This Dvar Torah is translated from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz’s shmuzzin, Chiddushei HaLev.
Now for some food for thought:
The beginning of this week’s Torah Portion discusses the High Priest’s service on Yom Kippur: “With this shall Aharon come into the Sanctuary: with a young bull for a sin-offering and a ram for an elevation offering” (Vayikra/ Leviticus 16:3).The fifth mishna in chapter one of Tractate Yoma states: “The elders of the court put him [the High Priest] in the custody of the elders of the priesthood who took him up to the Avtinas family’s upper chamber, made him take an oath, took their leave and went their way. They said to him, ‘My lord, Kohen Gadol, we are emissaries of the court and you are our emissary and the emissary of the court, we make you swear by the name of Him who rests on this House, that you will not change anything of all that we have told you.’ He would turn aside and weep and they would turn aside and weep.”
The Gemara in Yoma 19b explains that the High Priest wept, for they suspected him of being a tzeduki [one who denied the Oral Law] and the elders cried, as Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said: anyone who suspects an upstanding person should get physical suffering.
Why did the elders of the priesthood cry? They weren’t even afflicted, because they did not sin, as they were obligated to be suspicious of him and make him take an oath?
We must therefore say that the elders of the priesthood cried because they felt and understood the gravity of judgment imposed for a slight action of suspecting an upstanding citizen when it is forbidden to do so and the consequences of one who transgresses this Torah commandment, deserving of lashes. They were able to feel this sensation even when they themselves were permitted and obligated to question the Kohen Gadol for the sake of the people and sanctity of the Holy Temple. Even though the elders of the priesthood understood the severity of the sin beforehand, they now felt it more, since they were presented with a real life example of what happens when one suspects an upstanding individual, and how easy it is to fall trap to such a sin.