Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Seven

 

Introduction

This mishnah deals with the blessings recited by the high priest on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), after he finished performing the special worship service for that day.

 

Mishnah Seven

How were the benedictions of the high priest [performed]? 

1)      The hazzan of the synagogue takes the Torah scroll and gives it to the president of the synagogue; the vice-president of the synagogue gives it to the high priest, and the high priest stands, receives [the scroll] and reads [the following portions]:  “After the death” (Leviticus 16:1-34), and “But on the tenth day” (Leviticus 23:26-32). 

a)      Then he rolls the Torah (scroll), places it in his bosom and exclaims, “More than I have read before you is written here!”

b)      [The portion], “On the tenth day” (Numbers 29:7-11), which is in the book of Numbers, he reads by heart.

2)      And he blesses upon it eight benedictions:

i)        “For the Torah”,

ii)       “For the Temple service”,

iii)     “For thanksgiving”,

iv)     “For the pardon of sin”,

v)      “For the Temple”,

vi)     “For Israel”,

vii)   “For the priests”,

viii)  and the rest of the prayer.

 

Explanation

Section one:  After the high priest has finished performing the Yom Kippur service (and sent the scapegoat out to the desert) he would go out to the Temple courtyard and sit there until they bring him the Torah scroll.  The scroll is not handed directly to him, but rather several synagogue functionaries participate in passing the scroll before it reaches the high priest.  [Somewhat reminiscent of a brit milah in which the baby is passed around before being circumcised.]  Note that according to the mishnah there was a synagogue on the Temple grounds.  Indeed, archaeologists have found a dedicatory inscription near the Temple which mentions the “head of a synagogue”. 

Section two:  When the high priest receives the Torah, he reads the portions which deal with Yom Kippur.  This begins with two passages from Leviticus.  After he closing the Torah he tells the people that there is more in the Torah than what he just read to them.  [As an aside, this reminds of rabbis telling their congregation on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur that there are other holidays also coming up.]  The passage concerning Yom Kippur which is found towards the end of Numbers he doesn’t read from the scroll itself, but rather by heart.  Generally speaking, portions of the written Torah should not be read in public by heart.  However, since it would take a long time to roll from Leviticus 23 to Numbers 29 and it would not be respectful to the congregation for them to have to wait long while the Torah is being scrolled.  The respect for the congregation is important enough that the Yom Kippur ceremony itself is adjusted to take this into account.     

Section three:  Today when a person receives an aliyah to the Torah, they read one blessing before and after.  The high priest reads eight blessings. 

“For the Torah”, is the same blessing recited today before and after the Torah reading (according to some commentators the high priest said these blessings like we do today, one before and one after, but the mishnah refers to this as one blessing.) 

“For the Temple service” is similar to the third to last blessing in the amidah as it is said today. 

“For thanksgiving” is similar to the next to last blessing in today’s amidah.  

“For the pardon of sin” is similar to one of the middle blessings in today’s amidah, which begins “Forgive us.”

“For the Temple” is a prayer that the Temple should continue to stand.

“For Israel” is a prayer that God’s presence should not depart from the people of Israel.

“For the priests” is a prayer that God will accept the worship of the priests.

And for the rest of the prayer—this refers to a final prayer that God should protect Israel and thanks God for listening to our prayers. 

 

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