Having finished describing the preparations for the avodah (holy service), the fourth perek of Massekhet Yoma begins on our daf with a portrayal of the service itself, beginning with the lottery where the kohen gadol drew lots to determine which of the goats would be sacrificed on the mizbe’ah and which would be the scapegoat, which would be sent to Azazel. The kohen gadol stood with his deputy to his right and the head of the family of kohanim who were serving in the Temple to his left. If the lot indicating that the animal was to be sacrificed to God appeared in his right hand, the deputy would call out “raise your right hand.” If it appeared in his left hand, the head of the family of kohanim would say “raise your left hand.”
The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that for the forty years that Shimon HaTzaddik served as the kohen gadol, the lottery always came out with the animal to be sacrificed in his right hand. After his death, it occasionally came out in the right hand and occasionally in the left. The baraita continues with a list of other miraculous events that took place during Shimon HaTzaddik’s tenure and stopped after his passing.
It is difficult to identify Shimon HaTzaddik with certainty, since there were two kohanim – a grandfather and grandson – who were both named Shimon ben Honyo. It is possible that both of them were called by this name.
According to the Mishna in Pirkei Avot, Shimon HaTzaddik was one of the last members of the Anshei Knesset ha-Gedolah, and from him begin the traditions of the Sages who we identify by name. The Talmud is replete with stories of his piety.
His contemporary, Shimon ben Sira waxes eloquent when describing Shimon HaTzaddik:
The greatest among his brothers and splendor of his people…
Who is concerned for his people, and strengthens them in times of trouble…
How splendid he is when he steps out from behind the parokhet (curtain),
As a shining star among the trees and as the full moon on a Holy day…
(Ben Sira 49)
It is clear that even during his lifetime he was held in great esteem by his peers.