Yom Kippur Part 6

In the Second Temple

Placing the Coals Down: Second Temple

But in the face of the ark's absence in the Second Temple era, he would place the shovel down on the foundation stone itself, in the place where the poles would be extending had the ark been there.

Kohen Gadol's Hanfdul

The Most Difficult Task of All

Once the Kohen Gadol put down the shovel, he must then return the fine incense powder from the spoon and back into his palms - for when he places the incense on the coals, it must be directly from his palms, the "double handful." This was the most difficult task ever done by one person in the Holy Temple; it required great expertise. It would appear to be a nearly impossible feat for someone who had not practiced and been totally prepared. It was done in the following manner: The Kohen Gadol takes the spoon full of incense and slowly pulls it with his two thumbs against his arms and body, with the handle resting against him (some maintain that he actually held the top of the handle in his teeth). He balances the body of the spoon itself until it is level with his hands. Then he gently leans the spoon into his palms, turning and rocking it back and forth so that the contents are emptied into his palms.

Not Even One Grain May Fall

As we have described it, this process is difficult enough to accomplish. But what makes the exercise even more formidable - enough to merit the appellation of "the most difficult task of all" - is the requirement that the Kohen Gadol must not allow even one tiny grain to fall. The entire contents within the spoon must be completely transferred to his hands, to the very last drop. For if even a negligible measure is missing, then the amount he will be placing on the coals is no longer a double handful, for something fell from his hands. Thus he would not be fulfilling G-d's requirement.

Placing Incense on the Coals

Placing the Incense on the Coals

From his palms the Kohen Gadol places the incense onto the coals in the shovel, on the side of the shovel away from where he is standing, so that he will not be burned as the flames ignite. He stands there and waits momentarily, until the entire chamber is filled with smoke.

The Yom Kippur incense offering completed, he then exits the Holy of Holies with extreme reverence - backwards, entering through the two curtains back into the Sanctuary without once having turned his back on the holy place.

The Kohen Gadol's "Short" Prayer

Standing alone in the Sanctuary, the Kohen Gadol has successfully entered and exited the holiest place on earth - the center of creation and of G-d's glory. He has made atonement for his people in the manner which G-d has prescribed for this holy day. Thus it would be most natural for him to reflect upon this rarefied moment of Divine communion by offering his own heartfelt prayer.

Yet this prayer, recorded by the Talmud, is remarkably short and concise:

"May it be Your will, HaShem our G-d, that if this coming year be hot, that it also be rainy; and may the scepter not depart from the house of Judah (see Gen. 49:10); and may Your people Israel not be dependent on each other for their livelihood; and do not pay heed to the prayers of wayfarers (who pray that it should not rain, so that they will not be inconvenienced in their journey)."

A Time for Brevity

There was good reason for the Kohen Gadol's decision not to elongate his prayer at this particular time: many a Kohen Gadol was struck down dead while in the Holy of Holies. Although the First Temple stood for 410 years, in all there were only 12 Kohen Gadols during that entire period; because they were very righteous, they were blessed with longevity. However the Second Temple, which stood for a total of 420 years, was presided over by more than 300 Kohen Gadols. This is because in the spiritual decline of those days, many of these men were corrupted, and bought their office through influence.

Additionally, if he would change any detail of the incense service within the Holy of Holies (as we mentioned with regard to the Sadducees), he would also die.

With this is mind, it is understandable that the eyes of all Israel awaited the exit of the Kohen Gadol with bated breath. Being aware of his people's agitation, the Kohen Gadol's first concern was that he should not cause them any unnecessary anxiety... and the longer he stayed within, the more Israel's apprehension grew. Thus the Kohen Gadol saw fit to forego the opportunity to engage in a long personal prayer, and recited the shorter version so as to exit the Sanctuary with reasonable speed.

Exiting - and Reentering

In the next stage of the Yom Kippur service, after the Kohen Gadol concluded the incense service, uttered his prayer and exits the Sanctuary, he returns to the kohen who is waiting for him outside the entrance. This kohen has been waiting here since the bullock was slaughtered, holding the mizrak and moving it about so that its contents will not harden.

The Kohen Gadol now receives this vessel from his colleague and returns back into the Holy of Holies a second time, exactly as he did previously. Walking through the two curtains and carrying the vessel holding the blood of his offering, he comes back to spot "between the poles" where he placed the incense on the coals atop the foundation stone.

Sprinkling Blood on the Ark

Sprinkling the Blood of the Bullock

There, he sprinkles in the air with his finger from the contents of the mizrak, towards the spot of the ark-cover. This is as specified by the verse (Lev. 16:14), "He shall take some of the bullock's blood, and with his forefinger he shall sprinkle it above the east side of the ark cover. He shall then sprinkle with his forefinger seven times directly towards the ark cover."

Afterwards he leaves the Holy of Holies (in the same manner we have discussed above), and places the vessel on a golden stand within the Sanctuary.