Monday, 16 December 2013

Yoma 39 a, b

With a final discussion of sin as something that stupefies the heart, we end Perek III and move into Perek IV.  A new Mishnah speaks of the lots placed on the heads of two goats.  We learn that the two lots are placed in a non-sacred, wooden box that is only large enough to fit two hands.  With the Deputy High Priest to the High Priest's right and the head of the patrilineal family to his left, the Deputy will declare which lot is that of G-d.  The High Priest will raise the hand with that lot, either the right or the left, into the air.  Placing the lots on the goats standing on his right and left, the High Priest may or may not say, "For G-d, a sin offering" on one of the goat's heads.  After saying the name of G-d, the community will respond "Baruch shem kavod malchuto l'olam va'ed", Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom forever and for all time."

The Gemara discusses a number of points related to the start of this Mishnah, including:

  • the wooden lottery receptacle and its status as a non-metal utensil (Rava, Ravina)
  • why the Deputy might be taking on such an important role - perhaps this lottery is not particularly important
  • Shimon HaTzaddik was High Priest for 40 years
  • While he was High Priest, G-d's lot always fell in his right hand; the crimson yarn on Azazel's head turned white; the westernmost lamp of the menorah burned continually for a full day; the fire beneath the alter burned continually needing only the two required logs (indicating G-d's presence, affirmation, and acceptance of our offerings)
  • Priests were satisfied with small amounts of shewbread and other offerings
  • "son of a robber" may be an insult based on one's lineage or it may have to do only with the person himself
  • Shimon HaTzaddik predicted his own death after seeing a man on Yom Kippur dressed in black with a black turban who stayed with him in the Holy of Holies (before that, he always saw a man dressed in white with a white turban in the Holy of Holies who then departed) - he died after Sukkot
  • After his death, the Priests felt that the Jewish people were not worthy of the miracles that had followed Shimon HaTzaddik; they did not bless the people with G-d's explicit name in the priestly blessing
  • Closing sanctuary doors, blooms and cedar trees, Lebanon and Forests - these and other Temple metaphors are explained by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Talai, Rav Zutra ben Toviya and Rav Hoshaya. Some anti-gentile sentiment is expressed here.
  • G-d's name is said explicitly ten times on Yom Kippur: three times at the first confession, three times at the second confession (bull), three times over the scapegoat to Azazel, and one time with the lots (when placing the lot for G-d on the sin offering).
  • The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho is 10 parasangs = forty mil = just under 40 km (Steinsaltz notes)
  • In Jerusalem and Jericho women did not  need to perfume themselves because of the strong aroma of the incense (and goats in Jericho sneezed from the smell).  More rabbis speak of this same incense causing goats to sneeze even further away
  • Rabbi Yannai and Rabbi Yochanan argue along with Rabbi Nechemya and Rabbi Yehuda about whether or not the drawing of lots is absolutely required, or whether it is not a Temple service, and thus in a pinch can be done by the High Priest alone.  White robes and the repetition of the phrase "which came up" (Leviticus 16:9 and 16:10) might offer some hints, too 
The past two dapim have been like breathing the frozen air outside - I have woken up!
A practical question: what was the lot itself?  What was it made of, and did it attach to the goat in some manner?  Were they connected to the crimson threads and then tied to the hair of the goats?

And one thought: the notion of the lottery between the goats seems meaningful.  One goat goes to its death by sacrifice, the other wanders to its likely death away from community and sustenance.  And only luck decides which goat carries which fate.  Are we like these goats, destined for self-sacrifice (as the more positive option) or for wandering, disconnected from out families and friends?  How do we avoid that second fate?

And, perhaps more importantly, if both options lead us to our death, which is the better path?  Wandering in the desert, alone, or being walked toward G-d with respect and honour (only to be killed in the end)?

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