Over two thousand years ago a very serious rift took place in the Jewish community, one which lasted for a long period. Antignus of Socho, who received the Torah from Shimon Hatzadik and served as the teacher of his generation, delivered a lecture in which he said, “Be not like slaves who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; rather be like slaves who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you” (Avot 1:3).

Avot D’Rabbi Nathan (2:5) relates: “Antignus had two disciples who misinterpreted his saying, and taught to their disciples and their disciples to their disciples, saying, ‘Why did our rabbis see fit to say a thing like this? It is possible, then, that a workman upon completing his day’s work will not receive his wages in the evening? If our rabbis would be convinced that there is a future world and that there will be resurrection of the dead, they would not have said this.’ ” From these two disciples, Tzadok and Boethus, there arose two heretical sects, the Tzedokim — Sadducees — and the Baitusim. They were called “Tzedokin” after their founder Tzadok, and “Boethusians” after their founder Boethus.

The Tzedokim were active during the second Beit Hamikdash era. They denied the validity of the Torah she’ba’al peh — the Oral tradition of the Jewish people — maintaining that only the literal sense of the Torah was binding. Unfortunately, they attracted such a large following that some Kohanim Gedolim belonged to their sect.

They introduced a lifestyle based on their literal interpretations of the Written Torah, which angered the authentic Torah Sages of the time and caused much chaos.

According to them, the pasuk “Do not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on Shabbat” (Shemot 35:3) forbids one to have any fire burning during Shabbat, even when kindled before Shabbat. Thus, on Shabbat they would sit in the dark and eat only cold food.

To demonstrate that we have no affiliation with the Tzedokim and their heretical views, we intentionally let food, popularly known as cholent, cook on the fire during Shabbat and eat it for the afternoon meal.

It is not my intent to give a lecture today about this group, but to discuss the innovation they sought to introduce in the Kohen Gadol’s service on this Holiest day of the year when he entered the Kodesh HakadashimHoly of Holies.

In the Torah portion assigned to Yom Kippur we read, “And he shall take a shovelful of fiery coals from atop the altar before Hashem, and his cupped handsful of finely ground incense-spices, and bring it within the veil” (Vayikra 16:12).

The Gemara (Yoma 19b) relates that a bitter conflict raged in ancient Israel between the two dominant factions, the Pharisees and the Tzedokim, concerning the place where the Kohen Gadol was to burn the incense prescribed by the Torah. The Pharisees — the party which adhered to both the Written Law and the Oral Traditions — held that the Kohen Gadol should enter the Holy of Holies first, and while there he should put the incense on the fire; the clouds would then drift from the innermost Sanctuary into the Temple proper, and from there into the open courts of the Beit Hamikdash, where all the Kohanim and the Israelites were assembled (see ibid. 39b).

On the other hand, the Tzedokim — the party that denied the authority of the Tradition — maintained that the Kohen Gadol should put the incense on the fire before his entrance into the Holy of Holies, and then, with the clouds still ascending, enter into the innermost Sanctuary.

Due to the prohibition of the Torah that no one is to be in the Sanctuary when the Kohen Gadol “comes to provide atonement in the Sanctuary” (Vayikra 16:17), no one could be present in the Temple to see that the officiating Kohen would perform this part of the service in keeping with the authentic Torah teaching. Hence, the Kohen Gadol was made to take an oath that he would not deviate from the tradition.

There is a very profound thought behind the controversy that divided the two parties in ancient Israel. Authentic Torah lifestyle or Torah modified to prevailing lifestyles — which of these is to wield the controlling influence? Is the main influence in man’s life to be a G‑d ordained law, which is eternal as the Eternal G‑d, or is it to be a product of a law of temporary expedients? Are we to mold our conduct at all times in accordance with the commandments of our Torah, or are we to live according to a Torah which is tailored to fashion? In short, is G‑d’s Sanctuary to infuse moral power into the world or is the temporary aspect of life to affect the spiritual destinies of the Divine Sanctuary on earth?

The Pharisees, who were the party favoring the supremacy of Torah religion as against all attempts of secularizing Jewish life, and who incidentally had the loyalty of the Jewish masses behind them, upheld the doctrine that the clouds of incense must originate in the Kodesh Hakadeshim, symbol of the highest source of spiritual power on earth. From there they would issue into the Temple, thence spreading into the outer courts, where the masses of people were gathered.

The Pharisees thus effectively indicated their position that Israel’s first consideration should not be whether its religious views and teachings are in accordance with the times but whether the times are in accordance with the sacred tenets of its faith. Thus, the Sages conceived the entrance of the Kohen Gadol into the Kodesh Hakadeshim as a moment of national reckoning, the rendering of an account of how Israel stood with respect to the great principles of its faith.

But the Tzedokim, who believed in the complete secularization of Jewish life, held that this ceremony must be performed in a precisely contrary manner. The incense was to be burned “without” the veil, and from the outside world it was to be carried into the innermost sanctuary, thus emphasizing the point of view that secular standards must exert the controlling influence over the most sacred institutions of Yiddishkeit.

With the destruction of the Temple the Tzedokim disappeared from the scene of Jewish history, while the Pharisees, the great teachers of Jewish tradition as embodied in the Talmud, remained to preside over the destinies of the Jewish people. This alone is an indication that the view of the Pharisees alone could survive the test of history.

The controversy of yesterday is, however, prevalent also today. Our problem comes down to this: Are we to have a religion of definite content and value, a religion of Shabbat, kashrut, Torah education, and all other mitzvot — being willing to sacrifice for the perpetuation of these sacred institutions of Yiddishkeit — or are we to accept life’s conveniences as final, and frame the principles of religion accordingly? Our future rests clearly upon the choice we shall make between the two sides of the issue.

In these moments before Yizkor, when soon we shall enter the innermost sanctuary of Jewish history, the sanctuary of our ancestors who were always ready to sacrifice their dearest affections on the altar of Hashem so that not a fiber might be lost from the holiness of His laws, we hear them adjuring us, even as the elders of the Priesthood charged the Kohen Gadol before he entered the Kodesh Hakadashim: “We charge you with an oath by Him Who domiciled His Name in this House, that you will not to change anything of all that we have told you.”

May we be imbued with the intuition to know how to discriminate between light and darkness — between a religion of convenience and a religion of truth. Let us in this sacred moment declare, “Anu amecha v’atah Elokeinu” — “We are Your people and You are our G‑d.”