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Golden Calf

Why does the High Priest wear his golden garments on Yom Kippur? Why bring to mind the sin of the Golden Calf?

On Yom Kippur we read about the special service the High Priest would perform on Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple. One of the many fascinating features of this service is the special garments worn by the High Priest. Yom Kippur marked the only time anyone would enter the “Holy of Holies” in the Holy Temple, and before entering, the High Priest would remove his royal “regular” priestly clothes and wear plain white clothes.

To further explain: The standard garments of the High Priest contained gold. Gold, however, is often cited in rabbinic literature as being associated with the Golden Calf. Therefore, if the High Priest would be wearing his golden clothes when entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to pray for forgiveness for the Jewish people, God would then be “reminded” of the sin of the golden calf! As such, the high Priest changes out of his golden garments and wears special all white garments when he enters the Holy of Holies.

The question, however, arises: Why does the High Priest wear his golden garments at all on Yom Kippur? Why bring to mind the sin of the Golden Calf at any time on Yom Kippur? Why does he not just wear white the entire day?

It is explained that there is a difference between the High Priest in front of God, and the High Priest in front of the Jewish people. As mentioned, when the High Priest is before God, he definitely doesn’t want to remind God of the golden calf he came. Not only would it not be induced to gaining forgiveness for the Jewish people, but it would also embarrass them. As such, no gold before God.

However, when the High Priest was before the people, it is actually a good thing that there be some gold to be seen. This would gently remind the Jewish people of the great sin that their ancestors committed so many years ago. This could enhance their desire to repent, inspire more passionate prayer and thereby help them to be forgiven for all their sins.

So here’s your reminder for Yom Kippur: We all sin. I won’t “remind” God about that, but just remember to feel sincerely sorry about anything wrong you may have done this year. That alone will ensure that God will forgive you!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel