17. The Conclusion of the Avoda

In the meantime, the Kohen Gadol was removing the ḥelev (certain fats) of the bull and goat (whose blood he had sprinkled in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim) and placing them in a vessel. Later he would offer them on the outer altar, together with the other offerings of the day. (This was the procedure with all offerings: in addition to sprinkling their blood on the altar, their ḥelev was burnt on the outer altar.) The remaining flesh of the bull and goat were taken outside the Temple precincts to be burned. Many people went to watch the burning, as it vividly expressed the eradication of their sins.

The Kohen Gadol waited while the remains of the bull and goat were burned. When he was informed that the scapegoat had arrived at its destination in the desert, he began reading aloud from a Torah scroll. He read the three sections of the Torah which relate to Yom Kippur: 1) The description of the Kohen Gadol’s avoda on Yom Kippur, in Parashat Aḥarei Mot (Vayikra 16); 2) the section beginning “On the tenth” that deals with the mitzvot of Yom Kippur, in Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23); 3) the section dealing with the musafim of Yom Kippur in Parashat Pinḥas (Bamidbar 29). Since this section was in a different part of the Torah from the other two, he would recite it by heart, so as not to burden the congregation with the need to roll the Torah scroll.

The Kohen Gadol recited two berakhot, one before and one after the reading, as is typical when reading from the Torah. Afterward, he added seven more berakhot, on the following subjects: the avoda, thanksgiving, forgiveness, the Temple, the nation, the kohanim, and prayer in general.

He then washed his hands and feet, took off his white vestments, immersed, put on his golden vestments, and washed his hands and feet again. Then he went to the outer altar and slaughtered a goat for a musaf sin offering. This was like the goats offered as musaf sin offerings on Rosh Ḥodesh and the festivals (section 10 above).

He offered his ram and that of the nation, both as burnt offerings. He also offered up the ḥelev of the bull and goat whose blood he had sprinkled in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim.

Once again, the Kohen Gadol washed his hands and feet, took off his golden vestments, immersed, put on his white garments, and washed his hands and feet. He entered the Kodesh Ha-kodashim one last time, to remove the firepan and incense he had left there. He did not remove them immediately after sprinkling the blood in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, because the incense expressed the covenantal bond between God and Israel, so it was necessary for its smoke to continue ascending throughout the Yom Kippur avoda. Presumably there was a special sanctity associated with the last entrance of the Kohen Gadol into the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, which concluded the process of atonement and purification of the Jewish people.

He exited, washed his hands and feet, changed out of his white vestments, immersed, put on his gold vestments, and washed his hands and feet. He concluded the avoda as on any other day: he offered the afternoon tamid, burnt the afternoon incense, and lit the menora.[4]

He washed his hands and feet, took off his golden vestments, and put on his own clothes. He then walked home, escorted by a crowd, celebrating that he had emerged unscathed from the Kodesh Ha-kodashim.


[4]. According to most Rishonim, the afternoon tamid was offered after the Kohen Gadol’s fifth immersion, i.e., after he put on the golden vestments for the last time (Sha’arei Heikhal commentary on Yoma, ed. R. Azarya Ariel, §175). However, Rambam maintains that the afternoon tamid was offered after the third immersion, before the removal of the firepan and incense from the Kodesh Ha-kodashim (MT, Laws of the Yom Kippur Service 4:2). For more about the menora’s cleaning, preparing, and lighting, see Sha’arei Heikhal §20. For everything concerning the avoda of the Kohen Gadol, I made use of R. Yisrael Ariel’s Maḥzor Ha-Mikdash and consulted with his son R. Azarya.

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