Parashat Acharei Mot describes the service of the High Priest in the Sanctuary on Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:13). Simply put, it involves the most spiritually potent person in the most spiritually potent place on the most spiritually potent day. The Rambam writes that the High Priest would be escorted home at the end of his service, and it should be a celebration for those close to him that he went out from the Sanctuary in peace.

If the High Priest was not in a proper spiritual state, he was liable to die during his service in the Holy of Holies. He was even warned not to spend too much time praying, so as not to endanger himself or bring problems upon the Jewish people. To the casual observer, it would appear that the reason for the above-mentioned celebration is because the High Priest returned alive and well from his spiritual work.

The purpose was never to remain in the Sanctuary separated from the mundane…

Also, the Rambam's focus in his commentary is pure and simple law. If so, what is a nice insight doing here? The High Priest's return concerns his private behavior, and is not connected to his actual Temple service on Yom Kippur. Why did the Rambam choose to include these extra observations?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe gives a very interesting explanation: To begin with, the High Priest was required to be a married man. This may seem to contradict the law that the High Priest separate from his wife several days before Yom Kippur in order to sanctify himself. Yet following this separation, the High Priest was required to pray not just for himself, but for his spouse also, and concluding his service he was to immediately return to his family and his everyday mundane tasks.

These details demonstrate the lofty service of G‑d in the Temple. On the one hand, we see the highest possible level of personal sanctity, in the most sanctified place on the most special day. Yet, the purpose was never to remain in the Sanctuary separated from the mundane, but rather to take that holiness and integrate it into the world. This is the reason that at the end of Yom Kippur, the High Priest would return to his home. This was to make public the understanding that the purpose of this divine service was to bring the G‑dliness into the framework of his daily life.

Make for G‑d a dwelling place in this mundane world…

We find a similar lesson in the life of Rabbi Akiva, of whom the Talmud writes, "He went in peace and exited in peace" (Chagiga 14b). Rabbi Akiva journeyed into the deepest of the secrets of the Torah, while many other Torah giants were not capable of reaching such lofty spiritual levels. What was his secret? Rabbi Akiva's "entrance was in peace" - not for the purpose of separating from the world - and therefore he was able to exit in peace and use what he learned to affect the world for good.

This teaches us that there is no need to be afraid that becoming more involved in a Jewish lifestyle will estrange us from the world. The opposite! This is specifically how we fulfill our divine purpose: to make for G‑d a dwelling place in this mundane world. (See Tanchuma, Naso 16). This is only accomplished when we use our spiritual experiences to transform our physical surroundings, making them a fitting place for G‑d.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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