Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 5 Pt. 7

by Bronwen Mullin, Faculty

הוּא פוֹרֵשׁ וּבוֹכֶה וְהֵן פּוֹרְשִׁין וּבוֹכִין
[The High Priest] would leave and weep, and they would leave and weep.

We continued from last week where we learned that the Elders require the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, to undergo an oath in which he promises to not change even one word of what he has been tasked to do (and presumably, say). Today’s text describes the High Priest and the Elders departing from one another, both weeping. What an amazing moment for Masechet Yoma, which deals with all the intricate details of the rituals of Yom Kippur, to pause and focus on the emotional impact of the moment. It’s not about completing a task or checking something off a list here—we seem to be stopping and feeling, taking account of the toll that this sacred and heavy work takes on our bodies and being. Way to go, ancestors, for modeling a sacred pause!

I was also touched by an unexpected connection between the roots פ–ר–ש (meaning “to separate”) and בכי (meaning “to weep”)—both roots have a proto-root meaning to “divide”. In the case of פ–ר–ש, there’s also an association with the idea of dividing in order to go deeper, such as in the field of Jewish commentary known as פרשנות / parshanut, which examines Torah verses, often down to the “inside-translation level” in order to more deeply unpack what’s happening. (Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Abravanel, Bekhor Shor, RaMbaN are a few of the greats, definitely give them a good google when you have a minute.) Many of you reflected that the act of crying or weeping can also be an act of dividing in order to go deeper. Crying can serve as a way to divide a seemingly messy, obscure situation into its elemental impact—tears. Tears themselves can serve as a detoxifier—separating out literal toxic elements in the body, and at other times helping to divide from and come out from under oppressive, subjugating emotions. Sometimes we have life circumstances or traumas, health conditions or medication regimens that make the act and release of crying very difficult. Sometimes crying is an intersection and interweaving of many different emotions and so crying can serve as just the beginning of sifting through and untangling the knot of different emotional threads. All of this is to say is that the process of dividing or separating in order to have a real accountability-check with one’s self and experience seems to be something our ancestors felt was so pivotal that even the Elders and the Kohen Gadol, with so much else on their proverbial sacrificial plates, had to stop and engage in. Wow!

In truth friends, I really needed to feel a good kind of “Wow!” today. Before Mishnah Collective today, I was feeling a bit defeated, and a bit in denial, after this morning’s news of the United States’ Supreme Court ruling to confirm Presidential immunity. I was asking myself, “What kind of world do we live in where accountability is so lowly regarded?” Learning in the Mishnah Collective, a cooperative learning space where we engage in a regular accountability practice with our ancestors and ourselves, down to every prefix and every letter, is the medicine that this world needs right now. This space and other spaces like it are part of the tides and winds of change, that sometimes lay low but are ever-building and growing in dynamic and magnetic pull. We have to believe in ourselves and our communities as a source of healing, and the Torah, the teaching we learn, relearn, and generate, as part of the radically traditionally queer responsibility to the broader world that our ancestors always hoped this Mishnah-thing would inspire. May we be strengthened by one another, may we separate and weep when we need to, and come back together affirmed in dignity and devotion to all that is life-giving.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!
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