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Parallels to the Day of Atonement

We shall see that there are several parallels between the preparation of the red heifer, and Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement. First and foremost, there are specific steps which were taken on account of the beliefs of the Sadducees. Because their numbers had infiltrated priestly and aristocratic families, the High Priest was required to take a special vow before attending to the incense service within the Holy of Holies. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest enters into that most sacred place by himself.

Background: The High Priest on the Day of Atonement

The Elders of the Priesthood

For a full week before the Day of Atonement, the High Priest separates from his own home and family and withdraws to his special chamber in the Temple. The entire week, the High Priest is under the supervision of the court elders, who daily read aloud in his presence. On the eve of the holy day, these sages present him to the elders of the priesthood, in order for him to receive instruction in the incense service - a most difficult task. He will need to learn from the benefit of their experience, in order to execute this important duty properly. He is escorted by the elders of the sanhedrin to the Chamber of Avtinas, where the incense is prepared by the priestly Avtinas family (according to their secret tradition). It is here that he will receive his instruction in the incense service from the senior priests.

An Oath Before Parting

Before the members of the sanhedrin relinquish the High Priest from their custody, a most poignant exchange takes place between them and their charge: they require that he swear he is not a member of the sect of Sadducees, and does not subscribe to Sadducean belief.

The differences held by the two factions were manifest in matters relating to service in the Holy Temple - hence the need for the administration of this vow.

For the verse states "... let him not enter the inner sanctuary that is beyond the partition concealing the ark, so that he may not die, since I appear over the ark cover in a cloud" (Lev. 16:2).

This verse, and the Sadducees' interpretation of its meaning, was the reason for necessitating the High Priest to swear before conducting the service of the incense offering on the Day of Atonement:

The Sadducees Would Ignite the Incense Outside the Holy of Holies

According to their view, the High Priest must prepare the incense while yet standing outside of the holy place... that is, he should place the incense on the coals of the shovel while he is within the sanctuary, but before stepping behind the curtain and into the Holy of Holies. He would only enter inwards once the cloud of smoke rose up from the incense, for the verse states "... let him not enter... since I appear over the ark cover in a cloud." The Sadducees interpret this to mean that the High Priest should enter into the Holy of Holies in the midst of the cloud of smoke, and then God will appear over the ark cover. The Talmud relates that this did happen on at least one occasion, for the priest boasted of his actions afterwards. He was subsequently punished by Divine retribution.

But Moses received a tradition at the Sinai Revelation, passed on by the Sages of Israel, that the High Priest must not place the incense on the coals until he enters into the holy place itself. This position is actually substantiated by a subsequent verse (Lev. 16:12–13): "He shall take a shovelful of burning coals from the altar... along with a handful of finely ground incense, and bring them both into the inner sanctuary beyond the curtain. There he shall place the incense on the fire before God... "

No Man Will Ever Know

On the Day of Atonement, no other human being can see how the High Priest actually performs this incense service... for the Bible specifically states (ibid. 17), "And no man shall be in the Communion Tent from the time that he enters the sanctuary to make atonement, until he leaves." Thus, because one could never really know, and since the Sadducean notions did have a certain following, there was a suspicion that perhaps this man was secretly sympathetic to their ideas. Therefore the High Priest undertook the oath, in the presence of the elders of the sanhedrin.

The Oath is Administered

The Mishna continues: "They (the sanhedrin elders) caused him to swear; then they departed from him and went their way. This was the language of the oath: ‘Master! High Priest! We are representatives of the High Court; you are yourself a representative of the same court, and you are our representative as well. We hereby cause you to swear by He who has caused His name to dwell in this house that you will alter nothing from all which we have instructed you'."

Suspicions - and Tears

"He departs from them in tears; they depart from him in tears as well." The High Priest weeps, for he has been suspected of being a Sadducee; the elders weep, for perhaps they have been suspicious of an innocent man.

Separation Seven Days in Advance

In order to prepare the High Priest for the momentous and fateful Day of Atonement, he leaves his own home and family a full week before the advent of Yom Kippur, and withdraws to his chamber in the Holy Temple. This was done just as the first High Priest, Aaron, separated himself away from others during the seven days of inauguration ("And do not leave the entrance of the Communion Tent for seven days, until your period of inauguration is complete" - Lev. 8:33).