Where Angels Dare Not Tread
‘There Shall Be No Man In The Tent Of Meeting’
Our sugya cites 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). This prohibition, though, is not listed as one of the 613 commandments. Why not?
The Gevuras Ari raises another question: There is a general prohibition against anyone entering the Beis HaMikdash without need (Menachos 27b; Rambam, Hilchos Bias Mikdash 2:4). Since only the kohen gadol may perform the Yom Kippur service, anyone else who would enter would do so needlessly. Why then did the Torah need to include a specific prohibition against entering the Beis HaMikdash during the kohen gadol’s service on Yom Kippur?
Some answer this question by citing the opinion that entering the Beis HaMikdash to bow down is not considered “entering without need” (see Turei Even; Minchas Chinuch 184:2).
Not Even the Angels May Enter
Rishonim on our sugya cite the Yerushalmi, which states that the verse “Let no man be in the Ohel Moed” applies even to the angels. They too are considered men as per Yechezkel HaNavi’s description: “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 command angels? The Torah was given to the Jewish people to teach them how to fulfill Hashem’s will. It wasn’t given to the 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 the prohibition forbade anyone from entering the Beis HaMikdash while the kohen gadol was performing his service. Perhaps, though, the prohibition is directed at the kohen gadol. He may not perform his service while anyone else is in the Beis HaMikdash. If he does, his service is passul (see Teshuvos Ohr HaMeir: Kuntrus Acharon, pp. 334-335; Maharam Charlap, in a letter to R’ Meir Shapira, et. al.).
If this understanding is correct, all three questions can now be answered.
1) The prohibition isn’t listed among the 613 mitzvos because it’s not a directive to the Jewish people. It’s aimed at the kohen gadol and it’s just one of many details of his service. Each detail of a mitzvah is not counted as a mitzvah unto itself.
2) Had we only had the Torah’s general prohibition against entering the Beis HaMikdash without reason, we wouldn’t have known that the kohen gadol was forbidden from performing his service until everyone left.
3) The prohibition isn’t aimed at the angels. It’s aimed at the kohen gadol. He may not perform the service as long as angels are there.
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 can fulfill the command “Let no man be in the Ohel Moed.” After all, he’s a man and yet he’s present in the Ohel Moed. It answers that no, while he served in the Beis HaMikdash, the kohen gadol was actually not a man. He was on a level higher than all other men. He became a living fire. Therefore, the prohibition didn’t apply to him (see Beis Ha’Otzar by Mahari Engel, p. 67).