Saturday, 23 November 2013

Yoma 16 a, b

Our Sages describe the layout of the Temple, including a conversation about different levels/storeys and the staircases connecting those ares.  The larger areas, chambers, are split into five sections.  Each of their corners is dedicated to a specific purpose.    Between the corners is a common space.  In the Hall of the Hearth, Beit Ha'mok'ed, holds the Altar in the NE corner, the shewbread in the SE corner, the lambs for sale as offerings in the SW corner, and the site for immersion in the NW corner.  In another chamber, the common area is known as the Women's courtyard, which is in fact open to all Jews.  The surrounding corners hold the House of Oils, the Lepers waiting for immersion, the Woodshed holding wood for the altar, and the Nazirim, where people prepare shave off their hair and prepare for time away from luxuries.

A couple of points held my interest: the priests who were unable to do any other service (because of blemishes) were assigned to check wood in the Woodshed for worms.  And why are worms in the wood forbidden?  Steinsaltz shares a note that suggests that perhaps worms were not Kosher.  Or perhaps worms simply are disgusting, and we don't denigrate the Altar by allowing their presence.  When I think of this, I think: maybe worms weren't allowed because they weren't Kosher, or maybe they were just gross.

Another interesting point is that there are separate spaces for potential Nazirim and for Lepers.  But it would seem that members of both of these groups would use the same mikvah for immersion as they transitioned from one state to another.  Again, the creation of strict lines between people blurs.  The same water is used with different populations, but the water itself does not carry a title; it is 'neutral'.  If someone continued to have syphilis, for example, would his/her immersion (or the communal preparation for immersion) put others at risk?  In an attempt to create stark lines that separated us, our halachot sometimes push us together, altogether blurring the differences between us.

Along the same theme, one of the chamber quarters is for lambs.  These are the lambs that are bought to be slaughtered and dismembered as offerings.  Just imagine - in the holiest place possible, the Temple, there are monetary transactions.  There are live animals crowded together.  In another quarter, those lambs are killed.  Their their blood is swung onto the walls.  Next door, a group of people check themselves for blemishes and hope that they are ready for immersion - finally to be named ritually pure so that they can return to their families.  The mundane and the holy, all in one place.  When seen in this way, the Temple is like a site of humanity - with its striving, its disappointments, and its spiritual connection.

Amud (b) describes the placement of the Alter within the courtyard itself.  It would seem that given the measurements provided, the eastern wall would have to be lowered to allow the Priest on the Mount of Olives to view the entrance of the Sanctuary.  I must admit that I found the mathematical calculations challenging to follow and verify.  However, if the given measurements provide us with the possibility that there was an error in design, should this not be extremely concerning to our Sages?

Certainly we are not through with these explanations.  However, the entire system of Jewish belief does not have to come crashing down if there are errors or misinterpretations regarding theses measurements.  At least, not according to me.  We'll see how tomorrow helps to elucidate these ideas.  

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