Thursday, September 10, 2009

Death at the Hands of Heaven

Another wonderful quote by Karen Boren:

In The Shocken Book of Mystical Testimonies a selection from The Zohar tells about a chain with scarlet thread wound through it which was attached to the High Priest: “Rabbi Isaac said: A chain was tied to the leg of the Priest as he went in so that if he died there they could pull his body out.” Remember, no one except the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to remove the body of the current High Priest should he be striken dead there.

It was no small thing to approach the Lord in the Holy of Holies if you were not worthy. What would happen to the man who had “purchased” the office of High Priest for wealth and prestige? Rabbi Judah Nadich notes that the high priests who served in the First Temple period were righteous so there were only 18 to hold this office. But during the time of the Second Temple wealthy men bribed their way into office so there were many more who held this position—Nadich estimates between 80 and 85. After deducting 141 years of service for four righteous High Priests (about 35 years each, a number fitting for what was supposed to be a lifetime position), Nadich suggests

it can be seen that none of the rest completed even one year of service. This was because they rose to the office not through merit but through bribery. For example, Martha, the daughter of Boethus, brought a measure full of dinars to King Alexander Yannai to persuade him to nominate her husband Joshua ben Gamla, for the high priesthood.

And Abarbenel notes: “Many unworthy Kohanim met their death by the hands of Heaven in the Holy of Holies.” The priests officiating in the Temple had every right to suspect that their High Priest might have been killed if he tarried too long after entering the Holiest Place! And now that you know that the office of High Priest, which was supposed to be a lifetime job, was rolled over to the highest bidder, can’t you detect a wee note of sarcasm in John’s remark about Caiaphas being the high priest “that year”?!

(Boren, Karen, Messiah of the Winepress Christ and the Red Heifer, Beit Parah Publishing, Provo, UT, 2002, pgs 138-139)


  1. hmm,I had never even noticed the Caiaphas thing. Neat to know.

  2. I think we can do a bit of self-reflection here as we consider our level of commitment to the gospel as we attend the holy temple.