In discussing the role of the High Priest during the Yom Kippur service, the verse says the following: “And he shall provide atonement for himself, for his household, and for the entire congregation of Israel” (16:17). It seems strange that these three groups of people are singled out, despite that fact that they would all be included in teh last phrase, “the entire congregation of Israel”. Why, then, does the Torah specifically emphasize these first two?
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 1:5) explains that the differentiation is in order to explain the progression. When the Kohen atones on behalf of others, it works from the inside out- first he’s atoned for, then his family, then the entire people. Some explain that this is so that atonement is achieved by one who has already atoned and is in good standing. But perhaps, on a more homiletic note, we can understand this verse as a warning to the Kohen. While his task is certainly of utmost importance, in that it provides for the entirety of the Jewish people at once, he cannot allow that to blind him to his first and foremost responsibilities- to himself and his family.
In the world of 2019, we easily grow overwhelmed by the amount of work we’re busy with. It seems that every job requires more and more effort and commitment as times moves forward. Oftentimes, we end up sacrificing time for ourselves and time with our family for the sake of said job. We justify this sacrifice by assuming that our work is serving some “higher value”- of supporting ourselves, or working on behalf of others. What the Torah reminds us is that even the High Priest, the most coveted job, on Yom Kippur, the holiest of days, even then, his first and foremost priority is to take care of himself and his family. Only after that does the full extent of his job -taking care of the entire congregation- really begin. Surely, we should all find meaning and purpose in our vocation, but it cannot replace those who are closest to us. Family must always come first.