet and go in to burn the afternoon incense and to trim the lamps and to sanctify his hands and his feet, and would strip. Then he would go down, immerse himself, come up and dry himself.

 

Then he would be brought his own clothing and he would dress. He would be accompanied to his home. There he would make a feast for his friends when he came out of the Sanctuary in peace.[16]

 

Ten times would the High Priest pronounce the Name of God on Yom Kippur: six times in connection with the bullock, three times in connection with the he-goat, and once in connection with the lots. Those who were near him would fall on their faces, and those who were far from him would say: "Blessed be his Name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever." Neither those who were near nor those who were far would move from their places until he had disappeared.


 

ORDER of EVENTS:

The high priest would:

1.  Remove the ashes from the outer altar. (1:8)1

 

2.  Immerse (baptize) himself for the first time. Put on the golden vestments. (3:4)

 

3.  Slaughter the daily morning elevation (burnt) offering. (3:4)

 

4.  Receive and throw the blood of the elevation (burnt) offering. (3:4)

 

5.  Prepared the five lamps of the menorah. (3:4)

 

6.  Offered the daily incense. (3:5)

 

7.  Prepare the remaining two lamps of the menorah.

 

8.  Burn the limbs of the daily morning elevation (burnt) offering on the outer altar. (3:4)

 

9.  Offer the daily meal offering. (3:4)

 

10. Offer the Chavitin offering. (3:4)

 

11. Offer the wine libation (drink offering). (3:4)

 

12. Offer the Mussafim: The ox and the seven lambs - all elevation (burnt) offerings, along with their meal and drink offerings. (7:3)

 

13. Immerse (baptize) himself for the second time and then don the linen vestments. (3:6)

 

14. Do the first confession on the Kohen Gadol's (High Priest) ox offering. (3:8)

 

15. Draw the lots to select the he-goats 'For HaShem' and 'To Azazel'. (3:9, 4:1)

 

16. Do the second confession on the Kohen Gadol's (High Priest) ox sin offering. (4:2)

 

17. Slaughter his ox sin offering. (4:3)

 

18. Perform the service of the special Yom HaKippurim incense: (a) scoop up some coal; (b) scoop up the incense into the ladle; (c) burn the incense in the Holy of Holies. This was his first entry into the Holy of Holies. (4:3, 5:1-2)

 

19. Sprinkle the blood of his ox in the Holy of Holies. This was his second entry into the Holy of Holies. (5:3)

 

20. Slaughter the he-goat 'For HaShem'. (5:4)

 

21. Sprinkle the he-goat's blood in the Holy of Holies. This was his third entry into the Holy of Holies. (5:4)

 

22. Sprinkle the blood of his ox, on the curtain, of the Holy place. (5:4)

 

23. Sprinkle the he-goat's blood, on the curtain, in the Holy place. (5:4)

 

24. Mix the blood of his ox and the he-goat. (5:4)

 

25. Sprinkle the mixture on the inner altar. (5:5-6)

 

26. Do the confession on the he-goat 'To Azazel' and present the he-goat, to the designated person, for dispatch to azazel. (6:2)  (This was not a sacrifice.)

 

27. Remove the entrails of his ox and the he-goat and place them in a utensil. (6:7)

 

28. Prepare the limbs of his ox and the he-goat for removal to the burning place. (6:7)

 

29. Read from the Torah. (7:1)

 

30  Immerse (baptize) himself for the third time, then don the golden vestments.

 

31. Perform the service of the he-goat sin offering of the Mussafim. (7:3)

 

32. Offer his ram. (7:3)

 

33. Offer the people's ram. (7:3)

 

34. Burn the entrails of the ox and he-goat on the outer altar. (6:7)

 

35. Immerse (baptize) himself for the fourth time, then don the linen vestments. (7:5)

 

36. Remove the incense ladle and the shovel with burnt coals from the Holy of Holies. This was his fourth and final entry into the Holy of Holies. (7:4)

 

37. Immerse (baptize) himself for the fifth time, then don the golden vestments. (7:5)

 

38. Offer the daily afternoon elevation (burnt) offering. (7:3)

 

39. Burn the daily afternoon incense. (7:4)

 

40. Light the Menorah. (7:5)

 

* * *

 

 


Finally, the Zohar teaches us that when the Kohen Gadol performed his service that a rope was tied around his leg to facilitate the removal of his body if his service was not accepted by HaShem:

 

Soncino Zohar, Vayikra, Section 3, Page 102a  ‘On this day the priest is crowned with superior crowns and stands between heavenly and earthly beings and makes atonement for himself and his house and the


priests and the sanctuary and all Israel. We have learnt that at the moment when he enters with the blood of the bullock he concentrates his thoughts on the highest principle of faith and sprinkles with his finger, as it is written, “and he shall sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat and before the mercy-seat”’ He used to dip the top of his finger in the blood and sprinkle, going lower and lower each time, at the side of the mercy-seat. He began to count one[17]-the first “one” by itself, one being the sum of all, the glory of all, the goal of all, the beginning of all. Then “one and one”, joined together in love and friendship inseparable. When he had passed this “and one” which is the mother of all, he began to count in pairs, saying, “one and two”, “one and three”, “one and four”, “one and five”, “one and six”, “one and seven”, so as to draw down this “one” which is the supernal Mother by certain grades to the crown of the lower Mother[Tr. note: Al. “to illumine the lower Mother”.] and to draw deep rivers from their place to the Community of Israel. Hence on this day two luminaries diffuse light together, the supernal Mother giving light to the lower Mother.’ R. Isaac said: ‘A cord was tied to the feet of the High Priest before he entered the Holy of Holies, so that if he died suddenly within they should be able to draw him out. They used to know by a certain thread of scarlet if the priest had been successful in his intercessions. If its colour did not change, they knew that the priest within was not free from sin, but if he was to issue in peace, it was known by the thread changing its colour to white, when there was rejoicing above and below. If it did not, however, all were distressed, knowing that their prayer had not been accepted.’ [Tr. note: v.. T.B. Yoma, 39a.] R. Judah said: ‘When he went in and closed his eyes so as not to see what he had no right to see, and heard the voice of the Cherubim chanting praises, he knew that all was in joy and that he would come out in peace, and another sign was if his words came forth joyfully, so as to be accepted and blessed.’

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

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Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com



[1] Mishna Yoma I.1-7

[2] Yoma 19b

[3] Mishna Yoma I.8

[4] Mishna Yoma III. 1-4

[5] Mishna Yoma III. 5-7

[6] Mishna Yoma III.8-10; see Tosefta II

[7] Mishna Yoma IV

[8] Yoma V.1-4

[9] Leviticus 16:18

[10] Yoma V.4-8

[11] Leviticus16:30

[12] Mishna Yoma VI.2-7

[13] Mishna Yoma VI.7-8

[14] Leviticus16

[15] Leviticus 23:26-32

[16] Mishna Yoma VII.1-5

[17] Tr. note: v. T.B. Yoma, 53b