Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Yoma 20 a, b

We begin with a rare (so far) discussion of satan.  Apparently, satan is allowed to prosecute Jews for our sins on any given day of the year. However, he is not allowed to prosecute us on Yom Kippur specifically for sins that we commit on Yom Kippur.  Reading this, I wonder how the rabbis imagined that happening.  Did Satan appear to people?  Did he have a court on some ethereal realm?  Or was this a metaphorical or theoretical notion?

Moving on, the rabbis speak about how the ashes are removed on regular days, on Festivals, and on Yom Kippur.  The timing is different, accounting for (among other things) the crowds of people present.  One of the more interesting details to me is the suggestion of what to do if a limb falls from the fire to the ashes before it is burned.  The rabbis teach that the limb is returned to the fire if it is still within given time limitations, as the limb is considered to be consecrated and as such must be burned.  However, after the given time allotment, the 'fallen' limb is considered to be ashes and it is removed along with the other ashes.

The rabbis end this debate with the difficulty of what seems to be Torah law - if the ashes are supposed to be moved at a Torah-given time, how can we make changes?  The rabbis look at the circumstances surrounding what should be done in the morning, which brings them to a conversation about keriat ha'gever, the call of the rooster, or perhaps the call of man.  I love that we can use the same word for man and rooster, but that's an aside.

We are told a story about Rav, who was not yet well-known, and Rabbi Sheila.   Rav was disseminating Rabbi Sheila's lecture, explaining this concept and speaking about the call of the rooster.  Rav translated Rabbi Sheila's words according to his own understanding.  When Rav challenged Rabbi Sheila, saying that many greater rabbis agree that this is the 'call of the man', Rabbi Sheila suddenly realized that Rav was his disseminator.  He told Rav that he was sorry to give Rav the position of his assistant, so far beneath Rav's status.  Rav stated that 'if you hired yourself to him, comb his wool.'  This suggests that we should do whatever jobs are assigned to us once we say that we will take on a position.

A note by Steinsaltz is helpful in understanding the roles of the rabbis.  Sages of the Gemara would speak in a regular voice when they shared their knowledge.  Disseminators, or amoraim, would translate their words from Hebrew to Aramaic, speaking loudly so as to be heard.  The Sages of the Gemara cal themselves amoraim, disseminators or interpreters of the words of the Tannaim, the earlier, actual Sages.

The rabbis now discuss the power of sound.  Gevini the crier was a priest given the role of timekeeper: he would call out to the priests when it was time for them to work.  Although his voice was tremendously loud, traversing seven parasangs, it is suggested that the voice of the High Priest reaches ten parasangs.  And this is true even though the High Priest is exhausted, fasting, and calling during the day when it is more difficult for sound to carry.

Wait, think the rabbis, why does sound carry more easily during the night?  An interesting discussion ensues.  Apparently the sun creates a type of white noise that stops us from hearing other sounds.  This is like the sound of a carpenters cutting cedars, leaving the dust behind - that same dust that we sometimes can see in rays of sunlight.  In Daniel 4:32, Nebuchadnezzar teaches that "... all the inhabitants of the world are considered like la (dust)".   The Sages teach us that three sounds travel from one end of the world to the other: the sound of the sun moving from one end of the sphere to the other, the crowds in Rome, and the sound of the soul leaving the body. Perhaps, they add in the last line of today's daf, the sound of a woman in childbirth also travels across the world. 

Maharsha offers a lovely interpretation of this last section of the daf.  In a note, we learn that sound is in fact a metaphor for spiritual power; something we cannot ignore.  Thus we are in fact speaking about nature, kingdom, and death.  These things cannot be ignored.  A step further: Rome, with all of its power, will disappear just like the sun, with all of its power, disappears every night. 

I wonder if the same could be said of the earlier comments regarding the power of the High Priests' voices.  Those voices were 'superior' to that of the crier.  Perhaps this refers to a spiritual voice.  The power of the High Priest's connection with G-d, the power reverberating from his voice, could be 'heard' (ie. felt) from a distance of ten parasangs.

It is wonderful when I learn about rabbis interpreting these texts as metaphors; this validates my own tendency to interpret language and concepts with creativity.  Given, all of the rabbis who interpret using metaphors are also practicing halacha according to the letter of the law. So this isn't a comparison, simply a welcome connection. 

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