A prominent element of the Yom Kippur service is the Avodah,
the poetic description of the tasks of the High Priest in the
Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur.
Recounting the service in the Beis HaMikdash remains profoundly
significant for us, since the offering of a sacrifice was far
more than a physical activity.
Every activity carried out in the Beis HaMikdash is paralleled
within the spiritual sanctuary of every Jewish heart.
The physical procedure of offering a sacrifice, for example,
is an external manifestation of a certain process of spiritual
Although the sacrifices bore spiritual significance throughout
the year, their effect was heightened on Yom Kippur, when they
were offered by the High Priest as the emissary of the entire
The service performed by the High Priest comprised two types of
- animal sacrifices offered in the courtyard of the Beis
- the incense offering offered in the Sanctuary.
The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, is derived from
the root karev, meaning "close". 
By offering a sacrifice, a person draws close to G-d, elevating
the natural desires of his animalistic side and bringing them
close to G-d.
The incense offering, however, effects a deeper connection
than that created by animal sacrifices.
This is reflected in the Hebrew word for incense offering,
(ketores), which is derived from the Aramaic root ketar, meaning
"bond". Through the incense offering, a bond is forged, totally
uniting man with G-d.
Reaching Down to the Lowest Levels
The animals used for the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash had
to be kosher; i.e., the divine service of the animal sacrifices
could elevate only those elements of creation which are by their
nature fit for refinement.
The incense offering, however, included musk, a fragrance derived
from a non-kosher animal. 
This indicates that the ketores could affect even those elements
of creation that ordinarily cannot be connected to holiness.
Furthermore, among the spices included in the incense used for
the ketores was chelbenah ("galbanum").
Our Sages  note that, in contrast to the other spices used
for the offering, this spice has an unpleasant fragrance.
It symbolizes the sinners among the Jewish people: they too are
included in the bond with G-d established through the ketores
In the same vein, the Zohar  explains that the incense
offering was intended to destroy the impurity of the Yetzer HaRa
("the Evil Inclination").
The Sages of the Kabbalah  note that the ingredients used in
the incense offerings total eleven, a number associated with the
forces of evil.
A Day When Evil Has No Power
On Yom Kippur, the incense offering was of paramount importance.
The spiritual climax of the day, the entry of the High Priest
into the Holy of Holies, centered around this offering, which
was therefore prepared with special care. 
The central role of the ketores in the divine service of Yom
Kippur is, however, somewhat problematic.
Noting the numerical equivalents of the various Hebrew letters
according to the principles of gematria,  our Sages 
explain that evil has no power on Yom Kippur.
The numerical equivalent of the letters that constitute the
word HaSoton, the Hebrew name for the angel of evil, is 364.
There are 365 days in the year. On one day every year, Yom
Kippur, Satan has no power.
Why, then, does the incense offering figure so prominently in
the service of the Beis HaMikdash on the one day when the forces
of evil are powerless?
One might expect that since the purpose of the ketores was to
negate the influence of man's Evil Inclination, this special
emphasis would have been appropriate on any day but Yom Kippur.
This question can be answered by comparing the ketores of Yom
Kippur and the ketores as it was offered on all the other days
of the year.
On Yom Kippur, the omission of maaleh ashan (a smoke-producing
herb) was punishable by death.
While this herb also had to be added to the incense offering
throughout the year, if it was missing the punishment was not
so extreme. 
Furthermore, the incense offering of Yom Kippur was brought into
the Holy of Holies,  instead of being offered on the Golden
Altar in the adjoining chamber of the Sanctuary building, as it
ordinarily was throughout the year. 
These differences reflect the differing spiritual goals of the
two modes of incense offering.
Maaleh ashan was included in the incense offering to ensure that
the offering would produce a cloud of smoke. The ascent of the
smoke symbolizes the refinement of the lowest elements of
creation and their elevation to the highest levels.
On all other days of the year this herb was required, but not
indispensable, since at that time the incense offering was
intended merely to negate evil, not necessarily to transform it.
On Yom Kippur, however, all elements of existence, even those on
the lowest levels, are elevated and connected with G-dliness.
It was therefore critical that the incense offering of Yom Kippur
include maaleh ashan, whose rising smoke reflected this mode of
For the same reason, the Yom Kippur incense offering was brought
into the Holy of Holies, the place where G-d's Infinite Presence
was openly revealed. For only the infinity of G-d's essence can
bring about a fundamental change in the nature of evil and
transform it into a means of expressing G-dliness.
What is Our Motivation, Love or Fear?
Like all elements of the service in the Beis HaMikdash, the
contrast between these two offerings reflects our own service
of G-d: the two kinds of incense offering parallel two kinds of
teshuvah, that which is motivated by fear and that which is
motivated by love.
Teshuvah motivated by fear involves self-negation; though the
penitent may still feel an attachment to worldly temptations,
he acts against his will to master his desires because of his
fear of G-d.
By contrast, teshuvah which stems from love is a process of
self-transformation, whereby a person redefines his basic
identity. His striving changes direction. Instead of being
centered on fulfilling his own desires, he focuses on cleaving
to G-d and fulfilling His will.
The effects of these two forms of teshuvah differ.
As a result of teshuvah motivated by fear, "intentional sins
become like inadvertent transgressions."  As a result
of teshuvah motivated by love, "intentional sins become like
Why the difference?
Teshuvah undertaken out of fear merely temporarily negates and
overwhelms the power of evil; it does not destroy it permanently.
Though the individual experiences regret, he has not eradicated
the problem. Within his heart, he still desires the lures of the
world, except that he keeps them in check. G-d responds in a like
manner, withholding the consequences of his sins, but not
obliterating them entirely.
By contrast, the total transformation of self brought about by
teshuvah born of love evokes a corresponding reaction from G-d.
He transmutes our sins, acts of open rebellion against Him, into
positive merits. 
A Year of Blessing
During the year, the main impetus for teshuvah is fear.
On Yom Kippur, however, the holiness of the day affects every
Jew: people feel a yearning to return to G-d and unite with Him.
This feeling is an active expression of teshuvah stemming from
In this way, our divine service on Yom Kippur parallels the
effects produced by the service of the High Priest in the Holy
When the High Priest completed his service in the Holy of Holies,
he offered a short prayer, requesting G-d's blessings on behalf
of the Jewish people. May our service on Yom Kippur also evoke
G-d's blessings. May we be inscribed for a good and sweet year
and may this year include the greatest blessing, the coming of
- See Sefer HaBahir, sec. 109; Sefer HaMaamarim 5709, p. 29.
- This is the opinion of the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos
Klei HaMikdash 1:3). For precisely this reason the Raavad
finds it unthinkable that a nonkosher substance should be
used for the service in the Beis HaMikdash. In defense of
the Rambam's position, it has been explained that the
incense offering is an exception to the principle cited by
- Kerisos 6b.
- Zohar Chadash, commenting on Shir HaShirim 1:4.
- Cf. Pri Etz Chayim, Shaar HaKaddishim, sec. 4; Torah Or,
- Cf. Kerisos 6a.
- Shomer Emunim (Dialogue I, sec. 21-23) and Tanya (Shaar
HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1) explain that numerical
equivalence is no mere coincidence, but rather an expression
of the inner life-force of the entities involved.
- Yoma 20a.
- This is the ruling of the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos
Avodas Yom HaKippurim 5:25). See the gloss of the Mishneh
LaMelech to Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 2:3. Other authorities
- Vayikra 16:12-13.
- Shmos 30:36.
- Yoma 86b.
- See previous essay entitled "Teshuvah - Return, not Repentance."