Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 2 Pt. 2

by Micah Buck, SVARA Fellow

וּמֵטִיב אֶת הַנֵּרוֹת וּמַקְרִיב אֶת הָרֹאשׁ וְאֶת הָרֶגֶל
…and he cleanses the lights, and he sacrifices the head and the hind leg [of the daily offering].

Today we are still with the High Priest during the seven days of isolation, preparation, and practice before Yom Kippur, the most complex and high-stakes day of the Temple year. In Biblical thought, on this day the sacred space will be cleansed and purified, allowing the Divine Presence to enter the space. During this week of preparation, one of the tasks of the High Priest is to practice certain offerings and Temple tasks that will be core to the Big Day.

Our word of the day is מֵטִיב, which is the verb that the High Priest does to the lights in the Temple. The root of מֵטִיב is טוב, meaning “to be good,” and we encounter it today in binyan hiphil (causative) , as an active participle (i.e. functionally present tense), in the third person singular grammatically masculine. In other words, “[the High Priest] makes good the lights.” Elsewhere in the Mishnah (most notably in Masechet Tamid, we learn that what it means to “make good” the lights is to care for them—to trim the wicks, remove the ashes, add fresh oil and wick if needed, and then to relight the lamps.

I think there is something beautiful and powerful in the notion that sometimes “making something good” or caring for something involves knowing what to trim and what to dust off or sweep away. In the Rabbinic imagination, this is a daily Temple task that must take place before the other sacred activities of the day begin. For most of the year, the Rabbis imagined that this duty was a fiercely coveted task, and that the priests became so competitive about it that a lottery system had to be put into place to ensure that the honor was shared equitably. During this week before Yom Kippur, the lottery system is suspended and the High Priest takes care of the lamps. All of this Rabbinic drama attached to the cleaning up of the ash leaves me wondering: in their post-Temple world, in which every home and every life is a sanctuary, what might we learn? What are the mundane tasks that “make good” the light that illuminates our lives? What are the areas where we might need to lovingly trim and gently dust away that which no longer serves us?

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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