Friday, 27 December 2013

Yoma 49 a, b

Our rabbis love the "what if" questions.  What if the High Priest has invalidating thoughts at critical points in the service?  What if he scoops the incense and then dies?  We eavesdrop on their conversations on this and other questions today, including Rabbi Chisda and Rabbi Chanina.

We learn about Rav Sheshet and others' opinions regarding some broad categories of disqualification.  It is suggested that if a one of these people: a drunk priest, a non-priest, a blemished priest, a minor, a person sitting down or a person using his left hand, a mourner on his first day of mourning - if any other these should perform the receiving, carrying, or sprinkling of blood, the rite is disqualified.    Rav Chanina quotes a baraita in his argument, which suggests that the rabbis did not carry on Shabbat but lined up and passed bowls of blood from one to the other, therefore not breaking the laws of Shabbat on carrying.

In questioning whether or not a High Priest must scoop the incense himself, we are introduced to anecdotes about rabbi Chanina.  Rabbi Chanina was said to have deferred to others' words and to have suggested that a contemporary scholar was in fact an Elder. Through this examination we learn both that Rabbi Chanina knew much about medicine.  We are reminded that medicine is forbiden on Shabbat, unless that medicine is potentially lifesaving.  The Gemara then walks through potential orders of the incense offering.

The rabbis suggest that offering the incense might be in fact the most challenging of all rites.   They detail the steps involved, including the use of the spoon and one's thumbs and/or teeth.  It is connected to the slaughter of the bull and the sprinkling of its blood, which is also elaborated.  We end the daf with a discussion of the groups that sponsor animals for sacrifice - and that membership in those groups is not solid until the time of slaughter.  To that end, the rabbis question other offerings.

The rabbi's focus on perfection and precision is impressive - and exhausting.  I wonder if our Sages might have developed ulcers - so much of our spiritual practice revolves around "doing it right" rather than feeling any kind of connection with G-d.  Am I missing that part of their practice?  Or is my 21st century mentality blocking me from appreciating the true spiritual nature of their observances?


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