Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 1 Pt. 3

by Ren Finkel, Emergent Programs Coordinator

וּמַתְקִינִין לוֹ כֹהֵן אַחֵר תַּחְתָּיו שֶׁמָּא יֶאֱרַע בּוֹ פְסוּל
And they would prepare another priest under him, lest a disqualification befall [the High Priest].

Mishnah Yoma starts off with a discussion about how the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest, got prepared for Yom Kippur during the Temple Times. It’s been established so far that “they” would remove the high priest from his home, and put him in a special chamber of the Temple, the Lishkat Palhedrin. This mysterious, unnamed “they” continues their work in today’s portion.

I was surprised by the rabbit hole that “וּמַתְקִינִין”/umatkinin led me down! Matkinin comes from the root taf-koof-nun, meaning to make straight, firm, or right. It’s the same root as the tikun in tikun olam/repairing the world. Here the both the mem and vowel pattern tell us that we’re in binyan hifil, the causative binyan (verb form). This binyan shifts the meaning into a whole host of possibilities—prepare, fit, ordain, innovate, or establish a custom. The original intention of the text is most likely trying to communicate “prepare”, or perhaps “ordain”. But the entire teaching shifts wildly if we translate matkinin as “innovate” or “establish a custom”! What if the sages are being shockingly bold here, claiming that this mysterious “they” was not simply following the laws laid out in Torah, but actually innovating? After all, the idea that a back-up priest should be appointed isn’t found anywhere in Torah! I often speak to the fact that as much as the rabbis were emboldened to create new practices & rules that met their contextual needs, so too are we empowered to do the same. But perhaps this tradition of tradition-making extends even further back, all the way to Temple Times!

This text brought to mind Mishnah Berakhot Chapter 3, where the rabbis discuss how funerals impact one’s recitation of the Shema. They offer that not only are the people who help carry a coffin at a funeral exempt from recitation, but their replacements, and their replacements replacements are all exempt as well! As someone who loves a good backup plan, I’m really enjoying the pattern across multiple mishnayot in which the rabbis are inclined to have lots of plan b’s.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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