Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 3 Pt. 3

by Ren Finkel, Emergent Programs Coordinator

שֶׁמָּא שָׁכַחְתָּ אוֹ שֶׁמָּא לֹא לָמָדְתָּ
“…as perhaps you forgot [the order of the service], or perhaps you haven’t learned it.”

Mishnah 3 of Yoma is all about the Elders of the Cort chatting with & prepping the High Priest in the lead up to Yom Kippur. We learned yesterday that the Elders would say to the High Priest, “My Master, High Priest. Recite the order of the service with your mouth…” Today, we get a fascinating reasoning as to why the Elders are giving such a test!

The word shakha’khta / שָׁכַחְתָּ really grabbed my attention. It comes from the root shin-khaf-khet, which most originally meant to sink. Eventually it came to mean to forget or discard, its origins eliciting imagery of information sinking to unreachable back of one’s mind.

There’s an interesting power dynamic at play here. The High Priest is the high priest—he’s the top of the ladder! And yet, there’s (hopefully) an accountability and support structure here. The Elders of the Court have some kind of social or structural power that allows them to evaluate his readiness. Which, depending on how they interact with one another, could be demeaning or could be supportive. Checking someone’s readiness for something doesn’t have to inherently be a test. The text itself changes tonally so much depending on how it’s said. “Maybe you forgot” could mean “maybe you’re bad at your job.” Or it could mean, “You’re a human being and so it’s possible and reasonable that you don’t remember every bit of this.” “Perhaps you haven’t learned it” could be implying, “Maybe you haven’t done your job and you’re slacking.” Or it could mean, “Maybe your training fell through the cracks and no one has given you the information you need yet, and we’re the failsafe to make sure that this doesn’t ruin the big day for you and the whole community.” This dynamic feels like an ancient precursor to the relationship between a synagogue’s board and rabbi, for better or worse. As so often happens with Temple Times texts, I’m left wishing we knew so much more about the relationships and power dynamics at play.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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