15 Kislev 5781 / Tuesday, December 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayishlach
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Achrei Mot: The Divine Companion    

Achrei Mot: The Divine Companion

On his last Yom Kippur, Shimon Hatzaddik came out of the Holy of Holies with a melancholy look on his face, totally not like his usual beaming face…


"Not any person shall be in the holy Tent of Assembly when he [the High Priest] comes to atone in holiness until he leaves" (Leviticus 16:17).


Parshat Achrei Mot describes the work of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. When the High Priest, the Kohen Hagadol, enters the Holy of Holies of the Holy Tabernacle to atone for the sins of Israel, no one is allowed to be anywhere within the confines of the Tent of Assembly, which houses the Holy Tabernacle. Yet, the wording of the above passage seems odd. Why does the Torah say "not any person" when it can simply say, "no person"?


Our sages explain that there is a major difference, for if the Torah would have said "no person", then we would understand that no other human being is allowed in the Tent of Assembly while the High Priest is atoning for the Jewish People in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. The terminology of "not any person", as our sages explain, include the angels.


Our sages illustrate the above principle with the account of the holy Shimon Hatzaddik (Simon the Just), who was Kohen Hagadol for forty years and the last of the Anshei Knesset Hagdola, the Men of the Great Assembly. Every Yom Kippur he would emerge from the Holy of Holies, with Divine illumination reflecting from his magnificently dazzling countenance. Happy was the individual who merited to witness that awe-inspiring event, as we say in the Mareh Kohen sonnet in our Yom Kippur liturgy.


On his last Yom Kippur, Shimon Hatzaddik came out of the Holy of Holies with a melancholy look on his face, totally not like his usual beaming face. The many worshippers in the Holy Temple saw that something wasn't right and they were exceedingly upset.


Honorable Kohen Gadol,” they asked, “why do you have such a sad look on your face? Is something wrong?"


“Blessed children,” he replied, “this is the last year that I shall be with you, for this year I will die.”


Astonished, everyone asked how Shimon Hatzaddik could possibly know such a thing. He answered, “Every year when I perform the Yom Kippur ritual service in the Holy of Holies, I see an image of an old man dressed in white with a long white beard, who enters and leaves with me. This year, however, I saw the same image but the old man was dressed in black. He entered with me but he did not leave with me. I know, therefore, that this has been my last Yom Kippur.”


Shimon Hatzaddik's prophecy came true. Right after Succoth, he became deathly ill and died within a week.


According to their interpretation of our passage at hand, our sages say that this could not have been an angel who accompanied Shimon Hatzaddik every year in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, since no human or angel was allowed in anywhere near there. They conclude that it therefore was the Divine Presence, bearing witness to the absolute righteousness and holiness of Shimon Hatzaddik, may his holy memory intercede in our behalf, amen!



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