THE RIGHT STUFF
In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and his role in the portable sanctuary called the Mishkan. Like a captain aboard the most powerful vessel in the universe, the Kohen Gadol is able to humbly go where no man has gone before.
In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and his role in the portable sanctuary called the Mishkan. Like a captain aboard the most powerful vessel in the universe, the Kohen Gadol is able to humbly go where no man has gone before. He navigates in a spiritual world and carries the destiny of an entire nation on his shoulders. The profound duties of the Kohen Gadol, his holy garments, and the far-reaching impact he has on creation are worthy of deeper study. In this short space, we can only gloss over a few of the many fascinating concepts presented in this Torah portion.
According to the Shlah Hakodesh, one of the leading Torah scholars of the early-17th century, the Kohen Gadol was like a second version of Adam. His job was to repair the damage caused by the first man and restore the world to its pre-sin state of being. The Kohen Gadol is our spiritual top gun, the best of the best, selected by Hashem to push the spiritual envelope like no other human being. His mission is to reclaim and ensure that Hashem's presence has a location on earth, to dwell in sanctity and close quarters among the Jewish people as it once did on Mt. Sinai and in the Garden of Eden prior to the sin.
The Malbim, a 19th century Torah commentator, beautifully explains the symbolism contained in each article of the Kohen Gadol's garments and how they effect atonement for various misdeeds committed in history. The choshen (breastplate), a special item worn by the Kohen Gadol demonstrates this concept of repairing the world. One of its purposes, according to the Shlah Hakodesh, was to repair the damage caused by the impurity of the snake in the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for snake is nachash, and the word for breastplate is choshen. Both words contain the exact same Hebrew letters rearranged. The choshen mystically repairs the damage caused by the snake. The sin of one great man (Adam) is repaired by another who now carefully eats all his meals in holiness.
The choshen contains 12 gemstones engraved with the names of the 12 tribes. It also contains letters which spell the names of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With the choshen on his chest, the Kohen Gadol walks with the entire Jewish people on his mind. One movement by the Kohen Gadol can impact and reshape Jewish destiny.
According to our sages, if the holy Temple is not rebuilt in one's generation, it is considered as if it was actually destroyed by that generation. Therefore, we must strive to become builders and not, heaven forbid, destroyers. Unfortunately, our history has seen the destruction of two holy Temples and the tragic loss of millions of our people. We are the remnants, and it is our job to remake this sanctuary for Hashem.
We are all servants of Hashem and must strive to serve Him to the best of our ability. We are commanded to be holy. Holiness takes a lifetime of effort to understand and is difficult to master. However, we have been given the right stuff to successfully meet this challenge. We are endowed with a pure soul, have a holy Torah, and are blessed with dedicated teachers to guide and instruct us in the proper path. Our task is only to exercise the right choice and apply ourselves to the best of our ability.
The Kohen Gadol was an example of holiness in motion. His magnificent garments symbolized the beauty of a life dedicated to Torah. He was the nation's body and soul. He was their strongest advocate, teacher, and friend. He was a pursuer and lover of peace. He was an expert in serving Hashem and master in interpersonal relations. May we all be inspired by the high standards of his service and be worthy to again witness the rebuilding of the holy Temple.
Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.
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