Saturday, 21 December 2013

Yoma 44 a, b

What is so special about burning the incense?  The High Priest is truly alone when he performs this rite, and other priests are removed from the Holy of Holies and from the surrounding areas altogether.  The School of Rabbi Yishmael suggests that burning incense is effecting atonement for a specific sin: slander.  The High Priest makes atonement in a particular order: for himself, for his family, and then for the community of Israel.  Slander is done secretly, just like the burning of incense is done secretly.  And slander requires just one sound, just as burning incense involves only the sound of the High Priest's tunic.

The rabbis consider some of the differences between burning the incense and other rites, like the sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling of blood.  Clearly they are searching for the logic behind these rituals.  And yet we are taught that the rituals do not have to make sense to us; our task is to perform them regardless of whether or not we appreciate any ultimate meanings.  It is validating to witness our Sages struggle with these same questions: why are we doing this?  There must be a reason!

In amud (b), the rabbis want to understand the different levels of sanctity in different areas of the Temple.  Specifically, they ask about places in the Sanctuary: the Holy of Holies, the Entrance Hall and the Altar.  In addition, our rabbis ask about the coals for the Altar: how were they scooped up and why in that way?  How many coals were gathered?  Through this discussion, the rabbis introduce measurements that are inconsistent: desert measurements are the smallest, Jerusalem measurements are one sixth larger than desert measurements and were instituted when the community reached Jerusalem. Finally the Tzipori or Galilean units are one sixth larger than the Jerusalem units.  Thus one 'kav' of coals in Tzipori units might be similar to two kav of coals measured in desert units.

The rabbis explain that the High Priest's pan is different (lighter, with a longer handle, with a ring) from other days to assist him, as he was tired and weak from the day's work with no food or sleep.  In addition, he was to be heard when he did these rituals, thus the utensils created sound. At the very end of the daf we are introduced to Rav Chisda's explanation of the eight types of gold that are mentioned in the Torah.

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