Routine Holiness, Detailed Laws, Solemn Designations
We now read The Order of the Priestly Functions as recorded in Yoma 33a by Abaye in the name of Abba Sha’ul. We diligently recite each detailed description as though we are actually at work in the Holy Temple. Each task, so exacting, is yet another example within our Siddur studies of the continual importance of “routine holiness.”
The chores of the Temple – arranging the wood, removing the ashes, cleaning the lamps of the Golden Menorah, preparing and arranging the offerings – are the heart and center of our national existence and identity. This is עבודת הקדש (avodat hakodesh), i.e., holy work.
But, we are in exile – without the Holy Temple, even those living in Israel are in exile. As we picture ourselves in the daily activities we also face the depth of our exile. Heartbroken, we raise our voices,
“Please, by the power of Your great right hand, set the captive nation free. Accept Your people’s prayer. Strengthen us, purify us, You who are revered. Please, mighty One, guard like the pupil of the eye those who seek Your unity. Bless them, cleanse them, have compassion on them. Grant them Your righteousness always. Mighty One, Holy One, in Your great goodness guide Your congregation. Only One, Exalted One, turn to Your people, who proclaim Your holiness. Accept our plea and heed our cry, You who know all secret thoughts.
“Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and all time.”
Finishing with the very phrase whispered at the end of the Shema, we cry in anguish, distraught over the Temple’s destruction. We beseech HaShem for “the prayer of our lips be considered, accepted, and favored before You as though we had offered the daily sacrifice at its appointed time and place, according to its laws.”
Having just referenced the Laws of the Offerings, we now read about each one – and we note something curious – the offerings vary in holiness. Each level of holiness controls where the offering is sacrificed, who may eat it, where it is to be eaten, and the period of time within which it must be eaten. We ask, “how is an offering’s level of holiness determined?”
Holiness is a designated status. The two yearling lambs selected each day for the Tamid offering aren’t any different from all the other yearling lambs in the Levitical herds – until the moment they are selected. Through smiḥa we designate them as Tamid offerings. Through smiḥa we designate other lambs as Todah, or Shlamim, or Pesaḥ offerings, etc. The lambs may appear to be identical but they have been forever transformed for a specified purpose.
Judaism is replete with the concept of designations. Designations are not merely labels; once something is designated through smiḥa a fundamental change takes place, and it never reverts back to its former state. We have designated times, places, offerings, even people. Each are “ordinary” until selected – then they are holy, set apart for HaShem.
We don’t always think about such things in our casual transient Western society but this is a foundational concept within Judaism. While we await the rebuilding of our Holy Temple our studies of the Seder HaKorbanot remind us of the daunting awesomeness of designations. We experience Shabbat with greater reverence once we grasp the concept of HaShem’s sanctification of time. Our heartache while visiting the Kotel (Western Wall) is deepened when we realize the eternal pricelessness imparted to that place by HaShem. Through our study of the Seder haKorbanot we are invited to transform what could merely be an intellectual exercise to a constant daily awareness.