Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 5 Pt. 3

by Jhos Singer, SVARA Fellow

וְאָמְרוּ לוֹ אִישִׁי כֹהֵן גָּדוֹל אָנוּ שְׁלוּחֵי בֵית דִּין
[When they administered this oath] they said to him, “My man, High Priest, we are agents of the court…

OK, at this point we have surfaced a lot of questions about this Mishnah, including: How was the High Priest/Cohain Gadol chosen? Do the Elders, who have been propping him up in his week of preparation, trust this guy? What’s with the juxtaposition between what seems like familiar language “my man” and the formal title “High Priest” in the phrase “my man, the High Priest”? Was this demonstrating their support for the poor dude who was about to risk his life on behalf of the congregation, or their derision that a mere whippersnapper was superseding them? Or was this even about the temple rite at all? Maybe this is just a ruse for the Rabbis (who are, after all, making this shtuff up) to establish their own ways of conferring authority and engendering trust in their leaders. So important to remember that the Rabbis had an agenda, and were squeezing the old rites for all they could wring out of them.

Todays word is שְׁלוּחֵי because it is such a good example of a couple different grammatical forms. The first thing we (and here “we” refers to us for whom Hebrew is far from our first language) need to do when encountering a Hebrew word for the first time is to determine if we are dealing with a word which is formed from a three-letter shoresh/root. If there are more than three letters, we need to figure out which letters are not part of the root. One way to do that is to see if we can spot a pattern. This word has one of the most well known pattern in liturgical Hebrew: XוּXX, like barOOch/blessed, this would be the passive participle which functions sometimes as a passive verb and sometimes as a noun. But what about the י/yud? Good question!! It indicates two things in this case: 1) plurality and 2) that we are in the “construct” form, which is like putting “of” between two nouns. So that leaves us with שׁ-ל-ח /Sh-L-Ch as our root, whose core meanings are: to draw out, stretch forth, or send. Put it all together and we get something like “sended out ones of….” or, in smoother English, “agents/ambassadors/messengers/emissaries of….” Whole lotta grammar going on!!

There are so many relatable moments in this scene so far. First and foremost, for me, it conjures up any number of situations that require intense preparation for high stakes endeavors. Athletes train and get coached for the Olympics or other championship tournaments. Academics undertake difficult research and writing projects, and take rigorous tests and oral exams to earn their titles. Musicians, dancers, and actors practice practice practice and endure intense scrutiny to ensure a solid and compelling performance. Healers spend years getting to know the body and it’s myriad, intertwined systems, in order to deftly lay on hands, instruments, and scalpels to combat dis-ease in their patients. The rigors are endless. Here we get a rear-view mirror glimpse on how the Rabbis were simultaneously examining the past to generate a pathway into the future. At the same time, they are laying down a foundation for us, some 2,000 years in their future, to learn how to navigate what was and what is, in service to what we hope will be long after we are gone. What a generous gift!!

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