“And the powerful priests among them would take them by force before they could be distributed.”
Today’s Daf Yomi reading is replete with relevancy to the current political situation in the United States. But please allow me to issue a warning. If you do not believe that there is a place for current affairs in the discussions of the daily Talmud readings, you will not want to read my post today and will want to move on.
I am deeply disappointed with the revelation that surfaced on Friday that although the US government said earlier in the week that it would release the national stockpile of COVD-19 vaccines in order to escalate the process of reaching a larger number of people, there is in fact no stockpile. It is difficult to read today’s Daf Yomi concerning the overreach of priestly power without seeing so many parallels in our current situation.
We are told in today’s Daf Yomi that the distribution of animal hides to the priests was anything but equitable. In essence, they faced the same issues that we do today with fair distribution of limited supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is the most precious commodity on earth right now because it promises to give people back their lives after almost a year of sheltering in place, and to protect them from the virus.
There was a hierarchy of priests in the temple, as there are orders of entitlement in society today. Offerings of animal hides would be brought to the temple and collected in an inner chamber for distribution. The offerings would be allocated to the priests who served in the temple that day, but we are told that “the powerful priests among them would take them by force before they could be distributed.” The Rabbis attempted to intervene, but “still the prominent priests by virtue of their lineage would take them by force.” Everyone would allow this to happen because of the prominence of the ruling families.
What is hopeful in this story – because we need hope right now – is that the owners of the sacrifices — and I am reading this to be the community — found a solution to this dilemma. They “consecrated the hides to Heaven so the priests could not take them.” It must have been heart-breaking to see so many good hides go to waste, but it was impossible to argue with them being offered to “heaven.” We have lost some precious COVID-19 vaccines through expiration because some states have had difficulty with the distribution to eligible people. And yet, we know there are abuses among those that are powerful like the prominent priestly families.
The sages came up with another solution. Despite my assumption that consecration meant sacrificing the hides through perhaps fire, we are told that the Rabbis used the proceeds of their sale to acquire golden tablets. The entire sanctuary was covered with these valuable tablets. They were displayed during festival pilgrimages “so that the pilgrims would see that the craftsmanship of the tablets was beautiful and without flaw.”
The priestly families are named and shamed by the Rabbis, whom it should be mentioned had their own agenda and were positioning themselves as the moral authority. They accused the priests of spreading rumors and writing down lies, and with nepotism and providing their sons and sons-in-laws with coveted jobs, such as temple treasurer. The priests were said to have incited violence by using their fists and commanding their servants to “strike the people with clubs.” I do not believe I need to articulate the comparisons with our present political situation.
What the text today does not articulate is the crime of offering false hope. We are all weary from a year of isolation and interruption of our lives. People continue to die every day from the virus, and we have surpassed 2 million deaths worldwide. We have been offered a way out of this anxiety-ridden existence through the rapid development of a vaccine which has been a miracle.
We are so close, and yet, the cure for this dire pandemic still seems so elusive. There was so much hope in the promise to release what was in the stockpile in order to hasten the process of getting people vaccinated and swatting down the virus. And now, we know that the coffers are empty. And more lives will be lost that could have been saved. It is a major tragedy of falsification and “writing down lies.”