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Peninei Halakha > Days of Awe (Yamim Nora'im) > 10 – The Yom Kippur Avoda > 11. The Procedure of Atoning for the Temple

11. The Procedure of Atoning for the Temple

There are three stages in the process of sprinkling the blood of the bull and the goat to “atone for the Kodesh from the impurity and transgression of the Israelites, whatever their sins.”

Atonement begins in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim – that is, by repairing the root of faith, the “yiḥud elyon” associated with the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people. It is due to this covenant that redemption does not depend on repentance, for God guides the world toward redemption. People’s choices cannot change this; they can only influence the way in which the redemption will arrive – pleasantly or painfully (as explained in 6:4 above). This corresponds to the unique aspect of the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, whose existence in this world is miraculous, as it links the eternal with the present, the upper worlds with this one.

The Kohen Gadol stood facing the two poles of the Ark and sprinkled the blood toward it and the kaporet – once upward and seven times downward. He sprinkled the bull’s blood first, followed by the goat’s blood. The sprinkling of blood expresses our devotion to our covenantal bond with God, for blood is life; the blood of the bull represented the blood of the kohanim and the Kohen Gadol, while the blood of the goat represented the blood of Israel.

All the sprinklings were toward the golden kaporet that covered the Ark, which contained the Torah and mitzvot. The keruvim on the kaporet expressed the covenantal bond between God and Israel. It was called “kaporet,” which is etymologically related to kapara (atonement), as it indicates that all of Israel’s actions ultimately reveal faith and divine governance. Even when Israel violates the Torah and is punished, everything will turn out to be for the best; everything will be radiant like gold. When one taps into this level, even the most severe sins of faith are atoned for.

The Kohen Gadol had to count the sprinklings aloud. “And this is how 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’” (m. Yoma 5:4). The first sprinkling was upward, to connect with the singular root of faith, the eternal covenant between God and Israel. The other seven sprinklings were downward, to draw down the power of faith and the covenant, thus enabling it to infuse the seven facets of the world, which was created in seven days – so that faith and the covenant, which are the root of redemption, can manifest in the world pleasantly and peacefully, without suffering. The Kohen Gadol always repeated the initial count of one sprinkling upward before each of the seven sprinklings downward, because all seven facets of the world must be connected to the heavenly root of faith, from which they stem.

After sprinkling toward the kaporet in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, the Kohen Gadol went out to the Kodesh and sprinkled toward the parokhet that separated the Kodesh from the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, once upward and seven times downward, first with the blood of the bull, which atoned for him and the rest of the kohanim, then with the blood of the goat, which atoned for all Israel. This atonement in the Kodesh corresponded to faith on the level of yiḥud taḥton, i.e., that which appears to us through the hanhaga of justice, which hinges on our actions. (See above, section 2.) This hanhaga stems from the most high covenant, hidden in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim and corresponding to yiḥud elyon and the hanhaga of yiḥud, but its manifestation depends on our choices. If we choose good, goodness and blessing will abound; if we choose evil, good will be minimized while suffering is maximized. The Kohen Gadol first sprinkled upward, in order to connect us and dedicate us to faith in God, Who watches over Israel at all times. Then he sprinkled downward seven times, so that faith in divine providence would be drawn down into all aspects of the lives of each and every one of us.

The atonement process continued at the incense altar, as we read:

He shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and atone for it: He shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the goat and apply it to each of the horns of the altar; and the rest of the blood he shall sprinkle on it with his finger seven times. Thus he shall purify it of the impurity of the Israelites and consecrate it. (Vayikra 16:18-19)

The sprinkling on the incense altar was different from that of the two previous locations. It did not involve sprinkling once upward and seven times downward because the purpose of this atonement was not to draw faith from the upper worlds down to this one, but the opposite; it was to gather up and elevate all the different tendencies in the hearts of Israel and direct them toward complete faith. For every deficiency of faith has a negative impact on people’s character traits, leading them to be angry, dispirited, arrogant, or lecherous.

The sprinklings of the blood on the four corners of the altar, representing the ingathering of faithful yearnings from the four cardinal directions, and seven times on the altar itself, representing the binding together of the seven primary character traits of the heart, link these elements to the eternal covenant that God made with us and our ancestors, as well as to faith in divine providence over us. To unify all these aspects and direct them toward complete faith, the Kohen Gadol had to mix together the blood of the bull and the goat. He then used this mixture to sprinkle the four corners of the altar, and the altar itself seven times.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman