Monday, 30 December 2013

Yoma 53 a, b

The rabbis distinguish the incense of Yom Kippur from the incense burned on every other day.  They ensure that the High Priest does not follow the Sadducees' interpretations by threatening the death penalty if they light the incense in the coal pan outside of the Holy of Holies.  Amazing that the Sadducees' ideas posed such a strong threat to the Sages and rabbinic thought.  And we think that Orthodox Rabbis think badly of Reform Jewish traditions!  What is the difference between incurring the death penalty and disallowing marriages and conversions?

Even if someone enters the Holy of Holies without permission, at the wrong time, etc., s/he incurs a penalty.  So mistakes with spices just add incense to the injury.  Couldn't resist.

The rabbis work toward understanding how the smoke filled the Holy of Holies based on verses from the Tanach and related baraitot.

We learn about possible connections between the death of Aaron's sons and the punishment of death regarding the appearance of clouds.  G-d seems to be present along with the cloud of incense; the cloud in the desert.   It is noted that Aaron's sons were punished with death not only because they brought in the fire.  The rabbis agree that this harsh punishment stemmed from previous sinful behaviour.

The rabbis share an odd conversation about the priests leaving the Holy of Holies in the reverse direction of how they entered.  The find proof texts for this type of exit, and they teach that we walk away from our teachers by walking backwards (Rabbi Elazar leaving Rabbi Yochanan).  However, Rava left Rav Yosef in this way and hurt himself.  Thus we are allowed to turn our faces sideways as we take leave of our teachers.  My assumption is that these teachings inform our taking leave of the Torah on the bima: we walk backward at least three steps; we do not turn our backs on the Torah.

In amud (b), we learn more about the practice of taking three steps backward as we conclude the Amida prayer.  We also learn about pausing after taking three steps back to confirm our respectful behaviour.  Not doing this is compared to a dog who eats its vomit, first rejecting its food and then eating it again.  A lovely metaphor.

A number of different prayers could be referred to in this Mishna.  The High Priest could say a long or a short prayer,  one that refers to rain or one that refers to the reign of Judah.   We are reminded that the prayer was never to long, again to protect the Jewish people from worrying about the High Priest's death.

Amud (b) introduces a new Mishna.  It tells us that after the Ark was taken and buried, a rock from the days of the early prophets was called the foundation rock. It sat three fingerbreadths higher than the ground.  It acted as the centre of the Holy of Holies, and incense was burned there, blood was sprinkled there and animals' blood was poured there.  The Mishna details how many times different animals' blood was sprinkled and poured at that spot.  Interestingly, we learn in a note that the High Priest exited and entered the Holy of Holies a number of times between animal offerings, etc.

In its commentary, the Gemara first disputes about whether the Ark was buried or "taken".  The rabbis wonder whether in accordance with a baraita, the Ark was brought to Babylonia along with the precious vessels of the House of the Lord (II Chronicles 36:10).  A number of other possible proof texts are suggested to understand where and how the Ark was removed from Jerusalem.

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