Saturday, 30 November 2013

Yoma 23 a, b

Rabbi Yochanan teaches that it's okay to hurt those who hurt us.  He tells us that we can be like a snake when we are insulted - we can hide and prepare our retaliatory strike in the name of Torah.  His words are disputed and questioned - perhaps this only holds true regarding publicly stated insults on one's personal life and not regarding Torah.  Or perhaps we should be looking at the differences between vengeful and bearing a grudge.  The rabbis clearly are not comfortable with Rabbi Yochanan's statement.

Returning to the larger conversation about the priestly potter, the rabbis discussing one-finger vs. two-finger counts.  We know that the priests themselves could not be counted, but their fingers served as representatives.  And we learn that significant worries about cheating abounded.  Priests were not allowed to use their thumbs in the count, which could allow a priest to enter the lottery twice.  A story about a whip used to punish priests is shared with us, and then we are told about a second incident, this one from the Tosefta, where the priests 'cheated': running up the ramp, one person pushed another down, and was then stabbed by his competitor.  Instead of begging for help for his son who was convulsing on the ground, the priest's father wondered aloud about removing the knife to ensure its ritual status remained pure.  How could the priests care more about these rituals than about the loss of life?

Being born into a priestly caste carries with it great privileges and great responsibilities. It also carries dangers due to jealousy, judgement, competition and fear.  The priests were allowed to perform certain critical rituals because they were priests and not because of any special education or ethical understanding.  Why do our Sages not critique the priests more harshly?  Perhaps this criticism that we are given is already radical...?

Finally, the rabbis turn to the clothing worn when removing the ashes.  The rabbis argue about what clothing was worn by they High Priest vs. the other priests.  They attempt to understand how and when the trousers, belt and tunic were adorned.

With so much attention given to the presentation of the High Priests rather than the content of their thoughts, feelings or beliefs, it is difficult to understand the High Priests as regular human beings like the rest of us. It seems as if their roles are so vacuous, bereft of meaning - just the rituals but without content.  But I may be reading this incorrectly and the priests might be ethical, thinking, compassionate begins who were appropriate figureheads for the people...

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