Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 2 Pt. 4

by Jhos Singer, SVARA Fellow

שֶׁכֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל מַקְרִיב חֵלֶק בָּרֹאשׁ וְנוֹטֵל חֵלֶק בָּרֹאשׁ
As the High Priest sacrifices any portion [of his choice] first, and takes any portion [of his choice] first.

There’s a whole heap of ancient assumptions as well as a fabulous cultural spackling project going on here!! Or to put it in maritime seamanship terminology, this be a case of “one hand for the ship, one hand for yourself, Matey”!! Seems like the Rabbis are building the High Preist’s Yom Kippur preparation period upon the scriptural description of the ordination ritual for the Cohanim (Exodus 29:29-30), itself a singular and extraordinary occurrence. What I’m curious about is why with today’s text they shift the focus back to the ordinary? Are they showing us how they are both holding onto the tradition while also building a new road into the future? Is this a tip of the hat? A claim for legitimacy? Or are they thumbing their schnozzes at the failed leadership of the past? Or?????

Oooh, חֵלֶק chelek, such a great word of the day!! It’s meanings are many and fascinating, so hold onto your kippot, here we go: 1) to be smooth or viscous; 2) to assign, allot; 3) to divide by lot, to part, take a share; 4) to differ with, object, oppose. The form we have here is the absolute state noun: part. I love words that raise contradictions. I’m wondering how smoothness and opposition, allotment and division, viscosity and objection might be related or inform each other? Could this constellation of ideas lead us to finding ways for rounding off the rough edges of our divisions? Were the rabbis signaling their own process of reconciliation here?

I think this is the Rabbis using Maggidic tools to reinvent Judaic culture. I’m pretty sure that they are basically inventing a ritual here, and teaching us how to do the same while they are at it. Ruby Namdar, a self-describe Aggadic Jew, wrote a fascinating novel, “The Ruined House” which I highly recommend if you are interested in how the Rabbis enshrined the importance of intuitive storytelling, creative interpretation, and imaginative extrapolation in the Talmud. Namdar is their disciple, brilliantly building new insights on the foundation of tradition.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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