“He would rest his hand on another’s shoulder.”
Today’s Daf Yomi reading provides a vision of an elegant ceremony of priests who lined up before the alter in the courtyard of the temple to complete the sacrificial ritual on Passover. It is elegant, if you can overlook the fact that the rows of priests who lined up before the alter were carrying bowls of blood. In a wonderful detail that any women can relate to who was told to not mix jewelry metals (which I never adhered to), there was no intermingling of gold and silver bowls. One row of priests held silver bowls and the other held gold ones. We are told that each row was of the same color for aesthetic reasons, because it was “more attractive.”
The slaughtering of the paschal lamb in the temple was done with a great deal of coordination that provided a place and purpose for each priest. Those who brought the offering comprised three groups: the assembly, the congregation and Israel. There was great care in how the ceremony was carried out in order to control the crowds, with a door closing behind each group as they entered the temple courtyard. The vision of the ceremony becomes more vibrant with the addition of sound. We are told that “they sounded uninterrupted, broken, and uninterrupted trumpet blasts.”
An Israelite (perhaps in group 1A) would slaughter the sacrifice and a priest would receive the blood in his gold or silver bowl (which lacked a flat bottom so that he would not be tempted to place it down if his hands became tired and it would congeal). The bowl would be handed up the line from priest to priest until it reached the alter where it would be sprinkled by the priest at the front. Each priest would receive the full bowl of blood from the priest next to him and pass it on, while he had returned to him an empty bowl in an example of group coordination and industry.
Upon completion of the ritual, the first group would exit the courtyard and the second group (1B) would enter, and so on and so on until all three groups had completed the task. If Passover fell on Shabbat, the three groups would be positioned at different places within the temple grounds until nightfall when they could complete the ritual. One would remain on the temple mount, one would wait in the women’s courtyard and the third group would stand in the temple. The image of the staging of floats ahead of a parade comes to mind. This has occurred in front of the building where I live during the annual gay pride parade, which sadly was cancelled last year, and most probably this one as well. Once it became dark, just like the floats that enter the avenue during the parade, each row of priests would take their place and complete the ritual with “everyone in his own place.”
We are presented with a miracle in today’s reading and if there is ever a time when we need a miracle it is now. There is some speculation that after each group entered to complete the sacrifice, “the doors of the Temple courtyard miraculously closed by themselves.” Abaye is a believer in the miracle, while Rava says that people would close the doors. Let’s go with Abaye’s view today. The miracle of the opening and closing of doors is supported with a story about a certain learned sage who was banned (for unknown reasons) by the priests, but who experienced the opening of the courtyard doors because of his deep knowledge and learning.
The ceremony was well orchestrated to manage the crowds that would come to the temple to watch what must have been an impressive display of priests in rows carrying silver and gold bowls, and the sounding of horns to mark the sacrifice. Things went terribly wrong for one year’s ceremony and an old man was crushed by the crowd. That year became known as the “Passover of the crushed.” It is a reminder to protect the old and vulnerable among us and to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible.
I have been thinking a lot lately about supply chain management. How do we get a decent portion of the 328 million people in the United States vaccinated in order to create herd immunity and halt the devastation of the coronavirus? There are the challenges of manufacturing, distribution and injecting people with the vaccine. It takes careful planning and regimental execution and an all-out concerted effort to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. And it is a race against time as more contagious mutations of the virus are circulating in the community. Missteps in the process, and we have experienced many, can result in the crushing of our most vulnerable.
We have experienced a miracle in the rapid development of vaccines by dedicated scientists who have been working around the clock since early last year. It is a miracle that resulted in an opening of doors to the possibility of an end to living through this devastating pandemic where every month the death count in the United States increases by 100,000. There is the pain of hopelessness, and then the pain of anticipation and of almost making it to the other side, but not yet. We are so close, but still on the other side of the miraculous doors.