Kohen Gadol: I carry the weight of the community on my shoulders; I feel both weighed down and uplifted. My work as Kohen Gadol is an enormous privilege and a fearsome responsibility. I tend to my duties with utmost care. Normally, I wear golden epaulettes on my shoulders inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes. Normally, I wear the urim v’tumim on my chest with its twelve precious stones, one for each tribe. I am a klei kodesh, a holy vessel, a servant of God, and a vehicle of the people.
In a moment, I will enter the Holy of Holies. There, I will call on the Ever Present One in the name of the children of Israel. Now, I am dressed in white linen, a symbol of the longing for purity and simplicity. I am barefoot, like Moses before the burning bush. Although the stones are cold beneath my feet, my concentration is focused. I will give over my whole self to God. “Selah lanu.” “Forgive us. Return us to your good graces.”
I am afraid. God is so powerful and I am but flesh. In a moment, I could be consumed, as were Aaron’s sons as they brought strange fire before God. A misstep could not only lead to my demise, but it could also inflict enormous damage on my people. I will appear before God cloaked in the smoke of incense, a protection of sweet smells that will soothe my nerves and draw my spirit upward.
In a moment, I will pronounce God’s four-letter name as did my father and my father’s father, all the way back to Aaron. The generations of kohenim flow through me. Outside the Holy of Holies are the Israelites.
Before I enter, let me turn to You, my God. I pray: “Let me meet your needs. May I do so faithfully with recognition of your glory; may I come forward knowing Your presence as a source of light and love; may You find favor with Your people. May You accept my service and respond to your children with forgiveness.”
Kohen’s Wife: It is my husband’s sincerity of faith that drew me to him. When I married him, I knew that one day he would serve as the High Priest.
Last night, my husband could hardly sleep. He was so anxious, afraid for himself and the people. I told him, “Don’t worry. It is not your first Yom Kippur. God is in the business of forgiveness. You are familiar with the rituals.” And yet, he tossed and turned — afraid. I am troubled at times by the fear that comes to bear in this holy hour. I wish that he could relax and find more joy in his service. Only when his tasks are completed will he relax and the people celebrate.
Elie Spitz: As I write these words, I am aware of how different is my faith and service from that of the priest of old. On the Day of Judgment, I, too, am being judged. As a rabbi, I know that many of my congregants approach the High Holidays as their time of communal connection and Jewish affirmation, and I prepare accordingly.
God is present as I call on my people to examine the meaning of their lives. While I focus primarily on how we live our lives rather than on the fear evoked by standing before God, I envy the clarity and sensuality of the old offerings. The rituals had a proscribed efficacy.
I also idealize the Kohen HaGadol’s faith in the immediacy of God. My faith is so less certain. Though I speak with God, I rarely feel the fear and trepidation identified with a concrete faith. And yet, on Yom Kippur, when I read of the Kohen HaGadol, I feel connected. I, too, am a servant of the people and of God. Our communal services are a bridge to God, too, a bridge to renewal as a New Year begins.email print