Before the Kohen Gadol proceeded to do the Yom Kippur service, the elders of the Sanhedrin would make him swear to do the service exactly as instructed, to burn the incense only inside the Holy of Holies as the Oral Torah requires. They feared that he might be influenced by the  Tzadukim, Sadducees, who denied the authority of the Oral Torah, claiming that the incense should first be placed on a burning fire-pan outside the Holy of Holies, and only then should the Kohen Gadol carry it inside.

The Mishna reports how after administering the oath both the Kohen Gadol and the elders would turn aside from each other and weep.

The unfortunate need to suspect the Kohen Gadol was a painful reality that prodded their tears.

Although this was a historical fact and necessity, the Rambam chose to record this in his Mishneh Torah, a work that was intended to be strictly a book of laws for future generations. Why for posterity would this detail be relevant to know?

Have you ever wondered, if Teshuva is so vital for our survival why there isn’t any depiction of someone actually having gone through the steps of repentance in all of Chumash. There were certainly many we are told who repented, among them Adam and Reuven, yet the written Torah omits it.

There is though one instance of recorded regret.

After burying Yaakov, the brothers suspect Yosef of still bearing resentment and fear his exacting revenge. They send messengers to Yosef who allege that his father instructed them to tell him to forgive the spiteful deed of his brothers who have wronged him, although Yaakov never did anything of the sort. The brothers then reiterate their remorse by their appealing to Yosef, “so now, please forgive the spiteful deed of the servants of your father’s G-d”.

This expressed desire of remorse and request for forgiveness, begins with the planted words in the mouth of Yaakov,"אנא...", O please, kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers...”

Rebbi Avin said that G-d memorialized this plea of אנא, by having every Kohen Gadol begin each Vidui, the Confession, in the Temple during the Yom Kippur service with the words, אנא השם חטאתי..., O please, Hashem, I have erred... (תנחומא)

Despite the evident worthiness of their intentions, nevertheless the Torah reports how Yosef broke down in tears, when sensing their suspicions of him. Seventeen years he is lovingly tending to their every need, yet he is still suspect in their eyes.

This episode is striking in its parallels to the interaction of the elders and the Kohen Gadol, who also is suspect in their eyes, with the ensuing anguished tears.

We are taught that after returning from the burial of Yaakov, Yosef detoured to Shechem and the pit he was thrown into, to recite a blessing over the miracle of his being saved so many years earlier. This aroused the fear of his brothers indicating he remembered vividly what they had done to him. Alternately it is suggested that what gave them pause was the fact that after Yaakov died, Yosef no longer dined at the same table with them, lending them to think that with father out of the picture old resentments were now seething within Yosef.

We are told that his reticence to eat with them was so as not to lord over his esteemed brothers, Reuven and Yehuda, since as viceroy protocol required him to sit at the head.

Sometimes despite our righteous excuses and noble motives we get so caught up with ourselves that we neglect to be sensitive to how we impact those around us.

Couldn’t Yosef had informed them of his intentions prior to acting on them?

The brothers despite their having finally realized their folly in their treatment of Yosef, never get around to actually expressing that remorse until so many years later only when they fear retribution. They too got carried away with the excitement of discovery

Tradition teaches that the Ten Martyrs were executed as an atonement for the sin of the brothers having sold Yosef. But weren’t there only nine involved, as Reuven was busy repenting for having moved his father’s bed and Binyomin did not participate? Rabbeinu Bechaye asserts that Yosef was the tenth party, as he too was accountable for his actions that led the brothers to stir with enmity towards him.

We are still reeling from the effects of that sin. And we are still so often caught up in our own interests forgetting to be attuned to those around us that need so desperately our attention.

Perhaps the Kohen Gadol wasn’t simply disappointed that he was suspected of heretical influences, for didn’t he realize this was a necessary process every Kohen Gadol had to endure as the Sadducees had infiltrated many a time the hierarchy of the Temple.

Perhaps it drove the point home that we are all vulnerable, as no one may ever be so self-righteous to think they are impervious to being blinded by personal ambitions and interests.

One of the sentiments expressed at that juncture of the oath was the reality that “our assembled congregation on you is relying”. (אתה כוננת)  

In a moment of utter awareness of the impact and responsibility we each have on those in our orbit, the echoes of the tears of Yosef erupted within his soul, arousing him to the awesome role we each play and how sensitive we must be to never be so wrapped up in ourselves in neglecting to be attuned to others.

It is this awakening that touches on the root of all sin. Don’t we neglect our responsibility to His will by wallowing in our own needs and instincts?

The one display of regret from which all sin stems is rooted in this story.

On this Yom Kippur may we each appreciate our unique mission aware of how ‘all our assembled congregation on you is relying!’

It is from that vantage point that we can begin the process that will bring us to a full and inspired repentance and all the promises that await us on that glorious day.


גמר חתימה טובה,

צבי יהודה טייכמאן