The air sparked electrically around him, as if the presence of God would suddenly snap and remove him from this solemn duty. The fear of this annual trek slowed his limbs even while his mind sped through preparations and possibilities. Had everything been done as required by the sacred commandments? Aaron’s fingers moved of their own accord to the sash tied tightly around his waist. He was sure he had made every preparation according to the words God gave to Moses, but his heart still fainted, trembled, died at the thought of entering this holiest of places: the seat of God, the temporal home of God’s presence among his people. What if it wasn’t enough? Was he truly clean enough to enter into the pure light of God? Could anyone ever be?
Never once forgetting his duty, his purpose, on this holy day, Aaron tightened his grip on the censor, inhaling deeply of the precious incense. His fingers again flitted around as if willed by their nerve endings to assure themselves of his readiness, feeling each stone in his breastplate, finding comfort in the cool smoothness of the stones and the comparative roughness of the nubby linen of the ephod. Only after the fingers had reassured themselves did Aaron’s feet creep cautiously closer to the curtain. Though the incense was held firmly in his hand- the smoke drifting out at the level of Aaron’s waist- tiny fingers of smoke swirled out from under the fringe of the curtain- the hand of God reaching out to feel the holy smell of incense.
Aaron’s hand trembled at the curtain opening. His feet stalled another moment as if contemplating an abortion of their necessary mission. A gentle clinking noise from the bells sewn into the hem of the ephod confirmed that Aaron’s feet had not given up on their mission. Quelling a wave of dread, Aaron gently pulled back the curtain and entered the Holy of Holies. The curtain dropped into place behind him, and Aaron felt his breath stop in his chest. His heart stilled so quickly that Aaron knew he was going to die. He was not pure enough or clean enough to stand before God and atone for his people. Brilliant lights arced and danced before Aaron’s eyes, drawing him back into this moment and the realization that he had not died.
Streaks of light now flew up and around the seat of the ark. More and more streaks fingered their way around the room and towards Aaron. Each pointed ray of light struck Aaron’s very being and illuminated everything around him. The beams flashed through the ephod, through his flesh, and into the deepest recesses of his heart, soul and mind. While Aaron was marveling at this sensation of light that could pierce his core, he became dimly aware of the smoke filling the mercy seat. Each swing of his censor sent another finger of smoke toward the ark, spiraling purposefully into the growing mass of smoke. The mass burgeoned and reached higher and higher until Aaron thought it would explode through the tent roof. When it seemed impossible for the smoke to grow any more without completely filling the room, it began to move into a distinct shape.
Just as Aaron recognized the form of a man seated on a throne hovering over the mercy seat, brilliant light flashed out from the core of the seated man and radiated like fire all around the ark. The fire was so bright that Aaron’s body responded instinctively by prostrating his body and squeezing his eyes shut before the throne. The intensity of the light caused his eyes to water so that the floor beneath his face held an ever expanding puddle of tears. Aaron heard a deep, guttural groaning and was surprised to feel it issuing forth from his own throat. He felt as though his very soul was speaking to the presence of God, though his mouth formed no words and no other thought besides awe had entered his mind. The truth from every fiber of his being was communicating directly to God by way of his vocal chords. And, without words, Aaron understood the essence of what passed between him and the cloud before him.
Time had stopped in the purity of this moment. Aaron could not say if he had been bowing on his knees for seconds or for days before he felt a hand reach for him out of the fiery cloud. In spite of the burning hand approaching his head, Aaron was no longer afraid as his spirit sensed the flames draw closer. Cool fingers like soft spring breezes urged his eyes open and gently wiped the tears off his face. Then an achingly tender and fatherly embrace lifted Aaron to his feet and steadied him in front of the ark. Aaron placed the censor in front of the mercy seat and began to sprinkle first the blood of the bull that would cover his own sins and those of his family, and then the blood of the goat to atone for the sins of all Israel.
Deep in his soul Aaron felt the oppressive weight of their collective sin burden. He felt crushed beneath it and struggled for breath to complete the last required sprinkle. When the last drop of blood touched the ark, Aaron felt blessed relief from the suffocation in the form of an unspoken promise. His heart rushed and his breathing came freely as he was wordlessly made to understand. This would not be forever. There would eventually be one Sacrifice that would be enough- enough for Aaron and his family, enough for Israel, enough for all eternity. The day would come when the blood of one sacrifice would be pure enough to atone for all mankind, and Aaron and his line would no longer be needed for a day of atonement. His task completed, Aaron stepped out from behind the veil, full of the knowledge of God’s promise, full of the awe and presence of God that he would never in his life be able to share with mere words.