Peninei Halakha

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14. The Complete Order of the Avoda

Now that we have dealt with the special aspects of the Yom Kippur avoda, we will briefly review the chronological order of the Kohen Gadol’s Yom Kippur avoda.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol had to stay awake, to ensure that he would not become impure while sleeping. Throughout the night, he would study Torah together with Jerusalem’s greatest and most honored Torah scholars. If he knew enough to teach, he would teach; if not, they would teach him. In addition, throughout the night, people would sing prayers and praises to God before the Kohen Gadol. If he started falling asleep, young kohanim would snap their fingers to wake him up. If that did not work, they would suggest that he stand (barefoot) on the cold floor. If that did not work either, they would suggest that he do kida – that is, bow so deeply that his head touched the ground while he remained standing on his feet (Yoma 19b; above, 7:14).

Every part of the avoda on Yom Kippur was performed by the Kohen Gadol, to elevate and connect everything to the root of holiness in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim (section 4 above). As on every other day, the first offering was the morning tamid, and the last was the afternoon tamid. When dawn broke and the time came to offer the tamid, the Kohen Gadol stripped off his weekday clothing and immersed in preparation for the day, then donned the gold vestments and washed his hands and feet. He slaughtered the tamid, received its blood, and sprinkled it on the altar, like on any other day. He then entered the Sanctuary to offer incense on the golden altar. He then cleaned and prepared the menora for lighting. He went back out to the copper altar and placed the limbs of the tamid in the fire. He then offered the minḥat ḥavitin (the meal offering that the Kohen Gadol was obligated to bring every day) and poured on it the libation that accompanies the tamid each day.

Next, he sacrificed the additional (musaf) offerings of Yom Kippur: one bull and seven lambs. As we learned, the sanctity of the Yom Kippur avoda had three levels: first, the daily tamid; second the musaf offerings, as on Rosh Ḥodesh and festivals. Having completed these, he could continue to the third level, the special Yom Kippur avoda.

He washed his hands and feet, removed his golden vestments, immersed, put on the white vestments, and once again washed his hands and feet. But before he could offer the goat for God and enter the Kodesh Ha-kodashim to atone for the Jewish people, the Kohen Gadol first had to atone for his own sins by confessing and offering a sacrifice. The Gemara explains, “This is how the divine attribute of din (judgment) works: Better for someone innocent to come and atone for someone guilty than for someone guilty to come and atone for someone else who is guilty” (Shevu’ot 14a). Therefore, the Kohen Gadol was commanded to first bring a bull as a sin offering and confess his sins and his wife’s sins over it, as we read, “Thus only shall Aharon enter the Kodesh: with a bull of the herd for a sin offering” (Vayikra 16:3). Unlike the other Yom Kippur offerings, which were bought with communal funds, the Kohen Gadol had to pay with his own money for the bull of the sin offering and the ram of the accompanying burnt offering. Thus, his personal atonement would be complete, as we read, “Aharon is to offer his own bull of sin offering, to atone for himself and for his household” (ibid. v. 6).

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman