Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 5 Pt. 4

by Olivia Devorah Tucker, Program Coordinator

וְאַתָּה שְׁלוּחֵנוּ וּשְׁלִיחַ בֵּית דִּין
…and you are our agent, and the agent of the court.

We’re still making our way through Chapter 1 of Mishnah Yoma, meaning “The Day”—specifically Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And so far our masechet, our volume, has been describing how the High Priest, the Cohen Gadol, spends the week of preparation before the biggest day of the year. At this stage in the journey, the Elders of the Court bring the High Priest to the Elders of the Priesthood, who in turn bring him to the House of Avtinas. (The Gemara says this is where they show him how to work with the sacred temple incense.) And then the Elders get him to make a specific vow before taking their leave, leaving him alone to do the Yom Kippur sacrifices. Yesterday we had the first line of the vow, “אִישִׁי כֹהֵן גָּדוֹל אָנוּ שְׁלוּחֵי בֵית דִּין / Ee’shee ko’hayn gah’dohl ah’noo sh’loo’hay bayt deen / My Man/Master, High Priest, we are agents of the court…” And today we have a second chunk, “…and you are our agent, and the agent of the court.”

Lets dig deeper into this “agent” word—all of these nouns share the same root ש-ל-ח / shin-lamed-chet (Jastrow 1579) “to draw out, to stretch forth, to send.” Agent is also translated as “messenger” and “deputy.” The High Priest and everyone around him in this moment are people who are reaching out to each other, imparting very important messages about how this highly technical ritual is supposed to work. (They also do seem to be drawing it all out a bit too, remembering the double goodbye that happens after this oath from a few days ago). When they say, “You are our Messenger,” I hear them saying that the High Priest is the community’s messenger to G📨D.

Today we call such a person a Shaliach Tzibbur / שליח ציבור/ “messenger of the community”—often they are an honorable hazzan/cantor, a prayer leader, with an inspiring voice and liturgical knowledge. There’s a bit of a paradox for me: even though we all get a direct line with the Divine, the Shaliach Tzibur is still halakhically responsible for the prayers being “correct.” I like this as a bridge between the High Priest, who needs to be getting all of these concrete steps correct, and the individual who also needs to be deeply in the work, often without such a clear map for how to do Yom Kippur, acting as their own messenger, even if they have a designated one.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!
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