What's Peshat in the Peshat Controversy? | Acharei Mos 5784

Following the death of his sons Nadav and Avihu, Ahron is cautioned about approaching the Holy of Holies, known as the Kodesh Hakedoshim. We are familiar with the inner sanctum of the Beis Hamikdash from the Yom Kippur service, which revolves around the kohen’s service inside.

Here, however, the Torah’s retelling of the service needed for Ahron to approach the Kodesh Hakedoshim differs starkly from what we know about the normal service to enter on Yom Kippur.

Just a heads up—this is slightly complicated. There is a very specific regimen dictated for the Yom Kippur service—it’s a combination of the regular daily service, but performed specifically by the Kohen Gadol, as well as a special service that would take place within the Kodesh Hakedoshim. For the daily service, the Kohen Gadol would wear his regular golden vestments, while the special Yom Kippur service required the Kohen Gadol to immerse in the mikvah and don his white Yom Kippur vestments before entering the Kodesh Hakedoshim.

This brings us to Rashi, based on the Talmud, stating that a verse in our parsha’s description of the Yom Kippur service is out of place. When the Torah describes Ahron entering wearing special white garments to take the spoon and coals from the Kodesh Hakedoshim, this really occurs later in the service. Before taking out the spoon and coals, normally the Yom Kippur service requires that the Kohen Gadol first offer his personal ram offering and the ram offering of the Jewish people. However the ram offerings are not mentioned in our parsha’s accounting of the Yom Kippur service.

Ramban is also baffled by the Torah’s accounting of the Yom Kippur service here. Our parsha makes no mention of the Yom Kippur services that the Kohen Gadol did while wearing his golden vestments. Surely the Torah doesn’t expect Ahron to do the service without clothing—a question the Ramban actually asks!

In fact, the Torah’s description here is even stranger. After telling Ahron that it is impermissible to enter the holy of holies except with the special Yom Kippur regimen, the Torah states that Ahron did everything he was commanded. But our parsha occurred a few months before Yom Kippur! How could Ahron have performed this regimen when it was still Nissan—Yom Kippur was months away!

To understand a brilliant and moving approach to the oddities in our parsha, let’s explore the history of biblical interpretation, most notably the meaning of peshat.

Read the rest on Substack, and listen to the full shiur above!