The assigned Torah reading for Yom Kippur is from the book of Leviticus, the beginning of the Biblical portion of Acharei Mot. Basically it discusses in detail the services the Kohen Gadol must perform on this holy day as he enters the Kodesh — Holy — and the Kodesh HaKadashim — the Holy of Holies.

Unfortunately, at present we do not have a Kodesh Hakadashim or a Kohen Gadol. Hence, all the details discussed in this Biblical portion are purely academic and irrelevant at present and especially to Jews of the Diaspora.

One may therefore wonder why this is the assigned reading even now.

Torah is not a book of history, neither is it a storybook in which interesting tales and episodes are recorded. According to the Midrash, the word Torah etymologically is associated with the word “hora’ah” — which means teaching and guidance (Zohar III:53b). Whatever parts of Torah one learns, one is to study and reflect on the message hidden in the words. Though on the surface it may seem that a particular place, event, or commandment is being discussed, one should also interpret the Torah in a way that reveals a timeless message and instruction.

Time does not permit us to go through all the thirty-four pesukim of today’s reading. However, I would like to share with you an interpretation of one of the first verses.

Moshe was instructed to tell his brother Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, that “Al yavo bechol eit el hakodesh” — “He may not enter at all times into the Sanctuary” (16:2). Simply, this is a directive to Aharon that throughout the year he is not to enter the Holy of Holies section of the Tabernacle.

Herein, however, lies also a message to every Jew as to how he should conduct himself in regard to the Holiness of our people, namely Torah and mitzvot.

There are many who erroneously think that Torah is antiquated and not up with the times. Thus, they claim, it is necessary to modify and adjust Torah so that it will be compatible with contemporary lifestyles. To negate this, the Torah declares “V’al yavoh bechol eit el hakodesh.” When approaching the Kodesh — the sanctity of Torah and mitzvot — do not apply adjustments of “bechol eit” — current trends and fads. We must reject the “bechol eit” philosophy, i.e. the idea that we must conform to the fashions, dictates, and norms of contemporary society.

There is a story of an American who took his son to London to show him the interesting sights of that historic city. During the tour, the father made sure to take him to Parliament and point out the huge clock on top of the building known as “Big Ben.” The child strained to get a full view of the clock, and so did the others who came to see it. “Daddy, I would like to ask you something,” said the boy. “Why did they put the clock so high and make people strain their necks to look up to it? Couldn’t they have made the clock level with the eyes so that everyone could see it easily, without trouble?”

The father thought for a moment and replied, “It is this way: If they had placed the clock low, people would adjust Big Ben to the time on their watches. Now that the clock is high, beyond the reach of all, they cannot try to reset it. If they want to have the correct time, they must set their own watches in accordance with the time shown by Big Ben.”

The same is true about the Torah. Torah is the Jewish people’s Big Ben. We should always regard it as being on a lofty plane so that it will not be changed by mere mortals. It is the correct “time” for all of us, and we must adjust ourselves to this Divine clock and not tamper with it and endeavor to adjust it to our opinion and convenience.

On this holiest day of the year, let us resolve to adjust our lives to Torah and let the authentic teaching of Torah be our guidepost throughout the entire year.