The Talmud teaches us that the First Temple stood for 410 years. During that time, only 18 High Priests served in that position, averaging a 25-year term for each High Priest. The Second Temple stood for 420 years, and yet more than 300 High Priests served in that position. Moreover, we find that the first few High Priests of the Second Temple served for many years, such as Shimon HaTzadik (Simon the Righteous) who served for 40 years, and Yochanan served for 80 years. So in the last 279 years that the Second Temple stood – some 300 High Priests served in that position. None of them lived past a year in office.
R’Yochanan said: Why did the High Priests die before they surpassed a year in office? Because they bought the High Priesthood for money. Moreover, some who served as High Priests in the Temple were not even priests, but bribed the right people to get the job.
One can understand that in the first years that the High Priests died in office, people wrote off their deaths as a natural occurrence. This one had high cholesterol, that one has a stroke; one had a bad heart and so on. But sooner or later, you would think that somewhere down the line they would pick up on the idea that this was a dead-end job -literally. Ten years go by, ten high priests die, you would think some one gets the picture…
Twenty years go by, then thirty, forty, fifty – and fifty High Priests fall by the wayside. Still, they all kept running for the job. Generations pass, hundreds of High Priests are dead, all within months of taking over the High Priesthood, still there is a waiting list of people who want the job – what is their problem?
The answer lies in what our Rabbis taught us, that man is close to himself. He does not believe that he is wicked, and so it is very difficult for him to change his bad traits and deeds. When one thinks of himself as being the good guy, then teshuva – returning to Hashem – will be very hard to obtain. Sure, all of the High Priests saw that their predecessors all passed on within a year of taking office, but each one said to himself: Not me – by me it’s going to be different because I’m a good guy, I’m righteous.
No one took to heart that he was not the right guy for the job. To understand, one needs just to take a look at all the Olmerts and Peretzs of this world who continue to run for power, but still hold onto the folly and falsehoods, just as the ones before them, even though their predecessors have been destroyed one way or another. For each one cries out: I will be the one to succeed.
Not everyone is made to be the High Priest – but if you are going for the job, you had better be the right man for it. So, too, in leadership not everyone is made for the job, as Harry S. Truman told us: “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen”. But if you’re going for the top spot, act and behave like a real Jew is supposed to.
Now is the time for us to check our deeds, to see which ones to hold on to and which ones to let go. It is a time to take a good, hard look at who we really are, to better ourselves as people. And as a nation – to let go of the foreign gods among us and their falsehoods. Now, while the books are still open.