The unique aspect of Yom Kippur
is the service of the Kohen Gadol
(high priest). Throughout the year, other Kohanim
, too, would perform the service [of the Beit Hamikdash
], but on Yom Kippur
the service had to be performed by the Kohen Gadol
The service of the Kohen Gadol was divided into two parts. One he performed garbed in gold vestments. (These vestments contained other materials as well, but they are referred to as 'gold vestments.') The other he performed garbed in white vestments made of pure linen.
The Beit Hamikdash was divided into three sections: the Azarah - Temple-Court - the Heichal - Temple-Building (also known as Kodesh - Sanctuary) - and the Kodesh Kadashim - Holy of Holies. For the services in the Azarah and the Heichal, the Kohen Gadol wore the gold vestments, and for the services in the Kodesh Kadashim, he wore the white vestments.
The Kohanim had to be clothed with beautiful and fine garments, "holy vestments for glory and for beauty," (Shemot 28:2) and the service of Yom Kippur was done by the Kohen Gadol while wearing gold vestments (except for the service in the Kodesh Kadashim). The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:45) explains that for matters of holiness one must use the very best and most beautiful. Gold is held in great esteem and impresses people: that is why the service in the Beit Hamikdash, and in particular on Yom Kippur, had to be in gold vestments.
In fact, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 16:2) notes, "The world was not worthy to have the use of gold, and it was created solely for the sake of the Beit Hamikdash.
This raises the question of why the service in the Kodesh Kadashim would have to be in white [linen] vestments. After all, the Kodesh Kadashim is the most holy place; thus, we should expect that there, more than anywhere else, the service should be in gold vestments! (See Rosh Hashanah 26a, for a Talmudic explanation of this.)
Of the Torah it is said "It is your life" (Devarim 32:47). Moreover, the term "Torah" is an idiom of "hora'ah - instruction, guidance" (Zohar III:53b). In this context the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn explains that "Torat Chayim means that the Torah gives each and every one instruction for day to day life" (Sefer Hama'amarim 5711, p. 178).
Thus, though we now have no Beit Hamikdash nor a Kohen Gadol, the priestly garments convey a relevant message and instruction for contemporary times.
When Hashem gave the command to make the Tabernacle, He said "Let them make for me a Sanctuary - veshachanti betocham - I will dwell in them." Grammatically it should have said "veshachanti betocho" - "I will rest in it." The selection of the word "betocham" - "in them" - teaches that Hashem expects every Jew to make his own Sanctuary - i.e. conduct his life so that Hashem will feel comfortable to dwell in him - the Jew.
The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash related only to the physical structure, to the stones, gold, and silver. However, every Jew is required to build his own miniature Beit Hamikdash, in which he is the Kohen Gadol.
In the life of the individual Jew, the gold vestments are analogous to physical matter with which one does tzedakah. The white vestments are analogous to the study of the revealed and the esoteric parts of Torah, prayer to Hashem, and the performance of mitzvot.
The lesson for the Jew - the Kohen Gadol in his own Beit Hamikdash - is the following.
When blessed by G-d with money and a Jewish soul one must realize that when having to deal with matters beyond (outside) the Kodesh Kadashim one cannot hide behind "white vestments." When a wealthy person is approached for tzedakah he cannot argue that he is exempt from giving since he is involved in prayer and the study Talmud and Chassidut. He must keep in mind that the Beit Hamikdash required gold vestments.
He can not suggest to the solicitor to go to someone else because he himself is holy and pure. The Beit Hamikdash - the Yeshivah, beit hakenesset (synagogue) or beit hamidrash (study-hall) - needs gold, and thus he must contribute gold.
On the other hand, with regard to the Kodesh Kadashim - the holy soul Hashem vested in him - he is the same as everyone else. He must realize that he cannot discharge his obligations by just supporting Yeshivoth and the like - i.e., by "gold vestments." He must also have white vestments, pure garments, i.e., study Torah, pray and perform His mitzvot. He must bear in mind that there was nothing in the Kodesh Kadashim except for G-d, the Torah (the Holy Ark with the luchot - Tablets) and the Kohen Gadol. And it is incumbent on him to unite his soul with Hashem through studying Torah and observing its precepts.
When a person follows this procedure, he will have the material together with the spiritual, just as it was with the Kohen Gadol. The Kohen Gadol did not give precedence to the gold vestments and then take the white vestments at a later stage, but he kept exchanging them: first he wore the gold vestments and then switched to the white ones, and then again the gold vestments followed by the white ones, and then, for one more time, the gold vestments. For Jews there is no dichotomy between the material and the spiritual.
The Kohen Gadol, after serving in the gold and white vestments, recited a brief prayer (Yoma 52b). In his few words he prayed for a good year - also in the physical sense - for himself, his tribe, and for all of Israel throughout the world.
So, too, with every Jew: through properly performing the services in his own Beit Hamikdash, the holy of holies within himself (the soul), and also his obligations to the outside, i.e. Tzedakah, he will merit to elicit happiness for all the days of the year for himself and his family.
Dear friends, speaking of gold and the Beit Hamikdash permit me to conclude with a remarkable story related in the Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 4:4).
According to the Mishnah (Midot 3:8) a golden grapevine stood at the entrance to the Sanctuary. Rav Acha bar Yitzchok tells that when King Shlomo built the Beit Hamikdash he fashioned and designed all types of trees within the sacred walls. As soon as the golden vine outside brought forth its [golden] fruit, the trees within the Beit Hamikdash walls produced their beautiful fruit.
What a timely beautiful message to American Jewry. We are the "gefen shel zahav," the "golden vine," that stands outside of the holy institutions - our yeshivot and synagogues. In them - the "golden fruits" - the scholars, leaders and laymen of the Jewish communities are produced. Thanks to the golden fruits they produce we are assured that Jewry will flourish and the teaching of Torah will continue for posterity. However, for this to happen, first we, the "golden vine" stationed on the outside in the world at large, must bring forth our fruit. Let us generously donate the gold with which G-d has blessed us and in return the golden heritage in the citadels of Torah learning will be propagated, making the world a better place for us and our children materially and spiritually.