Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 3 Pt. 2

by Jhos Singer, SVARA Fellow

וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ אִישִׁי כֹהֵן גָּדוֹל קְרָא אַתָּה בְּפִיךָ
And [the Elders] would say to him, “My good fellow, High Priest. Recite [the order of the service] with your mouth…”

Oh my goodness, is this the inception of “chazzarah” or memory repetition?!? Sure seems like it!! Yesterday’s verse set up a rather charming scene for us–Some Elders from the Elders of the court come before the High Priest and recite\ to him the order of the (Yom Kippur) service. Ostensibly they finish their recitation and, as per today’s verse, say to him in this kind of quirky language, “Ah, my man!! What what, if it’s not the Cohain Gadol!! Gad zooks, Sir, please recite it with your own mouth!!” I kind of imagine some stereotypical kooky British great uncle sputtering his encouragement to a much younger version of himself, supportive but also a bit puffed up, and awaiting the Cohain Gadol’s recitation with great love and anticipation–not unlike what it can feel like to recite in a beit midrash!! I’ll bet they clap him up when he’s done, too!!

The word that jumps out at me today is the somewhat unusual אִישִׁי meaning “my man”. My modern ears hear this as a somewhat outmoded trope in English, but it seems that for the sages it was perhaps a form of honoring the fellow in question, like the way we might introduce someone as “my friend and colleague”. As an adjective אִישִׁי connotes something private or personal, thus giving the tone an intimate feel. This creates a tender vibe, like the Elders are aware of how stressed out this Cohain Gadol is before the big ritual, like perhaps they are holding him close and kindly to quell his nerves.

I can’t help but notice how much the Sages are putting their own spin on a piece of Torah that is pretty spare in details. They are writing dialogue here, where no dialogue previously existed. I could be wrong, but it sure seems like here they are imagining how one might be initiated into an exclusive and rarified ritual about which there are few records. They are creating characters to go with the data point they have, fleshing out the bones of a bygone chapter of Jewish history, and simultaneously inventing a new way forward. Tricky lot, those!!!

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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