Coals for the Incense

Atop the altar, the High Priest uses the shovel to stir the fire, and he gathers some of the burning coals from the midst of the fire into this vessel. When he desends the ramp, he will return to where the priest waits with the mizrak, and he will place the shovel and its coals on the floor, next to where his colleague stands.

The High Priest's Steps Bear Witness to the Greatness of the Day

Every aspect of the Divine service on this awesome day reflected the special status and sanctity which is inseperable from the very nature of the day itself; a day of sublime communion with the Creator; a day of resolve and repentance; a day of both great inner peace and national unity.

Thus every movement made during the service and literally every step taken by the High Priest was imbued with great significance and meaning. Even his very steps along the altar ramp marked the special character of the moment and rang out the words "This is the Day of Atonement!" For all year long, the priests would go to and fro the altar by walking along the periphery of the ramp; ascending along the easten side and descending on the west. Their strong sense of reverence and awe for the Holy One had a humbling effect on their number, and they would have considered it a brazen act to walk right up the center of the ramp.

Yet today, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest (accompanied by the assistant, on his right side) walks right along the middle of the ramp. The symbolism of this action is clear: Today, let all take note of Israel's honor, and her fondness in the Holy One's eyes. So much does He cherish Israel, that today - on this day when all her sins are forgiven - Israel can behave like a child in her father's house, openly declaring their love and affection.

The High Priest himself, who today attends to the entire service alone and thus represents all of Israel, is also accorded special honors as befits his elevated office. For example: Whereas all year round, the priests sanctify their hands and feet from the water of the laver before commencing their tasks, today the High Priest washs from a special golden pitcher which is designated for his own use only.



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