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Service of the Kohen Gadol: Seclusion

When I was a young teenager I devoured books about people who chose to live as monks in a perfectly spiritual environment. The Trappist’s silence in a day of work, meditation and prayer, away from all distraction was tempting to a young Yeshiva boy. The religious issue made the fantasy difficult. The absence of Talmud study made it impossible, so a fantasy it has remained all these years. The yearning is strong. I know that Judaism demands involvement in life, engaging people, and rising above the distractions, but I still desire at least one week of total seclusion, meditation, silence, prayer and study. I’m even willing to live on a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables for the week.

The holiest Jew, the Kohen Gadol, prepares for his service in the holiest place, the Holy of Holies, on the holiest day, Yom Kippur, with a magical week of seclusion. Immediately after Rosh Hashanah, everyone gathered to escort him to his place of seclusion. The royal family, scholars, judges, Kohanim, and all the people, join in an elaborate parade as he is afforded his week of seclusion and preparation.

He does not step into his private place as himself, but as all of us. People press toward him to touch him. He will prepare for purification, but he does not hesitate to shake every hand extended. He is all of us from that moment. He does not act for us only on Yom Kippur; he acts for all of us from the moment he leaves his home to walk to that special office on the Temple grounds.

A week of seclusion is not a fantasy. It is real for all of us as the Kohen Gadol begins his special pre-Yom Kippur week. The BNN (Biblical News Network) has a special seven day series: Preparation. Daily posts inform the people of what the Kohen Gadol is doing that day. All of us are involved. We are all connected to that private room, where the Kohen Gadol will face his awesome challenge.

The week before Yom Kippur is our opportunity to connect to that picture of a human being granted the gift of total absorption in his spiritual life. How would we take advantage of such a week? How would we change if afforded an opportunity to escape the distractions of life, email, phones, bills, work, traffic, and casual conversations? What would we gain from a week of absolute focus on our spiritual lives?

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