1.

The assigned Torah reading for Yom Kippur is from Sefer Vayikra, the beginning of Parshat Acharei Mot. It discusses in detail the services the Kohen Gadol must perform on this holy day as he enters the areas in the Beit HaMikdash, known as the Kodesh — Holy — and the Kodesh HaKadashim — the Holy of Holies.

Unfortunately, at present we do not have a Kodesh, Kodesh HaKadashim or a Kohen Gadol. Hence, all the details discussed in this Biblical portion are seemingly purely academic and irrelevant at present and especially to Jews of the Diaspora.

However, Torah is not a book of history, neither is it a storybook in which interesting tales and episodes are recorded. According to commentaries, the word Torah etymologically is associated with the word “hora’ah” — which means teaching and guidance (Zohar III, p. 53b). Whatever parts of Torah one learns, one is to study and reflect on the message hidden in the words. Though on the surface it may seem that a particular place, event, or commandment is being discussed, one should also interpret the Torah in a way that reveals a timeless message and instruction. Thus, my dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you a timeless interpretation and message of one of the first pesukim.

Moshe was instructed to tell his brother Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, that “Al yavo bechol eit el haKodesh” — “He may not enter at all times into the Sanctuary” (16:2). Simply, this is a directive to Aharon that throughout the year he is not to enter the Kodesh Kadashim — Holy of Holies — section of the Tabernacle.

Herein, however, lies a relevant and timely message to every Jew and particularly to a Bar Mitzvah who is commencing on his obligation of Torah and mitzvot observance for life, as to how he should conduct himself in regard to the holiness of our people, namely Torah and mitzvot.

Many, unfortunately, erroneously think that Torah is antiquated and not up with the times. Thus, they claim, it is necessary to modify and adjust Torah so that it will be compatible with contemporary lifestyles. To negate this, the Torah declares “V’al yavoh bechol eit el haKodesh.” When approaching the Kodesh — the sanctity of Torah and mitzvot — do not apply adjustments of “bechol eit” — current trends and fads. We must reject the “bechol eit” philosophy, i.e. the idea that we must conform to the fashions, dictates, and norms of contemporary society.

There is a story of an American who took his son to London to show him the interesting sights of that historic city. During the tour, the father made sure to take him to Westminster Palace to see the Parliament building and pointed out the huge clock on top of the building known as “Big Ben.” The child strained to get a full view of the clock, and so did the others who came to see it. “Daddy, I would like to ask you something,” said the boy. “Why did they put the clock so high and make people strain their necks to look up to it? Couldn’t they have made the clock level with the eyes so that everyone could see it easily, without trouble?”

The father thought for a moment and replied, “It is this way: If they had placed the clock low, people would adjust Big Ben to the time on their watches. Now that the clock is high, beyond the reach of all, they cannot try to reset it. If they want to have the correct time, they must set their own watches in accordance with the time shown by Big Ben.”

The same is true about the Torah. Torah is the Jewish people’s Big Ben. We should always regard it as being on a lofty plane so that it will not be changed by mere mortals. It is the correct “time” for all of us, and we must look up to it, and adjust ourselves to this Divine clock. We may not tamper with it and endeavor to adjust it to our opinion and convenience.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, it is our blessing and prayer that you resolve to adjust your life to Torah and let the authentic teaching of Torah be your guidepost throughout your life.


2.

Over two thousand years ago a very serious rift took place in the Jewish community, one which lasted for a long period. Antignus of Socho, who received the Torah from Shimon Hatzadik and served as the teacher of his generation, delivered a lecture in which he said, “Be not like slaves who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; rather be like slaves who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you” (Avot 1:3).

Avot D’Rabbi Nathan (2:5) relates: “Antignus had two disciples who misinterpreted his saying, and taught to their disciples, and their disciples to their disciples, saying, ‘Why did our rabbis see fit to say a thing like this? It is possible, then, that a workman upon completing his day’s work will not receive his wages in the evening? If our rabbis would be convinced that there is a future world and that there will be resurrection of the dead, they would not have said this.’ ” From these two disciples, Tzadok and Boethus, there arose two heretical sects, the Tzedokim — Sadducees — and the Baitusim. They were called “Tzedokim” after their founder Tzadok, and “Boethusians” after their founder Boethus.

The Tzedokim were active during the second Beit HaMikdash era. They denied the validity of the Torah she’ba’al peh — the Oral tradition of the Jewish people — maintaining that only the literal translation of the Torah was binding. Unfortunately, they attracted a large following and some Kohanim Gedolim belonged to their sect.

They introduced a lifestyle based on their literal interpretations of the Written Torah, which angered the authentic Torah Sages of the time and caused much chaos.

For example, according to them, the pasuk “Do not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on Shabbat” (Shemot 35:3) forbids one to have any fire burning during Shabbat, even when kindled before Shabbat. Thus, on Shabbat they would sit in the dark and eat only cold food.

To demonstrate that we have no affiliation with the Tzedokim and their heretical views, we intentionally let a cooked dish, popularly known as cholent, cook on the fire during Shabbat and eat it for the afternoon meal (see Alter Rebbe Shulchan Aruch 257:13).

The Tzedokim were vehemently opposed by the Perushim (literally: separate ones — Pharisees) who strictly adhered to both the Written and Oral Torah.

The Gemara (Yoma 19b) relates that a bitter conflict raged between the Tzedokim (Sadducees) and their opponents the Perushim (Pharisees) concerning the interpretation of a pasuk in our parshah, which would affect the service of the Kohen Gadol when he entered the Kodesh HaKadoshim on Yom Kippur.

In the beginning of the parshah the Torah states “He shall not come at all times in the Holy, within the Curtain (i.e., Holy of Holies)… ki be’anan eira’eh al hakaporet — for with a cloud I will seen upon the Ark-cover” (16:2).

The Torah then goes on to say, “And he [Aharon, the Kohen Gadol] shall take a shovelful of fiery coals from atop the altar before Hashem, and his cupped handful of finely ground incense-spices, and bring it within the parochet — curtain” (Vayikra 16:12).

The Tzedokim incorrectly expounded this as meaning, “rather, with a cloud, etc.” According to their misinterpretation, it means that the Kohen Gadol should not enter the Holy of Holies empty handed, rather, “yetaken mi’bechutz v’yachnis lifenim” — he should prepare the incense on the fire before his entrance into the Holy of Holies, and then, with the clouds still ascending, enter the innermost Sanctuary.

The Perushim (Pharisees) held that the Kohen Gadol should enter the Holy of Holies first, and while there he should put the incense on the fire; the clouds would then fill the room, and the aroma of the ketoret would drift from the innermost Sanctuary into the Temple proper, and from there into the open courts of the Beit Hamikdash, where all the Kohanim and the Israelites were assembled (see ibid. 39b).

Due to the prohibition of the Torah that no one is to be in the Sanctuary when the Kohen Gadol “comes to provide atonement in the Sanctuary” (Vayikra 16:17), no one could be present in the Temple to see that the officiating Kohen would perform this part of the service in keeping with the authentic Torah teaching. Hence, the Kohen Gadol was made to take an oath that he would not deviate from the tradition.

Rabbi Aaron Lewin (1879-1942), Chief Rabbi of Reisha, Galicia (also a member of Parliament) explains this in Haderash Ve’ha’iyun in a relevant manner applicable to contemporary times. There is a very profound thought behind the controversy that divided the two parties in ancient Israel. Authentic Torah lifestyle or Torah modified to prevailing lifestyles — which of these is to wield the controlling influence? Is the main influence in man’s life to be a G‑d ordained law, which is as eternal as the Eternal G‑d, or is it to be a product of a law of temporary expedients? Are we to mold our conduct at all times in accordance with the commandments of our Torah, or are we to live according to a Torah which is tailored to fashion? In short, is Hashem’s Sanctuary to infuse moral power into the world or is the temporary aspect of life to affect the spiritual destinies of the Divine Sanctuary on earth?

The Perushim, who were the party favoring the supremacy of Torah religion and were against all attempts of secularizing Jewish life, and who incidentally had the loyalty of the Jewish masses behind them), upheld the opinion of the Sages that the clouds of incense must originate in the Kodesh HaKadeshim, symbol of the highest source of spiritual power on earth. From there they would issue into the Temple, thence spreading into the outer courts, where the masses of people were gathered.

But the Tzedokim, who believed in the complete secularization of Jewish life, held that this ceremony must be performed in a precisely contrary manner. Their approach was “letaken mi’bechutz v’yachnis lifenim” — the incense was to be burned “without” the curtain, and from the outside world it was to be carried into the innermost Sanctuary. They thus emphasized that secular standards must exert the controlling influence over the most sacred institutions of Yiddishkeit.

With the destruction of the Temple the Tzedokim disap­peared from the scene of Jewish history, while the Perushim, the great teachers of Jewish tradition as embodied in the Talmud, remained to preside over the destinies of the Jewish people.

My dear friends, the controversy of yesteryear is, however, prevalent also today. Our problem comes down to this: Are we to have a religion in which we adhere to Mesorah, traditional values handed down midor l’dor — from generation to genera­tion — or are we to allow the whims of those who want to be “metaken b’chutz” — allow secularism to infiltrate our most sa­cred ideas and ideals? Are we to adhere and follow the teaching and guidance of our authentic Kohanim Gedolim or seek leaders who can adjust the Torah to the current times and society?

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you have been raised to be a member of the Perushim, who have accepted the validity of the Oral Tradition. For you and us, the teachings of our Chazal — our authentic Rabbis — is valid and must be perpetuated for all times and places.

Hopefully, you will continue in that path throughout your life and be a source of profound yiddish nachas to your parents and Klal Yisrael.


3.

The beginning of this week’s Torah, Acharei Mot, discusses the rituals that Aaron the Kohen Gadol performed in the Beit HaMikdash on the hallowed day of Yom Kippur. The Torah conveys to us in detail the different services he performed in order to at­tain atonement for himself, his household, and the entire Congregation of Israel. This day was the only day in the year when he would enter into the Kodesh HaKadashim — Holy of Ho­lies — section of the Sanctuary, garbed in white linen vestments.

This service is not limited to Aaron, but rather it applies to every Kohen Gadol. The Torah states, “The Kohen who has been anointed or who has been given the authority to serve in place of his father shall provide atonement. He shall don the linen sacred vestments” (16:32). This means that when the father of the Kohen Gadol passes on, the son takes over his position to bring atonement for the Children of Israel, and he shall do so in the same manner his father did.

The belongings of parents are cherished by their children and have immense sentimental value. A daughter, though she has her own candlesticks, from time to time uses the ones her mother used. A son often likes to use his father’s kiddush cup or other items which his father used in the performance of sacred duties. Thus, the Torah’s statement “He shall don the sacred vestments” raises the question of whether the son wears the same ones his father wore or not.

While one might suppose that he does, halachah says otherwise. When the Kohen completed his services, the Torah says, “Aharon shall come to the Ohel Mo’eid — Tent of Meeting — he shall remove the linen vestments that he wore when he entered the Sanctuary, ‘vehinicham sham’ — ‘and he shall leave them there’ ” (16:24). From these two words our Sages have derived that they are“te’unim genizah” — they must be stored away never be used again by anyone, even by a Kohen Gadol, on a future Yom Kippur (ibid., Rashi).

Though for many years we, unfortunately, do not have the Beit HaMikdash and a Kohel Gadol; nevertheless, the lessons we can learn from Torah laws are timeless and eternal. Their relevance applies to members of Klal Yisrael at all times and wherever they may be.

When Hashem gave the Torah, He declared that by accepting the Torah we would become “mamlechet Kohanim v’goy kadosh — “a nation of Kohanim and a holy people” (Shemot 19:6). So, in a sense, every Jew is a Kohen, and not just an ordinary one, but rather a Kohen GadolHigh Priest. (See Ba’al HaTurim.)

From this halachah two lessons of great importance can be derived. Firstly, even though the son achieved his elevation and glory thanks to his father, and the father’s kehunah status is assumed by the son; nevertheless, he must have his own clothing and not wear his father’s garb. In other words, he cannot just live off the achievements of his venerable father, but must have his own accomplishments and create his own self-image and place in the community.

Another lesson to be learned from this is that one must constantly strive to do better and not suffice with the accomplishment already achieved. The garb worn last year may not be used this year, even by the same Kohen Gadol. Similarly, we may not be content with our status of last year. Each new year must be a step higher.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, today is your day of kabbalat haTorah — receiving of the Torah — and you, too, are joining the ranks of Kohen — priesthood.

Your ancestors, parents and grandparents have achieved greatly in Torah, and Chassidut, and acts of kindness. Their actions are definitely a source of great zechut — merit — for their progeny. Additionally, they have toiled to bring you to your current spiritual status. Nevertheless, you must resolve that you will not just live off their merit but continuously make “new garments” — accomplishments of your own in your diligent Torah study and observance of Torah and mitzvot.

May you, in your own right, be a prominent and dignified member of Klal Yisrael.