While the Kohen Gadol was busy performing the service in the Kodesh HaKadashim, Bnei Yisrael waited anxiously in the courtyard. They knew that his work was fraught with danger. Only a person of the highest spiritual level would survive being so close to the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. Indeed, it happened more than once – actually a lot more than once – that a Kohen Gadol would enter the Kodesh HaKadashim on Yom Kippur and… not survive!
Because of the great risk, a very strong chain — strong enough to pull hundreds of pounds — would be tied to the Kohen Gadol before he entered the Kodesh HaKadashim. That way, if he, G-d forbid, didn’t survive, he could be pulled back out by the chain.
Remember, no one else was ever allowed to enter the Kodesh HaKadashim, or else…
Tension filled the air while the Kohen Gadol performed his service. Bnei Yisrael anxiously wondered:
“Would HaShem be pleased with our Kohan Gadol’s holy work?”
“Would the Kohen Gadol survive?”
“Would the Jewish Nation be forgiven for their sins of the past year?”
Finally, at the end of the day, if and when they saw the Kohen Gadol emerge peacefully from the Kodesh HaKadashim, Bnei Yisrael would breathe a big sigh of relief. He had done it! His service was accepted, and HaShem had forgiven the Jews and wiped the slate clean for the new year. They were all so thankful and happy that everyone rushed up to him pouring out their heartfelt thanks.
“Kohen Gadol… thank you so much! What a wonderful job… a true life-saver!”
“Your service was so inspirational! So full of energy and holiness!
“Yes, and after not getting any sleep the night before! Could you imagine?!”
Indeed, the night before, Erev Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol was busy learning Torah the entire night! And if he dozed off, the “Pirchei Kehunah,” the young Kohanim would snap their fingers… snap, snap… to keep him awake.
“Kohen Gadol … snap, snap, don’t fall asleep… … snap, snap, you must stay up!”
After the Yom Kippur service was completed, the Kohen Gadol went home to celebrate with his family and friends. They were all grateful for HaShem’s kindness and forgiveness and sat down to a festive break-fast – who ever heard of a nighttime breakfast?!
During the 410 years that the first Beis HaMikdash stood, there were only 8 people who served as Kohen Gadol. That’s an average of over 50 years per Kohen Gadol! (Can you imagine having the same job for that long?!)
And, believe it or not, the second Beis HaMikdash stood 420 years and had over 300 Kohanim Gedolim! That means most of them did not even last one year! (Can you imagine having the same job for that short?! You could?)
The reason for this is because each Kohen Gadol during the first Beis HaMikdash was what we call a Tsaddik, a holy person, and was blessed with long life. During the second Beis HaMikdash, however, undeserving people often bribed their way into this Kohen Gadol position, and they would not make it out of the Kodesh HaKadashim alive. Oy Vey!
The Torah describes Yom Kippur as, Achas BaShanah, “one in the year.”
This phrase does not only mean that it happens once a year, but that it is a unique day in which our one soul is one with the One and only One – HaShem.