We learned previously (see daf 39) that a number of miracles took place in the Temple during the time that Shimon HaTzaddik was serving as the Kohen Gadol. One of them was that the lashon shel zehorit – the red ribbon that was tied around the head of the scapegoat and the neck of the goat that was to be sacrificed – always turned white after the scapegoat was sent off to Azazel, indicating that the Yom Kippur service has been successful in obtaining atonement for the people.
The Mishna on our daf describes how the lashon shel zehorit was placed on the two animals. In the Gemara, Rav Dimi quotes Rabbi Yohanan as teaching that there were two other occasions where a lashon shel zehorit was used, in the case of a metzorah (someone suffering from Biblical leprosy), where it was used as part of the purification process (see Vayikra 14:4), and in the case of a parah adumah (the red heifer) where it was used as one of the ingredients for making ashes that would be used in the purification process (see Bamidbar 19:6). In both of those cases, the Biblical sheni tola’at is identified with the lashon shel zehorit.
This lashon shel zehorit (literally “a tongue [strip] of crimson”) was a bundle of combed wool that was rolled into the shape of a tongue, and dyed red (carmine) with a crimson pigment derived from cochineal insect. These insects are found infesting various types of wood, and its blood is the source of this dye.
One of the questions raised by the commentaries is how placing this ribbon on the animal was permitted – wouldn’t it be considered making use of an animal that belongs to the Temple, which is forbidden?! The answer that is presented is that since this was done so that the Jewish people could get the satisfaction of seeing that the sacrifice was successful, and furthermore it is not true “work” to have a ribbon around an animal’s neck or head, it is permitted.