Sending out the Seir HaMishtaleach

Yoma (6:3) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

The Mishnah (6:3) teaches that after the kohen gadol performed vidui (confession) on the seir hamishtaleach he would hand the goat over to the person that was designated to take it to the cliff's edge. This person was referred to as the ish itti. The Mishnah teaches that anyone was fit for this task. Nevertheless, the kohanim gedolim would make it a fixed practice to only allow kohanim to take the goat. There are a few points to address on this Mishnah.

The first question is why is it that the kohanim did not allow non-kohanim to perform the task. The Mayim Chaim explains that the kohanim preferred that all the kaparot (atonements) of Yom Kippur would be achieved through the kohanim.

The Tosfot Chadashim however sharpens the question, by noting the Midrash that explains that the person who took the goat would die that year. The Tosfot Chadashim therefore suggests that the kohanim were compelled not to allow anyone else. There are other activities in the Beit HaMikdash that did not need to be performed by a kohen -- the slaughter of the korbanot. The kohanim would however perform the slaughter themselves. That being the case, if they then allowed someone else to take the seir hamishtaleach, they would be accused of belittling that avodah. The accusation would be more pointed considering that the atonement achieved through the seir hamishtaleach was for the rest of Israel, while the atonement for the kohanim was already achieved by way of the bull offered earlier. Consequently, they were able to allow anyone else to take the goat. The Tosfot Chadashim adds that the language of the Mishnah -- keva -- implies that it was indeed forced upon them (see Berachot 4:4).

A further point that needs addressing is why it was the kohanim gedolim that established this practice. The Bartenura does not have that reading of the Mishnah. Instead, he has that it was the kohanim that established the practice. When the Rambam however records the law in the Mishnah Torah (Avodat Yom HaKippurim 3:7), he writes that it was the kohanim gedolim that fixed this practice and would not allow non-kohanim to take the goat. How do we understand the role of the kohanim gedolim specifically in this practice?

Perhaps our answer can be found based on a comment of Rav Soloveitchik (Avodat Yom HaKippurim 66a) who notes that the Mishnah states that kohen gadol would handover (masru) the goat. Rav Soloveitch understands that the language implies that it critical that the kohen gadol would do so personally. Furthermore, the next Mishnah writes that the kohen gadol would send the goat (meshaleach) with the ish itti. Rav Soleveitchik understands that the sending of the goat and nominating the individual as his shalaiach was one of the responsibilities of the kohen gadol. The function of the individual was not only technical in nature; to simply take the goat to the cliff edge. Instead, he was acting as an agent of the kohen gadol.

Rav Soloveitchik uses this to explain the Gemara that teaches that even if the ish itti became tameh he would still enter the azara to be sent out. If his job was purely functional, then it is unnecessary for him to enter the azara. He could take the goat from anywhere. Since however the ish itti functions as a shaliach of the kohen gadol, it is understood why he must stand in front of the kohen gadol -- to accept charge directly.

Based on Rav Soloveitchik, we can understand why, according to the Rambam, it was the kohanim gedolim specifically that did not allow anyone else. Not allowing other people to act as the ish itti, was not something implemented by force or popular vote. Instead, since the ish itti acted as the kohen gadol's shaliach, it was only the kohen gadol that had the power to be selective in who would be the ish itti.


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