Yoma, Chapter Five, Mishnah One



This mishnah picks up where we left off in 4:3 above.  The last thing he did there was take the cinders off the altar and rest the coal-pan on the highest terrace leading up from the courtyard to the Hekhal. 


Mishnah One

1)      They brought out to him the ladle and the pan and he took two hands full [of incense] and put it into the ladle, a large [high priest] according to his size, a small one according to his size and thus was its measure.

2)      He took the pan in his right hand and the ladle in his left hand.  He walked through the Hechal until he came to the place between the two curtains which separated the Holy from the Holy of Holies; between them was [a space of] one cubit.

a)      Rabbi Yose says: there was but one curtain, as it is said: “And the curtain shall serve you as a partition between the Holy and the Holy of Holies” (Exodus 26:33).

3)      The outer curtain was looped on the south side and the inner curtain on the north side.  He walked along between them until he reached the north side. When he reached the north side he turned round to the south and went on along the curtain, to his left, until he reached the Ark.

4)      When he reached the Ark he put the pan of burning coals between the two poles.  He heaped up the incense upon the coals and the whole house became full with smoke.

5)      He came out by the way he entered and in the outer house he uttered a short prayer.  He did not make the prayer long so as not to frighten Israel.



Section one:  After putting the coal-pan down on the fourth terrace they would give him a ladle in which to bring the incense into the Holy of Holies and a pan in which there was a preparation of incense, made in the house of Avtinas (see 1:5; 3:11).  He would take two handfuls of the incense from the pan and put it into the ladle.  It didn’t matter whether he was large and would therefore take large handfuls or small and therefore would take small handfuls.  The measure of two handfuls was set by Leviticus 16:12. 

Section two:  He would then pick up the coal-pan with the burning embers and begin to walk through the Hekhal until he got to the curtains which separated the Holy (the Hekhal) from the Holy of Holies.  Rabbi Yose says that there was only one curtain.  In any case, the mishnah continues according to the opinion that there were two.

Section three: The curtains were folded back on opposite sides; the outer curtain was folded back and held with loops so that it was open on the south while the inner curtain was folded back and open on the north side.  He would enter on the south side and walk to the north, and enter the Holy of Holies and then walk to the south until he got to the Ark.  We should note that there was no Ark in the Second Temple, as we shall see in the next mishnah.  Therefore this mishnah and other references to the ark in the Mishnah are understood by the Talmud as referring to the place where the Ark would have been in the First Temple. In other words, the mishnah refers to the ark as if it is still there even though it knows that it was not.

Section four:  Upon reaching the Ark he would place the coal-pan upon its two poles and then pour out the incense onto the coals until the entire Holy of Holies was filled up with smoke. 

Section five:  He would then walk out of the Holy of Holies, never turning his back on it out of reverence for the place.  In the Hekhal he would offer a short prayer. The prayer itself is recorded in the Talmud (Taanit 24b) and it is mostly is concerned with rain and sustenance for the coming year.  Interestingly, the mishnah notes that he would not recite a long prayer so as not to frighten Israel into thinking that something had happened to him in the Holy of Holies.  This was a moment extremely fraught with tension and fear and it seems that the well-being of the high priest was considered a portent for things to come to Israel in the coming year.