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Parsha Halacha –  Parshat Vayikra

Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak, the First Kohen Gadol of the Second Bait HaMikdash

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The Torah portion of Vayikrah discusses the laws of various sacrifices, one of which was the bull brought by the Kohen Gadol who had sinned inadvertently.[1] This unique sacrifice could only be offered by Kohanim Gedolim anointed with the anointing oil (shemen hamish’cha), as the verse says, “If the anointed kohen sins.”[2] Whereas the Kohanim Gedolim who were not anointed with the oil and attained their position only by donning the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol, did not have to (nor were they allowed to) bring this sacrifice.[3] This means that the Kohanim Gedolim of the Second Bait HaMikdash were not eligible to bring this sacrifice since the shemen hamish’cha was secreted away before the destruction of the First Bait HaMikdash.[4]
The commentaries explain that the anointing of the Kohen Gadol (and the kings) represented the fact that the anointed one was “acquired by G-d… to be called holy. He, the blessed one, has bestowed holiness upon him… With [the anointing] it becomes known that the ‘Crown of G-d is on his head.’[5] From then on, the anointed one is considered to belong to G-d and to yearn to cleave to his source (G-d in heaven).”[6]
Perhaps this is why only a Kohen anointed with this oil had to bring the aforementioned sacrifice if he sinned. Since he had a greater amount of holiness, the desecration wrought by his sin was more severe.
It has also been pointed out that this sacrifice was only brought if the Kohen Gadol was a Torah scholar of great stature who was able to render Halachic rulings but in this case he rendered a specific ruling incorrectly, resulting in his acting upon his ruling, and thus, sinning. A Kohen Gadol who was unable to render Halachic rulings would not bring this sacrifice.[7]  Thus, many of the Kohanim Gedolim in the era of the Second Bait HaMikdash would have been unable to bring this sacrifice since (by and large) they were not worthy of their post (see below).[8]
Details of the Kohen Gadol’s sin offering
  • First Sin Offering
It is noteworthy that, when listing the various sin offerings, the one of the Kohen Gadol is listed first, followed by the sin offering for the entire community, followed by the sin offering of the king, and lastly, the sin offering of an individual person. It is listed first as it is considered the most significant since he is the spiritual leader and teacher of the people.[9]
  • The Guilt of the People 
In describing the sin of the Kohen Gadol, the Torah writes, “If the anointed kohen sins, bringing guilt to the people.” There are several explanations of these words.
  •  Rashi explains that when the Kohen Gadol sins, it brings fault (i.e., detriment) to the people, for they are dependent on him to atone for them and pray for them— and now he has become impaired.
  • The Seforno says that the anointed Kohen Gadol was (usually) such a righteous man that, if he inadvertently sinned, it could only be blamed on the Jewish people, whose negative actions must have affected their leader and brought him down. This is similar to the Talmudic statement that when a Chazzan makes a mistake in his prayers, it is a bad sign for the community.[10]
  • The Ibn Ezra says that when the Kohen Gadol makes a mistake, it brings fault to the community as they will learn from him. As the Torah says concerning Aharon and his sons, “And to instruct the children of Israel regarding all the statutes which the L-rd has spoken to them through Moshe.”[11]
  • The Best Animal
The animal used for this sacrifice was a bull, the largest of the sacrificial animals, since it is atoning for the sin of a very great man.[12] According to our sages, the bull was supposed to be in its third year[13] which is when the animal is considered to be at the prime of its life.[14]
  • In the Sanctuary
The Torah commands that the blood of this sin offering be brought into the sanctuary and sprinkled on the Parochet (curtain of the Holy of Holies) and the Golden Altar. Since the Kohen Gadol is such a holy man, his sin is considered more severe and the atonement must take place in one of the holiest places.[15]
  • The Significance of Seven
The blood was sprinkled on the Parochet seven times. The number seven is considered a complete number in many contexts within the Torah, thus indicating that the atonement is complete. Here are several examples from which we see that seven is a complete (and significant) number:
Seven heavenly bodies,[16] seven days of the week, seven heavens,[17] seven lands,[18]seven (major) deserts,[19] seven major mountains (of which Sinai was chosen),[20] the seventh day of the week (Shabbat), the seventh month being the month of the holidays (Rosh HaShana etc.), the seventh year being Shemitah, the seventh of the Shmitta cycles being yovel, this world being the seventh world, [21] the seventh candle of the Menorah being miraculous, and many more.[22]
  • Outside the Camp
Although the fats were burned on the outer altar, the rest of the animal was burned outside the camp. Our sages say that this signifies that when the leader sins, it affects the entire community, and thus the holiness of the Bait HaMikdash becomes diminished and to signify this the sacrifice is burned outside the camp.[23]
  • Additional Prayers
The Ramban point outs, that after describing this sacrifice, the Torah does not say “and he will be forgiven” as it does regarding the other sin offerings since, in addition to bringing the sacrifice, the Kohen Gadol must pray in order to receive forgiveness.
The rest of this article will focus on the first Kohen Gadol of the second Bait HaMikdash.
The Days of the Wicked will be Shortened
The Talmud[24] says that the verse “The days of the wicked will be shortened”[25] is referring to the Kohanim Gedolim of the second Bait HaMikdash which stood for 420 years during which time more than 300 Kohanim Gedolim served there. This is because they were (mostly) not worthy of the position and had bribed their way into the office and died soon after taking it. The Talmud explains, however, that there were several righteous Kohanim Gedolim during the second Bait HaMIddash who lived long lives. Specifically, Shimon the Tzadik served for 40 years, Yochanan Kohen Gadol served for 80 years, Rabbi Yishmael ben Phabi served for 10 years, and some say Rabbi Elazar ben Charsom served for 11 years. This leaves approximately 300 Kohanim Gedolim for about 299 years. This would mean that, on average, they each served less than a year.
Here is the history of the first Kohen Gadol of the second Bait HaMikdash.[26]
Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak
Yehoshua was the first Kohen Gadol to serve in the second Bait HaMikdash. He was the grandson of Seraya who was the last Kohen Gadol to serve in the first Bait HaMikdash.[27]The Zohar describes him as a perfect Tzadik.[28] The Prophet Zechariah, in one of his prophecies, discusses this Kohen Gadol in some detail.
  • A Brand Plucked from Fire
The prophet describes Yehoshua as a “brand plucked from fire.”[29] According to the Jerusalem Talmud[30] this refers to the fact that Yehoshua was a young boy when the first Bait HaMikdash was destroyed. At that time, 80 thousand young Kohanim tried to escape by running into the tunnels under the Bait HaMikdash.[31] Unfortunately, all of them were killed by the enemy except for Yehoshua. For this reason, he is referred to as a brand plucked from fire.
According to the Midrash,[32] this is referring to the following story. There were two false prophets in Jerusalem, Tzidkiyah and Achav. They were exiled to Babylonia where they continued their sinful ways. They would trick married women into sinning with them by telling them that G-d had instructed them to consort with them in order to have children who would be prophets. Once, these false prophets dared to approach Shmirat, the wife of Nevuchadnetzar, with their wicked proposal. Tzidkiyah came to her and said that G-d had instructed him to tell her that she should have relations with Achav so that she would bear prophets like him. Shmirat said that she must first consult with her husband. When Nevuchadnetzar heard about this, he commanded the so-called prophets to appear before him. He said to them, “I heard that your G-d despises immoral behavior, so how could He have instructed this?
Perhaps you will say that He changed his mind. So I will perform a test to see if you are true prophets or false ones. In the past, when I tried to burn the holy prophets of G-d – Chanaya, Misha’el and Azaryah, they escaped from the furnace unscathed. So I will throw you into a furnace. If you live, that is sign that you are true prophets. But if you die, it is a sign that you are charlatans.” Tzidkiyahu and Achav said, “In the case of Chananya, Misha’el and Azaryah, there were three holy men so they were protected. But we are only two and do not have enough merit for this miracle.” So Nevuchadnetzar told them to choose a third holy man to be thrown in with them. They chose Yehoshua the (future) Kohen Gadol thinking that he would be saved due to his righteousness and that they would be saved with him. In fact, they were both burned to death while Yehoshua remained unharmed. For this reason he is referred to as “a brand plucked from fire.”
  • Filthy Garments
In the vision of the prophet, after the above description of being plucked from the fire, the prophet says that he saw that Yehoshua “was wearing filthy garments.”[33] The Talmud[34]gives the background and explanation of this description. During the incident when Yehoshua was saved from the fire, his garments were singed. Nevuchadnetzar questioned him about this, pointing out that when Chanaya, Misha’el, and Azaryah were saved (as well as our forefather Avraham) they were completely unaffected by the fire. Yehoshua explained that since he was with wicked people and the fire “had permission to consume,” it was also able to singe his garments. The Talmud says that this was merely an excuse and that, in fact, his garments were singed because his sons had married women who were not fit for Kehunah and he had not protested. (Since the clothing is what makes the Kohen Gadol so special, singed garments indicates that his leadership position was sullied.)[35]As the verse says, “And it was found of the sons of the priests who brought in foreign women, of the sons of Yeshua (Yehoshua), the son of Yehotzadak, and his brothers: Ma’aseyah, Eliezer, Yariv, and Gedaliah.”[36]
  • Cleansing the Garments
Nevertheless, Zechariah, the prophet, foretold that Yehoshua’s children would send away their foreign wives and then Yehoshua’s sin would be forgiven. As it says “And the angel raised his voice and said to those standing before him, saying, ‘Take the filthy garments off him.’ And he said to him, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I have clad you with clean garments.'”[37] This prophecy was fulfilled, as the verse says, “And they (Ezra and the leaders of the people) advised them (the sons of Yehoshua) to cast out their wives, and the guilty ones [to bring] a ram for their guilt.”[38]
  • Building the Bait HaMikdash
Yehoshua was the Kohen Gadol even before the Bait HaMikdash was built, when there was only an altar on which to sacrifice. He was involved in the building of the Bait HaMikdash. When the Samaritans approached the Jewish people and wanted to participate in the building of the Second Bait HaMikdash, Yehoshua told them, “It is not for you and for us to build a House for our G-d, but we ourselves shall build for the L-rd G-d of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”[39] He said this because these people were longtime enemies of the Jews and they were offering to assist only to be able to sabotage the Jewish people’s efforts.
Some say that Yehoshua lived until the ripe old age of 130, after serving as Kohen Gadol for 56 years.[40]
May we merit to bring the Pesach sacrifice in the Bait HaMikdash this year!

[1] Levit. 4:1-12
[2] Ibid 3
[3] Horayot, 11b and Megillah, 9b The Mishnah there says that this was the only difference between these two types of Kohanim Gedolim.
[4] The Shemen HaMish’cha was hidden away by King Yoshiyahu, 53 years before the destruction of the first Bait HaMikdash, see Rashi on ibid, D.H. Merubeh
[5] Numbers 6:7
[6] Nachalat Binyamin by Rabbi Yitzchok Binyomin Wolf of Landsburg, printed in Amsterdam, 1682, Mitzvah 108
[7] See Rambam, Laws of Shegagot, 15:1
[8] Da’at Mikra
[9] Ibid
[10] Brachot, 34b
[11] Levit, 10:11
[12] Ibn Ezra
[13] Rosh HaShana, 10a
[14] See Pirush Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman on Gen. 15:9
[15] Ibn Ezra
[16] These are the sun, moon, and the five visible planets – Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mercury,
[17] See Chagigah, 12b
[18] See Avot DeRebi Natan, 37:9
[19] See Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer, 19
[20] Ibid
[21] See ibid
[22] Chizkuni
[23] Yerushalmy, Ta’anit, 2:1
[24] Yoma, 9a
[25] Proverbs, 10:27
[26] See Toldot HaKohanim HaGedolim (published in New York, 1933), by Rav Yekutiel Yehudah Greenwald for a full list of the Kohanim Gedolim.
[27] Although his father Yehotzadak is referred to as a Kohen Gadol (see Shir HaShirim Rabbah, 5:4), it seems that this was merely a title but that he never actually served in the Bait HaMikdash .
[28] Vol. 3, 185b (Parshat Balak, page 375 in the Zohar Matok Midvash)
[29] Zechariah, 3:2
[30] Ta’anit, chapter 4, end of Halacha 5 (page 25a)
[31] This is the interpretation of the Penei Moshe. The Korban Ha’Eidah says that they were hiding in the compartments on the side of the Bait HaMikdash.
[32] Tanchuma, Parshat Vayikra, 9
[33] Zechariah, ibid, 3
[34] Sanhedrin, 93a
[35] Maharsha
[36] Ezra, 10:18
[37] Zechariah, ibid, 4
[38] Ezra, ibid, 19
[39] Ibid, 4:3
[40] Meor Einayim by Azarya ben Moshe Di Rossi of Italy, chapter 37. It should be pointed out that many sages of Israel were opposed to many of the viewpoints of this book. If this account is correct, it is not clear why the Talmud does not list him in the list of righteous Kohanim Gedolim who lived a ling life.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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