Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Yoma 54 a, b

Our Sages use one argument and prooftext after another to argue that the Ark was not exiled to Babylonia but instead was buried close to the site of the First Temple.  Each argument is as or more interesting as the last.  One argument was familiar; a rabbi who was looking for wormwood found a tile in the woodshed that seemed misplaced.  Had he found the buried Ark?  The rabbi was consumed in fire before he could locate the Ark, implying that the Ark was not meant to be found.

Another idea jumped out at me; it was presented twice.  Ulla told the rabbis that the buried Ark "And they are there to this day".  "To this day" implies forever, we are told.  So that would include today, the day that I read these words, and the day that someone else reads the same sentence. Part of the joy of learning Torah is the notion that at this moment, I am struggling with ideas that others have struggled with for millennia.

Moving to another statement from the last Mishna, the rabbis wonder about the staves of the Ark.  Apparently we learn both that they can be seen and that they can't be seen.  How do we resolve this contradiction?  Among many other ideas, the rabbis suggest that they might have been pressed up against the curtain, "like the two breasts of a woman (pushing against her clothes)".    The prooftext?  From Song of Songs, of course, 1:13, where "My beloved is to me like a bundle of myrrh, that lies between by breasts".  In a similar tone, the wings of the cherubs touching each other in the Holy of Holies are said to stand in for the Jewish people, who are "... beloved  before G0d, lie the love of a male and female".

Which one of us is the female, G-d or the Jewish people?  Which holds a 'masculine' role?  I can't imagine that the rabbis would be comfortable imagining the Jewish people as consistently 'feminine' in contrast with G-d's 'masculine' presence.  And we know that G-d has feminine names in addition to His mostly masculine names, including the Shechina.   Should we not learn from this that the notion of gender is fluid?  That what is male and what is female is not set and determined?  Just a thought.

The rabbis compare the hidden Ark with the modest bride who only reveals herself to her husband after marriage.  They further this analogy between the hidden Ark and a divorced woman who was once allowed to show herself but then, since divorce, is again modest in his presence until they remarry.  And thus we will eventually 'marry' with these sacred representations of G-d's presence.   The rabbis then describe the many curtains, images and carvings within the Holy of Holies.  Reish Lakish tells one story of the cherubs who look as if in romantic contact with each other.  He says that when the Temple was destroyed, the Gentiles took the cherubs to market where they were debased and destroyed because of their obvious sexualized connotations.

In amud (b) the Rabbis discuss a number of ways in which the world was created through metaphor.   Job speaks of rain, of snow, and of the the dust running into a mass and the colds cleaving together.  We also  "Out of Zion the perfection of beauty, G-d has shined forth" (Psalms 50:2) -- a beautiful phrase.  Rabbi Eliezer the Great said that the generations of the heavens were created from the heavens but the generations of the earth were created from the earth.  Zion is said to the be the connector between what is spiritual, of the higher/heavenly realm, and what is physical, or earthly.  This is true beauty: a perfect connection between spirit and physicality.

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