כ״ב בטבת ה׳תשע״ד (December 25, 2013)

Yoma 47a-b: A handful of incense

The fifth perek of Massekhet Yoma begins on our daf In it the Mishnayot continue with the description of the Temple service performed by the on Yom Kippur. In particular, our perek focuses on the avodah (service) that is done inside the Holy of Holies, beginning with the burning of the incense and its placement in the kodesh kodashim.

Priest scooping hands full of incense

The first Mishna in the perek teaches that, after collecting burning coals from the altar, the kohen gadol is handed two utensils – an empty kaf (spoon) and a mahtah (shovel) filled with finely ground incense. He then takes a handful of the ketoret from the mahtah and places it in the spoon (see Vayikra 16:12). The Mishna further teaches that the appropriate amount of ketoret that is to be taken is subjective, as it depends on the size of the kohen gadol’s hands.

This rule leads the Gemara to present the kohen gadol Rabbi Yishmael ben Kimhit, whose hands were so large that he would fill the spoon with four kabin of incense.

Another interesting thing about Rabbi Yishmael ben Kimhit is that he is identified by his mother’s name – Kimhit – rather than by his father’s name, which is the common practice in the Talmud. The Maharsha explains that Kimhit must have been married to different kohanim and had children with each of them. The Gemara notes that Kimhit had the unique privilege of being the mother of seven kohanim, each of whom served as kohen gadol. The Gemara relates how, on separate occasions, each of them – including Rabbi Yishmael ben Kimhit – became ritually impure at the last moment and was replaced by one of his brothers.

When asked what led to this honor, Kimhit attributed it to her great modesty, specifically that she kept her hair covered even inside her own home. reject this explanation, saying that others who behaved in a similar manner did not merit such a reward. The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the Rabbis did, in fact, appreciate Kimhit’s high level of modesty, but they were simply pointing out that there must have been other factors involved as well, since others who were equally careful about such things did not merit a similar reward.

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