Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 5 Pt. 1

by Micah Buck, SVARA Fellow

מְסָרוּהוּ זִקְנֵי בֵית דִּין לְזִקְנֵי כְהֻנָּה וְהֶעֱלוּהוּ לַעֲלִיַּת בֵּית אַבְטִינָס
The Elders of the Court deliver [the High Priest] to the Elders of the Priesthood, and they took him up to the ascent of the House of Avtinas.

Mishnah 5 takes us one step further through the High Priest’s preparation for Yom Kippur. The Priest has studied the instructions for the day, read up on the liturgy, looked at various animals for review, taken part in the daily offerings, and prepared in every possible way—all with the Elders of the Court ( who are presented as the spiritual ancestors of the Rabbis). As the seven days of preparation draw to a close, the Day of Atonement is almost here. At this point, the Elders of the Court “hand over” the High Priest to the Elders of Priesthood, who bring him up to a place called The House of Avtinas or the final step of preparation for the big day.

Our word of the day is מְסָרוּהוּ. It comes from the root מסר (meaning to hand over, deliver, or transmit) and is a qal, third person, plural, perfect verb with the third person singular suffix, i.e. -מְסָרוּ means “they delivered” and הוּ- means “him.” The root מסר has a fascinating range of translations. At the most basic, it can mean to hand something or someone over. Depending on context, it can mean to pass down a sacred tradition, to hand an object to someone, or even to hand someone in to the authorities / inform against them (one of the most horrendous acts a person can commit in Rabbinic thought).

I am reflecting on how this word functions in this mishnah. There is something strange about the Elders of the Court just “handing over” the High Priest to the Elders of the Priesthood. Why has the High Priest not been learning and preparing with the Elders of the Priesthood to begin with? Who would know the details, rituals, and meanings of the Yom Kippur offering better than them? And why does the High Priest seem so passive in this mishnah? I think there is a play on words happening here with מְסָרוּהוּ. In the (much later) Rabbinic imagination, authority is being passed back and forth between the Sages and the Priests, sacred knowledge is being handed down, and a מָסוֹרָה / body of living tradition” is being developed. At its core, the Rabbinic project is the development of new מָסוֹרָה, and this word finds its way into their description of the preparations for the day.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!
Want some daily insights from our learners, too? Want to stay up to date on all things Mishnah Collective?
Sign up for our email list here!

Read More