Dr. Karen Kirshenbaum
Senior Faculty, Midreshet Lindenbaum
At the time of receiving the Torah at Sinai, The level of unity within Am Yisrael was at its peak. The entire nation responded simultaneously “נעשה ונשמע” – we agree to observe the entire Torah – even before hearing the laws and details. As the Midrash states:
“אבל כאן השוו כולם לב אחד, לכך נאמר ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר. (פר’ א)… ויענו כל העם יחדיו, לא ענו בחנופה ולא קבלו זה מזה, אלא השוו כלם לב אחד ואמרו, כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה…”. (מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל יתרו – מסכתא דבחדש פרשה ב).
“But here they were all of one heart, as said, and Israel camped there facing the mountain … When all the people answered together, they did not respond with flattery, they didn’t consult one another, but instead they were all of one heart and said, ‘All that Hashem says we will do..'” (Midrash Mechilta)
“One nation with one heart” – עם אחד בלב אחד””
A high point of Seder Ha’avodah, The High Priest’s work on Yom Kippur, was his entering of the קדש הקדשים, the Holy of Holies, the only day of the year when entrance was allowed and then only by the High Priest. According to the Mishna in Yoma 5:1,when the High Priest exited the Holy of Holies קדש הקדשים before returning to the other priests and the public who were awaiting his return in the ,עזרהthe outer area, the High Priest would say a quick prayer in the ,היכל the sanctuary.
Both Talmuds, the Babylonian and Yerushalmi, suggest what the High Priest might have requested in this special prayer. Among the versions suggested are: that the coming year should have sufficient rainfall, that it should be a prosperous year, and so on.
It is interesting to note a connection to the High Priest’s prayer which is not apparent. The Mishna in Makot 2:6 brings the law from the Torah , regarding a person who accidentally kills another. The killer must flee from the גואל הדם, the avenger of the deceased, to the nearest עיר מקלט, City of Refuge, and remain there until the death of the High Priest. According to the Mishna, the mothers of the High Priests would sponsor these accidental killers, supplying them with food and clothing, so that they wouldn’t pray for the early death of their sons, the High Priests – the only thing that would allow the killers to return to their homes.
The Gemara in Makot 11a questions the mothers’ need to be concerned about prayers of an accidental killer – since when does Hashem listen to an unwarranted curse or prayer? – and brings a verse inמשלי , Proverbs (26:2), to prove the point that an unwarranted curse returns to the curser. (“As the wandering sparrow, as the flying swallow, so the curse that is causeless shall come home”).
So why be apprehensive of an unwarranted curse? The Gemara answers: the accidental killers’ prayers were not entirely unwarranted. The High Priest should have prayed more devoutly for mercy for his generation. Targum Yonatan translates the verse in Bamidbar, referring to the law of an accidental killer who may leave the City of Refuge upon the death of the High Priest, and explains the connection between these laws as follows: When the High Priest prayed on Yom Kippur in (or upon leaving) the קדש הקדשים, the Holy of Holies, he neglected to pray that עם ישראל, the people of Israel, should be saved from the three most serious sins – עבודה זרה גילוי עריות ושפיכות דם טהור – idol worship, incest/adultery and the shedding of innocent blood. He had the power to (cancel) help prevent these sins with his prayers and since he didn’t, his punishment was to die within the year.
In light of the above, because the High Priest was in some measure responsible for the shedding of innocent blood, the prayers of the accidental murderers were justified. According to some interpretations, thanks to the assistance given by the High Priests’ mothers, the exiles not only did not pray for the death of the High Priests but they even prayed for their good health and wellbeing. A kind of תיקון, correction, according to the rule – כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה – All Jews are responsible for one another.
We have just seen how the High Priest is responsible for his people, and through his devotion can protect עם ישראל, Am Israel from innocent bloodshed; therefore, when there is an accidental murder and innocent blood is shed, he is to some degree held responsible. Consequently, the exiled killer returns home upon his death. The mothers of the High Priests now intervene and sponsor the exiles, who in turn pray for the health of the High Priests.
I recently came across a statement that Margaret Thatcher made while receiving Prime Minister Menachem Begin at 10 Downing St. in 1979:
“…in all the many years I have represented Finchley, my parliamentary constituency, which as you know has a high proportion of Jewish residents, I have never once had a Jew come to me in poverty and desperation. They are always so well looked after by their own. And that is splendid!”
Please Gd may we continue to feel the importance of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה, caring for one another within the community, outside of the community, within Erez Yisrael, and all over the world, a responsibility to all of עם ישראל, Am Yisrael.
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