Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 6 Pt. 1

by Olivia Devorah Tucker, Program Coordinator

אִם הָיָה חָכָם דּוֹרֵשׁ וְאִם לָאו תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים דּוֹרְשִׁין לְפָנָיו
If [the High Priest] was wise, he expounds [upon Torah]. If he was not, Torah scholars expound [upon Torah] before him.

We’re starting a new Mishnah today as we make our way through Chapter 1 of Mishnah Yoma, meaning “The Day”, specifically Yom Kippur / the Day of Atonement. And after a special oath and a tearful goodbye to the Elders, our High Priest has reached nightfall on Erev Yom Kippur! Today, liturgically, Erev Yom Kippur is most commonly a special service called Kol Nidre—but for the High Priest in the ancient temple it’s about pulling a classic all-nighter, studying Torah with the boys! Boys Night!! And at this Temple lock-in/Shabbaton of Shabbatons, we’re drashing! דּוֹרְשִׁין and דּוֹרֵשׁ come from the root dalet-resh-shin (Jastrow 325)—“to examine, question; expound, interpret” also “teach or lecture”, all of which is most commonly expounding on Torah. I recently asked a non-Talmud-nerd friend for their “drash” (teaching/insight) on something, and ended up having to give a drash on drash. We did not stay up all night about it though!

And why does our High Priest need to stay up all night? Because if he passes out, he’s almost guaranteed to have a wet dream (“zav“)—probably about all the incense in the House of Avtinas—and the nocturnal emission would make him ritually impure in ways which mean he can’t do the Yom Kippur rituals! In prep for today’s text, I found myself back at the Gemara for Mishnah Yoma 1:4, about how “they” (our sages, maybe other priests, some of whom were also sages) wouldn’t let him eat too much, which would also make him too sleepy. If you didn’t explore it then, I really recommend their discourse (starting on Yoma 18a) about which foods were more likely to make him zav in his sleep.

The last few texts have had such a Summer Camp vibe for me—hanging out with your buds, visiting different activities, taking super special sacred oaths, tearful goodbyes, and staying up all night drashing about Torah. I know the stakes are really high for everyone (as high stakes as everything feels at camp) but I hope they had a genuinely nice time going through this some years. And if you’d like to have a genuinely nice camp experience, there’s still time to sign up for SVARA’s Summer Day Camps in five cities this August! And the fate of the community’s sins aren’t even at stake when we get together!

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!
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