Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 2 Pt. 1

by Olivia Devorah Tucker, Program Coordinator

כָּל שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים הוּא זוֹרֵק אֶת הַדָּם וּמַקְטִיר אֶת הַקְּטֹרֶת
During all seven days [of the High Priest’s sequestering before Yom Kippur], he sprinkles the blood [of the daily burnt-offering], and he burns the incense…

Where are we? We’re in Chapter 1 of Mishnah Yoma, meaning “The Day”. Which day? Why, it’s THE DAY—Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. And so far our masechet, our volume, has been describing how the Cohen Gadol / High Priest spends the week of preparation before the biggest day of the year. Today we’re starting Mishnah 2 of Chapter 1, and if you’re a sensory pal, today’s your day!

As a theater gay, I’m a big fan of this rehearsal period. A highschool director once said to us, “An amateur practices until they get it right; A professional practices until they can’t get it wrong.” We know very well that professionals still make lots of mistakes, but it sticks with me nonetheless. All year, the High Priest has the prerogative to pick which sacrifices he wants to make, and may not have been doing the more mundane daily-offering or incense burning. (Which offerings would you want to do if you were High Priest?) But as the one who needs to do the sacrifices on Yom Kippur, he’s now got to get back into that muscle memory if he’s going to get it right on the day and expiate all these sins properly!

Root of the day is קטר, the root of both וּמַקְטִיר and הַקְּטֹרֶת. On Jastrow pg. 1352 he defines קטר / qeter as “to rise up in circles, to smoke.” He tells us to compare it to כתר / keter, another round word, meaning “garland or crown”; and to עטר / ah’tar “to wreathe/adorn.” This fits prettily with one meaning of קטר being “to perfume” your clothes, which was a common use for incense in Talmud time! (See Berakhot 53a for how easily this practice was confused with witchcraft!) Our verb in this mishnah, וּמַקְטִיר / oo’maq’teer, is in binyan hifil (the causative verb form). Jastrow has the special note on the definition: “to offer incense (mostly with ref. to the Lord.)” This is as opposed to binyan pi’el (the intensive verb form), which he says is “mostly with ref. to idolatrous rites.” There are probably many ways to draw symbolism from that split. Perhaps when we light incense for HaMakom, it’s specifically supposed to get us to think about our causal relationship with the Divine? What’s your take?

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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