Parshas Achrei Mos
The onus of the Yom Kippur Avodah rested solely on the shoulders of the Cohen Godol. He alone performed the entire service from beginning to end. This was an immense undertaking both physically, as many animals needed sacrificing, and mentally, preparing himself to enter the Holy of Holies. So delicate was his entrance that many of the High Priests that served in the Second Temple did not survive the ordeal, perishing on entering the Kodesh Hakedoshim.
The presentation of the Yom Kippur service needs elucidation. The context of the Cohen Godol service is introduced by his ingress to the Holy of Holies, “With the following sacrifices he should come into the Sanctuary: a young bull etc…” as if the whole purpose of the Yom Kippur service was to facilitate his entrance. Isn’t Yom Kippur a national day of repentance, with these special korbonas devised to fulfill this purpose? Definitely the ceremony required his visit to the Kodesh Hakedoshim but that was merely a cog in attaining forgiveness for the nation.
The question is really the answer. True Yom Kippur is a day of repentance, a day devoted to Teshuva. Teshuva literally translates as “returning”. Returning to Hashem means being able to exist in his Hashem’s presence – in other words the ability to enter the Kodesh Hakedoshim the holiest place on earth. This is then the climax of the Avodah. The Cohen Godol, who was the nation’s designated emissary, after seven days of preparation would physically represent the people in “returning” by entering the Holy of Holies. The Korbanos helped set the stage for that return.
True Teshuva is re-establishing our relationship with Hashem.
Rabbi Avraham of Slonim (d.1883) was approached in desperation by one of his star disciples, Rabbi Yisroel Zalman from the city of Sharshov.
“Day after day, year after year I make an effort to repent and change my habits, but it seems that all my efforts have been in vain. I don’t see any change in controlling my character, I am still battling the same pitfalls”.
The Slonimer alleviated Reb Yisroel Zalman’s anxiety, answering with a stroke of genius:
“Imagine a person who attempts a shortcut through the grass and inadvertently gets stuck in mud, and sees the dry path in the distance. He makes an effort to reach the path but finds himself sinking more and more into the mud. He may think that he is not accomplishing anything with these little steps, but you know, and I know, that every step brings him closer and closer to his desired destination”.
A knot that was tied inadvertently may be opened on Shabbos.