The technical details about the removal of the ashes from the altar generate debate on Yoma 20 about the labor intensive job that the Kohen Gadol performed on Yom Kippur. Despite this seemingly unspiritual, dirty and thankless task, the removal of the ashes was very coveted. Chazal seem to be emphasizing here the imbalance of appearance versus reality and yet the harmony between sacred and profane.
The Gemara continues with an exploration surrounding the timing of the Yom Kippur Service which begins just after the sound of the “gever.” Gever can be understood as a human cry and a rooster crow. The emphasis on sound raise the question about the superiority of human sound or the sound of a rooster. Should the Kohanim’s wakeup call in the morning be by rooster or man? The Gemara claims that the gever must be a man as the cry of a human is louder than a rooster. This conclusion is reinforced by the idea that night reverberates sound stronger than day and that it was in fact at night that the Kohanim were actually woken, thus making it unrealistic for it to be a rooster. Support for this approach is mobilized from a source that says that the Kohen Gadol’s cry during his confession on Yom Kippur was heard in Jericho – despite his obvious fatigue and hunger. Sound expresses a human’s capacity to mobilize inner strength and passion – despite subjective limitations.
I think there are multiple meanings behind the stories and discussion featured on our Daf. They circumscribe the essence of Yom Kippur. Chazal are warning us not to accept what we see or hear as the simple reality. We are required to explore deeply beyond appearances. On Yom Kippur, the simple act of removing the ashes from the altar becomes elevated and transformed into an avodah. More importantly, the idea that a human cry has major significance raises age old questions: Can sound be defined as only something that can be heard? If a tree falls in a forest and no one was witness to see it fall did it make a thump? Are loud human cries or rooster crows the only way to awaken and inspire a soul. What of the silence of Aharon after the death of his children? How do we understand halachic acquiescence through silence promoted by Chazal in light of the power given to sound in our sugya?
Perhaps the supernatural phenomena about the sound of the Kohen Gadol reverberating to Jericho was not meant to be understood literally. Rather, the Talmud is suggesting that the impression of the Kohen Gadol’s confession – the small still voice –reverberated far beyond the walls of Jerusalem. In his confession, the Kohel Gadol recognizes and appreciates the extraordinary in the simple reality. It is this which bring both tahara and kapara. Yom Kippur is about resetting one’s priorities and rebuilding, reflecting, nurturing. It is this sound that both starts the day and hopefully continues throughout the year.
Born and raised in Teaneck, NJ, Shoshana Baker moved to London with her husband in 2003 and made aliya in 2007. Shoshana holds a BA in History from Barnard College, was a Buyer for Bloomingdales in NYC, ran marathons for fun, held the highest daf yomi siyum on terra firma while climbing Kilimanjaro for charity and is looking to jump out of a plane before the end of her second cycle of Shas. Shoshana is a mother of 4, resides in Israel and is a very proud co-founder of Hadran.