Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 4 Pt. 2

by Ren Finkel, Emergent Programs Coordinator

עֶרֶב יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים עִם חֲשֵׁכָה לֹא הָיוּ מַנִּיחִים אוֹתוֹ לֶאֱכֹל הַרְבֵּה
On Yom Kippur eve at nightfall, they would not allow [the High Priest] to eat a lot…

Mishnah 4 of Yoma is all about the High Priest’s eating schedule in the lead up to Yom Kippur. We’ve learned so far that in the seven days leading up to Yom Kippur, “they” wouldn’t restrict what he ate or drank. Who that “they” is remains a vexing and delightful mystery!

The word manikhim / מַנִּיחִים is something of a linguistic roadmap! It comes from the root nun-vav-khet, meaning to rest or be at ease. Here the mem prefix combined with the vowel pattern tells us we’re in binyan hifil, aka the causative form. The variety of definitions of manikhim lays out the semantic drift from “rest” all the way to today’s meaning of “allow”, all of which can be found here / on page 885 of the Jastrow dictionary. Rest ➡ set down➡ place ➡ leave ➡ leave alone ➡ allow. What a journey!

I simply cannot get over this mysterious “they”. In lots of translations, “they” is interpreted as “the sages”, which is the word used to refer to the original rabbis. But the rabbis didn’t really come about until, at the earliest, the very end of Temple Times. And they didn’t really have much power until after the temple was destroyed. I wonder if perhaps this “they” is better understood as the Elders…but then I wonder: why would the rabbis sometimes name the Elders explicitly, and sometimes not? Perhaps the ambiguity is actually quite intentional, and the Rabbis are hinting at the fact that there was turmoil about who was in charge of the temple! After all, there were huge schisms in the community over it while the temple was still standing. So maybe the rabbis are keeping it vague because some of these traditions in the lead up to Yom Kippur were done across all schisms. Certainly if anything could bring people together, it was the high stakes of Yom Kippur! The vagaries of the rabbis leaves us with plenty of confusion, but the immense amount of room for speculation and interpretation is a nice consolation prize.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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