Parshas Achrei-Kedoshim: Coming Home

וכפר בעדו ובעד ביתו ובעד כל קהל ישראל


The Rambam in hilchos Avodas Yom Hakipurim (perek 4) discusses the laws and procedures of the day of Yom Kippur. At the end of the perek, he writes: ואחר כך מקדש ידיו ורגליו ופושט בגדי זהב ולובש בגדי עצמו ויוצא לביתו. וכל העם מלוין אותו עד ביתו ויום טוב היה עושה על שיצא בשלום מן הקדש- He then sanctifies his hands and feet, removes his golden garments, puts on his own clothes and goes home. All of the people accompany him to his home. He would make a festive celebration because he departed from the holy place in peace.

After the Kohein Gadol’s avoda of Yom Hakippurim is complete, the Rambam describes how he changes his clothing and then goes home, whilst being accompanied by the people. After arriving home, the kapara is now complete whereupon a great festive celebration was made. We note that although the pesukim of the Torah make no mention of where he goes after the avoda, the Rambam does make it a point to mention that “he goes home, and the people accompany him home”.

If the Torah would note his going home after, we would understand the Rambam’s need to include this as it is now a part of the Kohein Gadol’s instructions. However, the Torah did not mention it. So even if logically, that is what would happen afterwards, as a halacha sefer, the Rambam would not just give us the extra non-relevant details. Furthermore, the mishnayos and gemara in Masechta Yoma (perek 7) do mention that he was accompanied, but the Rambam notes that ויוצא לביתו. וכל העם מלוין אותו עד ביתו- he goes home, and they accompany him home.

Is this actually a halacha? Where else would he go if not home? Would the Kohein Gadol be allowed to stop along the way at his grandmother’s home to see how she is fasting? Can he stop off in the local shul to learn his Daf Yomi? Why is it even relevant what happens after? (There is a discussion in the rishonim if this was talking about after his own avoda was complete, i.e. in the afternoon, or after nightfall. Our question is still the same according to either interpretation.)

Perhaps the Rambam is teaching us all, that an integral part of the Kohein Gadol’s atonement of Yom Kippur is “the day after”. What happens after all is said and done? The Kohein Gadol has just completed the holiest twenty four hours of the year, rising up to the level of a malach, reaching heights that are never accessible at any other time, and entering the holiest place in the world. He even needed to prepare for seven days prior to this moment to be able to access this point. But now it is the day after and what will that look like? What happens to someone on “the day after”? What does it look like the day after one experiences a great emotional or spiritual high?

The idea of reaching kedusha for the sake of kedusha is not enough. The question is what will happen after that? When coming down from that high, will it be a rude awakening? Will there be an ability to rejoin civilization without looking down at others while still maintaining the valuable high levels achieved? Is the day after Yom Kippur when we are “at home”, back to business as usual or did we manage to internalize some of the holiness of the day, and bring it with us?

The gemara in Masechta Shabbos (33b) relates that Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, Rabi Elazar hid in a cave from the Roman authorities for twelve years until the death of the emperor. During that time, they studied Torah day and night while being nourished by a carob tree and spring of water which had miraculously appeared in the cave. (Our tradition is that The Zohar was written at that time as well).

The gemara continues the story by relating their reactions upon leaving the cave. נפקו, חזו אינשי דקא כרבי וזרעי, אמרין: מניחין חיי עולם ועוסקין בחיי שעה. כל מקום שנותנין עיניהן מיד נשרף. יצתה בת קול ואמרה להם: להחריב עולמי יצאתם?! חיזרו למערתכם!- They emerged from the cave, and saw people who were plowing and sowing. Rabi Shimon bar Yocḥai said: These people abandon eternal life of learning Torah and engage in temporal life for their own sustenance. The Gemara relates that every place that Rabi Shimon and his son Rabi Elazar directed their eyes was immediately burned. A Bas Kol emerged and said to them: Did you emerge from the cave in order to destroy My world? Return to your cave. It was only after another twelve month stay that they were able to exit and look at the world differently in a positive light.

R’Avremel Ausband shlita once repeated comments from a schmuz of Rav Volbe. The great mashgiach was discussing the explosion of one of the space shuttles upon re-entering the atmosphere. He compared it to the chasidim rishonim. The gemara relates (Brachos 32b): תנו רבנן: חסידים הראשונים היו שוהין שעה אחת, ומתפללין שעה אחת, וחוזרין ושוהין שעה אחת-  they would wait one hour prior to their davening; they would daven for an hour, and then they would wait for one more hour after their davening was complete. We can understand that one needs to prepare for davening, but what was the purpose of remaining after davening was already over? Rav Volbe explained that after soaring to the greatest heights, there was still the avodah of how to come back down into the day to day atmosphere.

We all have moments in our lives that we experience great emotional, physical and spiritual highs. The Rambam is teaching us that it is not enough to reach that great peak! The day after is the great litmus test which proves the success of the previous day.

Good Shabbos,    מרדכי אפפעל