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Friday, 27 Tammuz 5774 – July 25, 2014
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
As we’ve discussed in our last two editions of S.A.L.T., the Gemara in
Masekhet Makkot (11a) views the
kohen gadol as responsible for fatal accidents that occur among
Am Yisrael. Someone who kills accidentally
must reside in an ir miklat (“city of refuge”) until the
kohen gadol’s death, and the Gemara explains this law as intended to punish the kohen gadol. Since the kohen gadol failed
to pray for his generation’s safety and wellbeing, the killer will be anxiously
awaiting and praying for the kohen gadol’s death so he can return home.
The Maharsha, commenting in the Gemara’s remark, writes that the kohen
gadol is held accountable for such tragedies because his Yom Kippur prayers
are to include a plea that they do not occur.
The kohen gadol recited a special prayer as he stood in the kodesh ha-kodashim during
the Yom Kippur service, and the Maharsha writes that the kohen gadol was
to pray “for the atonement of sin so
that the decree would be annulled and [the victim] would not be killed, and also
that the wicked would repent from their iniquity and evil decrees against them
would be annulled.” In other words,
he was to pray for the annulment of harsh decrees, so that nobody would
fall victim to deadly negligence, and also that the wicked should repent, so
that killings – both intentional and inadvertent – would not occur. As he evidently failed to recite such
prayers, the kohen gadol is put in a
situation where somebody is praying for his death.
According to the Maharsha, it is specifically at those special moments,
when the kohen gadol entered the inner sanctum of the Mikdash on Yom Kippur to atone for
the nation, that he is to pray on
behalf of “the wicked,” those prone to accidental murder. Intuitively, we might have assumed
that during those moments, on the holiest day in the holiest place, the
kohen gadol must keep his mind focused on lofty matters and direct his attention as far away as
possible from the lower elements of the nation.
Remarkably, however, the precise opposite is true. Particularly then, the
kohen gadol’s mind is to be directed toward the sinners of Israel, on whose behalf he is to
beseech the Almighty. From the
Torah’s perspective, the purpose of “holiness” is not to ignore or turn away
from sinners, but to the contrary, to help them, to feel concerned for them, and
to do what one can to lead them to change.
At the most somber, sacred moments of the year, the nation’s spiritual
leader is to pray specifically for the sinners, for those who need his prayers
the most. And if he fails to do so, the
Gemara teaches, then he has failed in his role, to the extent that God puts his
constituents in a position where they pray for his downfall.
(Based on a sicha of the Tolna Rebbe)
Rav David Silverberg
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