Shabbat Nugget: Why the High Priest Must Be a Married Man

The opening verse of this week’s Torah portion is “Hashem spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons .. speak to Aharon your brother – he shall not come at all times into the sanctuary.” The Torah continues to tell us that Aharon can only enter into the holiest part of the Temple called the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to perform the Yom Kippur service.

There are various reasons given by our sages why Aaron’s children Nadave and Abihu died. The midrash says that their sin was that they entered the Holy of Holies when they were not married. A similar idea is expressed by the sages in our torah portion in which they deduce from a careful examination of the verses regarding the Yom Kippur service that the High Priest who entered the Holy of Holies to perform the Yom Kippur services had to be a married man. The question is why is it so important that only a married man can enter the Holy of Holies?

A famous commentator called Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh examines the above mentioned verse “After the death of Aharon’s two sons when they came near before G-d and they died.” He asks, why does the verse repeat “Before G-d and they died” when the verse began with “After the death of Aharon’s two sons“, it seems to be redundant.  He explains that the end of the verse is telling us that Aharon’s sons died as result of becoming near before G-d.  When they entered the Holy of Holies, they had such a spiritual experience that their souls yearned to be closer to G-d to the extent of leaving their bodies.  However, this was considered a sin as the mission of man is not to detach himself from the world, but rather to be involved in the world and make it a place where G-d resides.

Now we can understand why the High Priest who entered the Holy of Holies had to be married.  A person who is not married is suspect of wanting to separate himself from wordly matters ie having a family and providing for them.

An example of this is the Talmudic Sage Ben Azai who did not marry and explained that the reason he did not marry was “What can I do but my soul yearns to study Torah?” Therefore, the Torah does not want such a person to enter such a holy place for who knows what can happen to him as result from such a spiritual experience?  At the very least it will make his challenge of dealing with wordly affairs more difficult.

About Rabbi Pesach Scheiner

Rabbi Pesach Scheiner is the Rabbi of Boulder County Center for Judaism. In addition, he teaches extensively throughout Boulder County and is the author of "Finding the Joy in Everyday Living," a book of short chapters explaining the ways to access happiness through appreciation, gratitude, and a sense of purpose.

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