June 11, 2021

Yoma 61

The recent dapim (pages) of Massechet Yoma have been intensely focused on the Avodah – the service – of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, and more recently (from the Mishna on Yoma 60a onwards), on whether the Kohen Gadol must repeat aspects of his service if done out-of-order.
On this point, today’s daf (Yoma 61a) examines the teaching of the Mishna about the consequences of the Kohen Gadol sprinkling the blood of the bull and the he-goat out of order. And though we are taught that if an error is made then all that needs to be done is sprinkle the blood in the correct order, Ulla – as well as Rav Afes – explains that this applies to the sprinkling in the Heichal, whereas if an error was made in the order of service inside the Kodesh Kodashim and the he-goat was slaughtered before the blood of the bull was sprinkled, then the service is invalid.
Significantly, when drawing this distinction, both Ulla and Rav Afes use a phrase that is not found elsewhere in the Gemara and one which – I believe – serves to help us appreciate what is taking place, because rather than speaking of עבודה (service), or הזאה (sprinkling), they speak of מתנות (literally, ‘gifts’).
Admittedly, it is possible – and perhaps it is actually more correct – to translate מתנות here as ‘applications’ (as Artscroll does), or as ‘presentations’ (as Steinsaltz-Koren does) or as ‘sprinklings’ (as Soncino does), and this is because we do find that instructions about the sprinkling of blood use the term מתן דמו (apply/present/sprinkle the blood).
However, when I saw the phrase מתנות שבהיכל, I was reminded that these religious rituals and ceremonies which were performed by the Kohen Gadol were not meant to feel like burdensome ‘service’ where the servant often resents what they are doing for their Master, but instead, like a gift of the giver given with appreciation and love to the receiver, which thereby affirmed the loyalty and love inherent in that relationship.
Having spent much of the past few weeks on the details of the Yom Kippur service, it is possible to think that the Kohen Gadol understood his mission to be one of carrying out precise mechanical religious עבודה (service). However, while fully acknowledging the likely intent of Ulla and Rav Afes in terms of the phrase מתנות שבהיכל, I think that it is essential that we think of Yom Kippur as a day that expresses the affectionate relationship between God and Am Yisrael, and as a day that God gifted us so that we can attain forgiveness and atonement which – as the great mussar masters inform us – are the greatest of gifts.
Thus, on Yom Kippur, which itself is a מתנה (gift), the Kohen Gadol performs a variety of symbolic rituals which are themselves a form of מתנה (gift), and by doing so, these express and affirm the affectionate relationship between God and Am Yisrael, and the ultimate gift we have received from God of forgiveness and atonement.
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