Approaching the Holy by Rabbi Neal Turk



    The Gemara in Yoma (דף י"ט:) tells us that a major dispute arose between the Chachomim and the Tzeddukim, the Sadducees, who rejected the Oral Tradition, regarding the ענן הקטרת, the cloud produced by the incense offering.  When the Kohein Gadol was in the Kodesh HaKodashim, the holy of holies, on Yom Kippur, he could not sprinkle the blood of the sacrifices until a separation was created between himself and the Aron.  This separation was in the form of a cloud created by pouring Ketores, incense, onto a shovel full of coals.  The Tzeddukim claimed that this cloud was created outside of the Kodesh HaKodashim, and the Kohein Gadol walked in with the cloud already formed.  They based this idea on the Posuk in our Parsha which says כי בענן אראה על הכפרת"," implying that Hashem will be seen via this cloud (ויקרא ט"ז:ב').  In other words, only when the cloud was formed could Hashem be seen, and therefore, only then could the Kohein Gadol enter.  
    The Chachomim said, however, that this understanding was not correct.  According to them, the cloud mentioned in that Posuk (שם) does not refer to the cloud made by the Kohein Gadol from the Ketores at all.  With this interpretation in mind, Rashi (לפסוק ב' שם בד"ה כי) comments: "כי תמיד אני נראה שם עם עמוד ענני," indicating that Hashem may always be found there with His special cloud.  In other words, the Kohein Gadol can not enter the Kodesh HaKodashim any time he pleases precisely because the cloud representing Hashem's presence is always there.  The relevant Posuk referring to the cloud made by the Kohein Gadol from the incense appears later (שם פסוק י"ג), where the Torah states, "ונתן את הקטרת על האש לפני ה'," "he must place the incense on the fire before Hashem;" the phrase "before Hashem" is explained to mean in the Kodesh HaKodashim itself.  So concerned were the Chachomim about this matter that they forced the Kohein Gadol to take an oath that he would perform this part of the Avodah on Yom Kippur properly, as stated by the Mishnah in Yoma (דף י"ח.).  
    Many commentaries have asked what the philosophical reason could be for this difference of opinion between the Chachomim and the Tzeddukim.  It has been suggested that the Tzedukkim wanted to show that in order to view the holy Aron, representing the Torah, one had to come equipped with ideas from outside the tradition.  Ideas and concepts from the outside need to be utilized in interpreting the Torah, and the Torah will therefore change depending on the tools used to interpret it.  Time and place will certainly be relevant in terms of understanding what the Torah means.
    The Chachomim, on the other hand, said that everything must take place on the inside.  The Torah can be understood properly only if it is studied on its own terms.  It must be learned from within.  One must learn the positions and attitudes of the Torah using the unique methodologies of Torah study.  If one were to approach the Torah with opinions formed based upon other sources and then try to apply them to Torah study, a distorted view of our tradition would emerge.  Once a pure vision of the Torah's view on a particular matter has been reached, it can then certainly be compared and contrasted with what is learned in other disciplines.  Moreover, what is learned from elsewhere can sometimes shed light on and enhance our understanding of Torah; this is why many people encourage and value a broad general education.  First and foremost, however, we must enter the holy place of Torah study where our values and ideas are formed.  Only once we are solidly grounded in the Torah and Jewish tradition from within can we explore that which is offered elsewhere. 

The Incense and Lashon Hora by Saul Friedman

Moshe's Children by Yona Baer