Monday, 30 December 2013

Yoma 52 a, b

The area separating the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies is marked by curtains with one cubit between them (called the amah teraksim).  In calculating this measurement, the rabbis look at our Torah instructions regarding the other measurements in the Sanctuary.  We know that the Sanctuary in total is 100 cubits.

The rabbis have difficulty with a particular verse regarding the measurements for the Sanctuary.  Rabbi Yochanan said that Yosef of Hutzal* told us of the dilemma with I Kings 6:19: "And he prepared a partition in the midst of the House within to set there the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord." We are reminded that Isi ben Yehuda says that there are five verses in the Torah whose meaning cannot be decided by reading the text on its own:

Se'et (Genesis 4:7) as remembrance: When you do well, your sin will be forgotten.

Meshukkadim (Exodus 25:34) as almond blossoms: referring to either the first part of the verse, ex.: the menorah's four cups are like almond blossoms, or the last part of the verse, ex. its knops and flowers made like almond blossoms".

Machar (Exodus 17:9): as tomorrow, referring to either the first or last part of the verse: from "Fight with Amalek tomorrow", or "Tomorrow I'll stand on top of the hill...".

Arur (Genesis 49:7) as cursed: where Levi and Simeon treated Shechem with extreme anger and cruelty, or "in anger they cut of the cursed oxen", where the cursed oxen are those from Shechem, who descended from Canaan, also accursed. 

Vekam (Deuteronomy 31:16): as 'rise up', either from "Behold, you are about to sleep with your father and rise up (at the time of resurrection)", or "And this people will rise up and go astray"

A new Mishna tells us more about the Sanctuary.  It describes how the curtains between the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies are constructed and fastened so that the High Priest enters through the southern opening and exits from the northern opening.  We learn that the High Priest places the coals and then offers the incense.  He leave the Holy of Holies, now filled with smoke, and returns the way he came.  He recites only a brief Prayer on leaving to not worry the Jewish people that he might have died while in the Holy of Holies.

Does this referring to the First Temple or the Second Temple?  What happened to the Ark, the jar of manna, the flask of oil, Aaron's staff, and the gifted chest after the destruction of the First Temple?  We are told that they were buried on the foundation rock beneath the Holy of Holies.  And the rabbis suggest that it was Josiah, King of Judea, who buried the Ark (I Chronicles 35:3).

We end today's daf with questions about precisely where the coals and the incense should be placed by the High Priest.  Again it strikes me that the rabbis are tremendously concerned with determining the exact practice of the past.  The underlying theory seems to be that precision regarding the letter of the law is more attainable and (thus?) more important than the spirit of the law.  Our traditional practice continues to place inordinate significance upon our practices rather than what is less measurable -- beyond our the practice, how we deepen our spiritual connection with G-d.

*Yosef of Hutzal is known by many names, including possibly Yosef of Babylonia, Isi ben Gur Arye, Isi ben Gamliel, Isi ben Mahalalel, and Isi ben Akiva.

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