Where Angels Dare Not Tread
‘There Shall Be No Man In The Tent Of Meeting’
Our sugya introduces the Torah prohibition against anyone being in the Ohel Moed when the kohen gadol enters the Kodesh Kadoshim: “Let no man be in the Ohel Moed when he comes to atone in the holy place until he leaves” (Vayikra 16:17). Since this is an explicit Torah prohibition, the obvious question is: Why is it not found in lists of the 613 mitzvos?
The Gevuras Ari raises another question. There is a general prohibition against anyone entering the Beis HaMikdash needlessly (Menachos 27b; Rambam, Hilchos Bias Mikdash 2:4), and since only the kohen gadol may perform the Yom Kippur service, anyone else who would enter Beis HaMikdash would obviously be doing so needlessly. Why, then, did the Torah need to issue a specific prohibition against entering the Beis HaMikdash during the kohen gadol’s service on Yom Kippur?
Not Even the Angels May Enter
The Rishonim on our sugya cite the Yerushalmi which states that the pasuk, “Let no man be in the Ohel Moed,” applies even to the angels. They too are considered “men,” as Yechezkel HaNavi says: “The features of their faces were like the features of a man” (Yechezkel 1:5).
This raises yet a third question: How could the Torah address a mitzvah to the angels? The Torah was given to the Jewish people; it was not given to the angels. We do not normally find any mitzvos or aveiros directed at angels.
A Prohibition for the Kohen Gadol
In light of these three questions, we must reappraise our understanding of this halacha. Until now, we assumed there was a prohibition forbidding anyone from entering the Beis HaMikdash while the kohen gadol was performing his service. Perhaps we should more correctly state that the kohen gadol was forbidden to perform his service while there was anyone else in the Beis HaMikdash (and if anyone else was there, his service would be pasul – see Teshuvos Ohr HaMeir: Kuntrus Acharon, pp. 334-335; Maharam Charlap, in a letter to R’ Meir Shapira, et. al.).
With this new understanding of the prohibition, let us return to our three questions. First, the prohibition is not listed among the 613 mitzvos because this prohibition is not directed per se at the Jewish people. It is just one of countless details of how the kohen gadol performs his service. Details of mitzvos are not counted as mitzvos unto themselves.
Second, it makes sense that the Torah mentioned this prohibition (without relying on the general prohibition that a person may not enter the Beis HaMikdash needlessly). Without it, we would only know that no one may enter the Beis HaMikdash; we wouldn’t know that the kohen gadol was also forbidden to perform his service until everyone left.
Third, based on our new understanding of this prohibition, it is obvious that the prohibition is not directed at angels. Rather, it is aimed at the kohen gadol.
The Greatness of the Kohen Gadol
Rabbeinu Bachaye (Vayikra 16:17) comments that on Yom Kippur, the kohen gadol reached such an exalted level that even the angels stood aside to make room for his service.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 21) asks how the kohen gadol fulfilled the pasuk, “Let no man be in the Ohel Moed.” Was he not, too, a man? The Midrash answers that no, while he served in the Beis HaMikdash the kohen gadol was exalted above the level of all other men. He became a living fire. Therefore, this pasuk did not apply to him (see Beis Ha’Otzar by Mahari Engel, p. 67).