This week's parsha
Are You Successful?
The place was the Holy of Holies in the Temple; the person was the high priest; the time was Yom Kippur.
The epitome of holiness in Jewish tradition, where the holiest time, space and soul met, touched and merged.
The moment was awesome; it glowed and radiated, then burst and blazed. It would sustain the world an entire year.
Where and when did it pass? How was the moment seen off?
A Holy Party
The Mishnaic description of Yom Kippur’s final moments:
. . . The high priest sanctified [washed] his hands and feet, undressed, immersed in the ritual bath, and got dressed in the “golden clothing.” He sanctified his hands and feet again, and entered the sanctuary to burn the holy incense and to light the menorah. After sanctifying his hands and feet again, he undressed and was given his own clothing. He was escorted home, where a festival was prepared for those he held dear, celebrating his peaceful departure from the Temple.
Maimonides, in relating the same account in his halachic code, adjusts two details:
[After] he got dressed in his own clothing, he headed to his home, and was escorted by the entire nation until he reached his home, where a festival was prepared to celebrate his peaceful departure.
According to Maimonides, a few escorts somehow evolved into a nation of escorts.
Additionally, Maimonides opens up the festival to everyone, not limiting it only to “those he held dear.”
These tweaks are significant:
Firstly, they transform an act of Temple protocol carried out by a few into a religious ceremony performed by all. Secondly, they turn the high priest’s personal celebration into a national one.
Moreover, as Maimonides was not a historian but a codifier, choosing to note these changes must somehow relate to the law.
It has thus been suggested that, in the view of Maimonides, accompanying the high priest to his quarters after dark wasn’t merely a safety precaution or an act of Temple etiquette; it was part of the Yom Kippur service. It was a sacred duty, which is why every Jew joined the convoy.
But why extend a day of prayer and fasting into the night? (Indeed, due to the huge throngs of people that surrounded him, the high priest would often get home well after midnight!) What could possibly be so important about the priest’s homebound walk?
And why, according to Maimonides, was the high priest’s private party opened to the public?
Beyond the halachic reasoning, the symbolism here is absolutely profound.
Various religious doctrines see marriage as a concession to human weakness. It also serves as the outlet for certain bodily needs perceived as inherently mundane. Celibacy is thus worshipped as an ideal.
Nothing could be further from Jewish thought, which maintains that family is at the center of religion. Far from being a sin, procreation in Judaism is a “great mitzvah,” a sacred act.
This revolutionary idea comes to full expression in a puzzling Yom Kippur law.
“Aaron [and all future high priests] shall bring near his sin-offering bull, and atone for himself and his household.”
Our sages interpret “his household” to mean “his wife.” This verse teaches that in order to perform the Yom Kippur service in the Temple, the high priest had to be married.
A priest whose worldview and lifestyle excluded family was unfit to be high priest.
He could be holy, but not the holiest. He could do holy acts, but not the holiest.
For true holiness cannot be fully realized in the Sanctuary, but at home.
As such, the holiest service of the year did not end at the gates of the Holy Temple, but began at the gates to the high priest’s home!
Indeed, according to some, before donning his weekday clothes after concluding his Temple duties, the high priest would immerse in the mikvah one last time, in preparation for the culminating Yom Kippur act, and indeed the climax and finale of the three holiest -- his homecoming.
Crossing his doorstep was like crossing home plate. It was then that he scored.
What followed then, according to Maimonides, was not a family celebration, but a celebration of family.
Is it any wonder then that the festival was open to all?
What’s in It for Me?
At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent. -- Barbara Bush
We live in an age when success is largely measured by one’s accomplishments at the office, not at home.
A beautiful home, not a stable one, garners respect.
With family, people once sought fulfillment and satisfaction, while the workplace was associated with responsibility and duty. Today, in growing numbers, the opposite is true.
Is it any wonder, then, that failed relationships and dysfunctional homes have become the norm?
A societal paradigm shift is in order: the home must be repositioned to the center our lives.
Successful people caught singing their own praises should be saying: “You should see how good a mom I am!” “My wife and children are so happy.” “You should have seen the time we had together last night.”
The Fortune 500 should list the greatest marriages!
As we stand on the threshold of our homes each night after a long day of work, like the high priest of old, we should view entering not as the day’s end, but as its beginning.