Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 6 Pt. 2

by Micah Buck, SVARA Fellow

וְאִם רָגִיל לִקְרוֹת קוֹרֵא וְאִם לָאו קוֹרִין לְפָנָיו
And if [the High Priest] was accustomed to reciting [Torah], he would recite. And if he was not, they would recite before him.

As we work our way through Mishnah 6, we have reached the night of Yom Kippur. The High Priest does not sleep at all the night before the Big Day, and instead stays up all night learning and preparing. This on the heels of a full week of preparations, which included study, practice, being quizzed by the Elders & Priests, and making assorted ritual preparations. It seems like every possible detail has been attended to, and to my mind the only thing left would be to get a good night’s sleep in order to be prepared for the day. Nope. 

I am interested in the notion of wondering not whether the High Priest can recite/read Torah, but whether the Priest is רָגִיל to the task. The word רָגִיל comes from the root ר-ג-ל , meaning “to move” or “to run.” Made into a noun, רֶגֶל, it means “foot,” while made into a verb-turned-adjective רָגִיל it means “to be in the habit of” or “to be accustomed to.” I am fascinated by the connection between how we move or go and the habits we are in, as I am by the connection between הֲלָכָה as a term meaning Jewish custom or law and the root הָלַךְ meaning “going / walking.” There seems to be a deep culture of connecting physical activity with custom, tradition, and sacred acts. 

Of course, we cannot talk about a Rabbinic phrase based on a word like “to walk” or “to run” without acknowledging the ableism of the Sages who coined these phrases. As people, we “go” in a myriad of different ways. On one level, I want to move away from using limited physical metaphors for spiritual life precisely because they assume one way of living in one’s body as the baseline for the metaphor. I also feel a pull towards doing the opposite—using our lived experiences specifically to challenge and therefore deepen the texts. To say that our sacred paths are only sacred insofar as they honor and are shaped by our real and embodied lives. And that we are called to engage critically with our sacred texts, which contain so much wisdom and also the shortcomings of those who wrote and compiled them. I can think of nothing more Svara-like than that.

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