holy of holies

a sacred place that inspires awe
—While many people have seen the kitchen at the restaurant, only I was invited to visit the holy of holies, the special area where the chef creates his secret recipes.

Besides the Ten Commandments, God also gave Moses hundreds more commands and instructions. These included directions on how to build a portable tabernacle for worshipping God. Later, the Israelites built a temple in the capital city of Jerusalem, which became their place of worship. Both the tabernacle and temple included an inner room, called the “Most Holy Place,” the “Most Holy,” and the “Holy of Holies.” This room contained the ark of the Testimony, a box that held, among other things, the tablets with the Ten Commandments:

You are to hang this curtain under the clasps and bring the ark of the testimony in there behind the curtain. The curtain will make a division for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place [the most holy]. (Exodus 26:33).

The name Holy of Holies in the Old Testament is a literal translation of a Hebrew phrase. In the Latin translation of the Bible, Holy of Holies is sanctum sanctorum. In modern English, sanctum sanctorum, inner sanctum, and simply sanctum are used to refer to a place where a person can go without fear of being bothered by others.

No one except the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and he could do so only once a year, on the “Day of Atonement.” On this holy day, he offered the blood of animals sacrificed for his own sins and for the sins of the nation.

Moses’ older brother Aaron was the first high priest, and all priests after him came from his descendants. When God told Moses the duties of those in the priesthood, he called the priests “sons of Aaron” (Leviticus 21:1), and described the high priest as

The high priest—who is greater than his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured, who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments. (Leviticus 21:10)

The high priest served a special role as mediator between God and man. Today, to say that someone is the “high priest of” something—such as a movement or idea—is to say that he is its leader or chief advocate, as in “the high priest of environmentalism.”

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