18. The Yom Kippur Avoda in Prayer Today

As part of our Musaf service, the ḥazan describes the avoda of Yom Kippur in the Temple (SA 621:4). According to the Gemara, the ḥazan must be careful and precise in his recitation, to ensure that it conforms with the views that are accepted as halakha (Yoma 36b and 56b), for the recitation of the order of the sacrifices is considered a substitute for actually offering them.

The Sages tell us, “Whoever engages in the study of the sin offering – it is as if he offered one; whoever engages in the study of the guilt offering – it is as if he offered one” (Menaḥot 110a). The Sages also tell us that when our patriarch Avraham learned that Israel continues to exist by virtue of the sacrificial offerings, which keep them bound to God, he asked, “What will happen if the Temple is destroyed?” God responded, “I have already established the sacrificial procedures for them; whenever they recite them, I will consider it as though they are sacrificing to Me, and I will forgive all their sins” (Ta’anit 27b; Megilla 31b). The idea is that every action has a soul, and the soul of each mitzva is what the Torah says about it. Therefore, when it is impossible to offer the sacrifices, if we recite the Torah’s words pertaining to them, it is, in a certain sense, as if we have offered them. This is especially true when we do so publicly, at the time when they would have been offered. The more we understand the halakhic and philosophical meaning of a sacrifice, the greater the value of our recitation.

It would seem that even when the Temple is rebuilt (may it happen speedily, in our day), we will continue to recite the prayers that correspond to the sacrifices as well as the descriptions of the Kohen Gadol’s avoda on Yom Kippur. During the long exile since the destruction of the Temple, we discovered the power of prayer and the recitation of the offerings, which emphasize the spiritual side of the avoda. They have become too meaningful to give up. Rather, in every synagogue, people will continue to pray, and the ḥazan for Musaf will continue to recite the description of the avoda with awe and trepidation. The prayers and intentions of all worshippers will be combined with the avoda of the Kohen Gadol in the Temple. Those kohanim and people fortunate enough to secure a place to stand in the Temple courtyard will represent all Israel as they witness the avoda with their own eyes. These observers will not need to recite the prayers, because they will be participants in the avoda itself – for they, too, take part in the mitzva. Likewise, in the days of yore, the kohanim and the people standing in the Temple courtyard did not recite the prayers.

May God gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth, return His Shekhina to Zion, sanctify us with His mitzvot, give us a share in His Torah, and purify our hearts to worship Him in truth. May we merit the rebuilding of the Temple speedily in our day. May the sanctity of Yom Kippur be revealed in its full glory, and may God forgive all our sins and bring atonement for all our iniquities. May the light of truth and faith shine forth from the Kodesh Ha-kodashim and illuminate the entire world. May peace and love spread throughout Israel and throughout the world. Thus, God will comfort Zion and its ruins, as it says:

Truly the Lord has comforted Zion, comforted all her ruins. He has made her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the Garden of the Lord. Gladness and joy shall abide there, thanksgiving and the sound of music…. Those redeemed by the Lord shall return and shall come with shouting to Zion, crowned with joy everlasting. They will attain joy and gladness, while sorrow and sighing flee. (Yeshayahu 51:3, 11)