Yoma 55

Much of today’s daf (Yoma 55a) focusses its attention on the Yom Kippur ceremony and the sprinkling of the blood – above and below – both inside and outside the Kodesh Kodashim as detailed in Mishna Yoma 5:3-4 (Yoma 53b). In fact, the Mishna even tells us how the Kohen Gadol would count while doing so – with these words being familiar to many of us since they have since been incorporated into our Yom Kippur tefillot: כך היה מונה – and this is how he would count; אחת – one (i.e. one sprinkling above); אחת ואחת – one and one (i.e. one sprinkling that I did above and now one below); אחת ושתים – one and two (i.e. one sprinkling that I did above and now two below); אחת ושלש (i.e. one sprinkling that I did above and now three below) etc.

However, a Beraita in today’s daf informs us that while this method of counting is the view of Rabbi Meir (although it is noteworthy that Tosefta Yoma 2:14 attributes this view to Rabbi Eliezer as quoted by Rabbi Yehuda), Rabbi Yehuda asserts that the Kohen Gadol used a slightly different method of counting: אחת – one (i.e. one sprinkling above); אחת ואחת – one and one (i.e. one sprinkling below and the one I did above); שתים ואחת – two and one (i.e. two sprinklings below and the one I did above); שלש ואחת (i.e. three sprinklings below and the one I did above) etc. – meaning that this method places the larger number – representing the count up to the seven sprinklings below – first, and then the one – representing the single sprinkling above – second.

Significantly, the Gemara stresses that there is no disagreement here. Instead, one Tanna was describing the way Kohanim Gedolim from his locale would count, and the other was describing the way Kohanim Gedolim from his locale would count – meaning that while the Kohen Gadol was dutybound to count the sprinkling of blood, some autonomy was given to the Kohen Gadol in terms of how they counted, such that people from one region used their way of counting, and people from another region used their way.

It is often erroneously thought that leaders must totally disconnect themselves from their personal and particular background when appointed to serve a nation, and that – from now on – they solely represent their position and office for the nation. But while the Torah absolutely expects leaders to be objective (as much as humanly possible) in their decisions, and for them to concern themselves for the entire people, it does not expect leaders to deny their past or where they have come from.

And thus, when the Kohen Gadol went to the holiest place in the world on the holiest day of the year, the method they used to count the sprinkling of blood reflected where they’d come from – and in this brief moment, while they were serving the people and praying for their future atonement, they were also taken back to where they came from and given a brief glimpse of their personal journey that led them to be standing there – in the holiest place in the world, on the holiest day of the year.