Coals for the Incense
Atop the altar, the Kohen Gadol 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 descends 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 Kohen Gadol'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 inseparable 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 Kohen Gadol 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 kohanim would go to and fro the altar by walking along the periphery of the ramp; ascending along the eastern 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 Kohen Gadol (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 Incense Service
"He shall take a shovelful of burning coals from the altar that is before HaShem, and a double handful of finely ground incense, and he will bring them (into the inner sanctuary) beyond the curtain." (Lev. 16:12).
A "Double Handful"
After having placed the shovelful of burning coals on the floor near the Sanctuary, other kohanim now bring their senior the two other items he will use to conduct the incense service:
a large golden spoon (empty) which was brought from the Chamber of Vessels, and a golden shovel, filled with finely ground incense, brought from the Chamber of the Avtinas Family where the incense is prepared.
From the verse above, the sages deduced that the Kohen Gadol must remove the incense from the shovel directly into his two palms, without the aid of a vessel; this is the Torah's requirement - "a double handful of finely ground incense." Thus, there was no set measurement of how much incense was to be brought. It was literally the amount which fitted into each Kohen Gadol's palms; the amount therefore differed for each man depending on the size of his hands.
Entering into the Sanctuary
He then places the incense in his hands into the golden spoon and holds it with his left hand. In his right hand, he picks up the shovelful of burning coals from the floor before him. In this manner, carrying the spoonful of incense and the shovel of coals, he enters into the Sanctuary until he comes to the two curtains which separate between the Holy (the Sanctuary, which housed the menorah, table and incense altar) and the Holy of Holies.
In the First Temple, a wall the thickness of one amah (app. 48 or 60 centimeters) separated between these two areas. However, in the Second Temple the two curtains once again formed this distinction, as in the days of the Tabernacle. The two curtains themselves were separated by an empty space measuring one amah wide, like that wall which stood in Solomon's Temple.
Between the Curtains
One end of each of these two curtains was folded over on the outside and pinned up by a golden clasp; the outer curtain was pinned on the southern side, and the inner, on the northern side. Thus an aisle was formed which provided an open passageway between the two curtains. Carrying the implements, the Kohen Gadol walked between the curtains until he reached the northern side of the inner curtain - the spot where it was held up.
In the Holy of Holies
Here the Kohen Gadol stood at the opening of the Holy of Holies. He now turns and faces the south with his left side along the length of the curtain, so that he may walk to the center of the room to stand in the place known as "between the poles" - between the two poles of the Ark of the Testimony.
Placing the Coals Down: First Temple
When the Tabernacle and First Temple stood, the Kohen Gadol faced the holy Ark of the Testimony and placed the shovel of coals down, directly between the two poles of the ark.