Mareh Kohen (London)

September 15, 2021

There were obviously MANY different songs that we could have featured here (as many of you have astutely been pointing out and requesting over the last few days). And it was over these same last few days that I had immersed myself in hundreds of Yomim Nora’im niggunim, both new and old, in the hopes of connecting to just the right one. But no matter how many melodies I heard – especially after recently studying Maseches Yoma – I just couldn’t take my mind off of the primary purpose of the Yom HaDin; namely, the Kohen Gadol’s avodah.

Let’s reset the mood, shall we?

Before the churban, on Yom Kippur – and only on Yom Kippur – the Kohen Gadol would enter the Kodesh Hakodashim and beg forgiveness for the iniquities of the entire nation. The annual episode created an almost supernatural atmosphere with a combination of reverence, fear, and exhilarant joy – reverence for the Creator of the universe, fear for the safety of the Kohen Gadol during his encounter with the Divine, and the joy and hope of Klal Yisroel at the potential for the pardon of sin.

In shul, as we reach the pinnacle of the Yom Kippur avodah, there is a palpable feeling of elation in the air when we read this special piyut. Using magnificent expression and splendid portrayal of imagery, this esoteric sonnet portrays the Kohen Gadol’s safe emergence and successful departure from the Holy of Holies on this wondrous day.

Mareh Kohen – one of the most celebrated Yigal Calek compositions – was introduced to the world back in Tishrei 5732/1971 (which may help explain the presence of two more timeless High Holiday tunes, “B’ain Mailitz Yosher” & “Ta’aleh Arukah,” on this same record). It is sung by The London School of Jewish Song on their second album called Borchi Nafshi – the record often referred to as “The Tzitzis Album.” Not only was it composed close to 50 years before Ribo’s Seder Ho’avodah, it actually predates Ishay Ribo himself by about 18 years!

This seasonal classic perfectly captures the anticipation and wonderment, as well as the relief and exuberance that all of us collectively feel as we reach this pivotal moment in our Yom Kippur tefillos. And just to reiterate what was said in Part 1, may we truly be zocheh to see the words of this song come alive before our eyes this Yom Kippur – to once again witness the Kohen Gadol in all his glory…

…to experience Mareh Kohen! once more.

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