We all know the Kohen Gadol (high priest) occupied an essential function in ancient Jewish society. He was in charge of the Holy Temple, providing prophecies with the Urim v’Tumim (the breastplate), giving guidance, and not only praying for the welfare of the nation but the for the welfare of the whole world.
In the Holy Temple, we find that the many vessels served as conduits for sustenance (the Table with showbread), for wisdom (the Menorah), and for strength (the Holy Ark). These lights irradiated and sustained the world with blessings, so much so that the sages teach that had the nations known about the importance of the Temple, they’d have stationed their armies to guard it with their lives.
Eli was one of the most important Kohen Gadol, who served during the Mishkan (the ancient Tabernacle) in Shilo. He was the teacher of none less than Shmuel and unfortunately met an untimely death when he heard the Holy Ark had been captured.
Let’s see what gems we can glean from Eli’s storyand the Kohen Gadol’s post.
The Kabbalah of the Kohen Gadol
The Kohen Gadol had 8 special vestments, each of which brought atonement for a specific sin of the nation. For example, the breaches provided atonement for immorality, the turban for haughtiness and so on.
The Zohar explains that the Kohen Gadol’svestments drew its powers from the uppermost Partzuf(the Sephirotic System) of Arich Anpin, which is essentially Keter (the Crown) of Atzilut. This Partzuf, the Idra Rabbah explains thoroughly, was full of compassion for everything. Its incredibly powerfullight can be felt only on specific times such as Minchaof Shabbat or the Festivals, but the Kohen Gadol was able to tap into it and draw it to our realm.
When this light is present, there’s true unity, harmony and peace for all who experience it.Interestingly enough, the Zohar also adds that this Partzuf “never sleeps,” and were it not for its constant shining, then Creation would not have been able to continue.
But how do we make sense of the fact that this light was only present in specific times? We learn from the Kabbalah of the Arizal that Keter does not shine except when a specific system is completed (like on Shabbat). One way to explain it is that there’s a hidden measure of this light that is constant, but the true revelation and experience are reserved for special occasions, or of course, when the Kohen Gadol is present.
It was this light that enabled him to achieve atonement for the entire nation on Yom Kippur, no matter how bad the spiritual situation was.
The Kohen Gadol’s Life
Being Kohen Gadol was definitely not an easy job. Besides the strenuous efforts to help the nation, he was also held responsible for maintaining peace in the land. Meaning whenever a person was killed inadvertently,the perpetrator would be sent to a City of Refuge (Y’irMiklat), until the death of the Kohen Gadol. This law seems very strange at first glance. What would the Kohen Gadol have to do with the murder someplace far away from him, between people he maybe didn’t even know?
But, having in mind that the Kohen Gadol was parallel to Arich Anpin of Atzilut, we can readily understand. In the highly exalted level of Keter, death and suffering do not exist. The fact that the Kohen Gadol failed to bring down this light to our planet and death did occur meant that he didn’t do his job properly. As such he was held accountable, though not to the point where he should be directly punished. Evidently, when someone intentionally kills another, then the Kohen Gadol’s responsibility is greatly diminished.
The Kohen Gadol was more than just a job, it was in fact a yardstick that measured the moral standing of the nation. When the Kohen Gadol was not worthy, he’d die in the Yom Kippur service and perhaps serve as atonement, which nonetheless was a bad sign.
Of course, complete compassion all the time is also not fitting. Eli’s family was cursed eternally by having no ordained sages (Sanhedrin 14A), because he himself didn’t rebuke his sons. Despite serving as a tremendous Tzadik, king, Kohen Gadol and judge for 40 years, his sons Chofni and Pinchas didn’t follow in their father’s footsteps and were accused of immorality (Another opinion is that they merely delayed women’s sacrifices, making them sleep away from their husbands in the Tabernacle).
While we don’t have the Kohen Gadol’s post nowadays, we should keep in mind that the exalted level of Arich Anpin still shines throughout Creation and is available for us to tap into it through sincere Teshuva and prayers at the Festivals and Shabbatot.
Eli the High Priest died on the 10th of Yiar and presumably his resting place is in Shiloh, where the ancient Tabernacle resided, though no one knows for sure. May his merit and inspiration be for a blessing.
This article was written in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and success in all their endeavors!
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