“How could they walk in blood up to their ankles?”
If there has been any doubt until now that the scene at the temple during the sacrifice of the paschal lamb was a grisly one, today’s Daf Yomi reading offers confirmation that it was not the glistening scene that I imagined. There was so much blood on the grounds of the temple courtyard that there was concern that the priestly garments would be soiled as the priests carried out their duties. And my conclusions from yesterday that everyone had their own place in what was a well-orchestrated ceremony with magical doors opening and closing, is somewhat contradicted today.
The vision I had from yesterday’s reading is of a ceremony with two rows of priests before the alter with glistening silver and gold bowls in their hands. They are dressed in elegant white robes and the air is filled with the sounds of trumpets. Everyone is divided into one of three groups and each has their place and purpose. Each group is called into the temple courtyard when it is their turn to carry out the sacrifice and magical doors close behind them in a well-orchestrated ceremony.
Today we are provided with the impression that there was competition to move up in rank and be a member of preferably the first group, or the second as a consolation. We are told that to be a member of the third group was to be called “lazy.” There is so much angst and restlessness contained in those words. The Gemara questions this categorization and asks if a third group is required for the ceremony, why would its members be so stigmatized? The answer is essentially that the “lazy group” should have tried harder to arrive earlier so that they would not have been relegated to the last group. This suggests a much more chaotic scene than I originally imagined.
We are provided with examples of people who are relegated to the third group in their greater lives and although it is what it is, it’s a painful plight for some. We are told there are tanners and perfume merchants and among the two, it is much more preferable to deal in pleasant scents than in foul smelling hides. Both provide an important function in society, but when given the choice, who would not want to be a purveyor of perfumes? One could carry the scents in beautiful blue bottles from town to town and be greeted with excited customers who longed to smell the fragrances.
One of the unfortunate plights of being in the “other” group is that of being born a woman. We are told that “the world cannot exist without males or without females; yet fortunate is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females.” And along with this statement is the heavy burden women bear from centuries of being thought of as inferior with an identity tied to their husbands and ability to bear children. The tradition that women are born into carries such a heavy legacy of being a member of the “third group” that it takes great strength of character to find their place in the body of Jewish learning that has been denied to them for so long.
I am coming to the realization that the golden scene I envisioned from yesterday’s Daf Yomi depiction was very much a fantasy. To start with, there was blood on the ground, and the air must have been permeated with its slightly acrid smell. We are told that it was “praiseworthy of the sons of Aaron, the priests, to walk in blood up to their ankles, thereby demonstrating their love for the Temple rite.” There is concern, however, for soiling of the priests’ fine garments, which needed to be pristine and fitted exactly right. We are told that the priests would walk on platforms in order to protect their garments from that awful clammy feeling one gets when they wear long pants in a rainstorm and the bottom become soaked.
I am often tempted to turn what I read in the Talmud on its head and reverse many of the arguments. What if the Rabbis were all women who were supported at home by their husbands? Or maybe our female Rabbis are single and have devoted their lives to study and the Torah? And what if we said that it was a blessing to be born a woman, rather than a burden? And instead of telling the tanner that her job is less meaningful than those who sell perfume, we honor her for the service she provides with the curing of leather hides.
And what if we told everyone in group three that they should aspire to be in group one or two if that is where their heart is, but it is perfectly fine to be in group three? And what if it is just fine to be whoever you are and to celebrate your true authentic self? I like to envision the world as one gigantic beating heart that encompasses all of us, with our differences and individual quirks, along with our hopes, and dreams and aspirations. We are all essential.