ToD: Tractate Shabbat (13b): About Troubles

Chananya ben Chizkiya ben Garon is known for hosting, in his attic, an interesting meeting between the sages of Beit Samai and Beit Hillel. The era is most likely right around the destruction of the 2nd Temple and Great Revolt in Jerusalem (around 70CE). The description indicates that Beit Hillel sages were forcefully kept out, so that Beit Shamai could “democratically” pass rulings. which possibly were intended to support a more extreme struggle against the Romans. 18 various rulings, that seems almost completely obscure to us, were decided on that day with great pompous and drama, as the tension grew and grew.

He is also knowns for “saving” the Book of Ezekiel, coming up next on 929, since this book contains ideas that are hard to grasp and he settled those. And for compiling a book known as Megilat Ta’anit.

Megilat Ta’amit, literally “the Scroll of Fasting,” is an ancient text in the form of a chronicle which enumerates 35 eventful days on which the Jewish nation either performed glorious deeds or witnessed joyful events. These days were celebrated as feast-days; public mourning was forbidden on 14 of them, and public fasting on all. Chananya and his crew wrote it, and why? The Gemara tells us:

שֶׁהָיוּ מְחַבְּבִין אֶת הַצָּרוֹת.

Because they held dear (“liked”) the troubles that befell Israel.

What? What’s to like about troubles?

Says Rashi: “like the troubles” means that since they were redeemed from them, it’s the miracles of redemption that were so very dear to them, to praise the Holy One, and they would write the tell about those glorious days to make them days of celebration and joy.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who was the president of the Sanhedrin (Great Assembly) after the Bar Kochva revolt (around 140CE) responds with what I hear is a sad smiling sigh:

אָמַר רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל: אַף אָנוּ מְחַבְּבִין אֶת הַצָּרוֹת, אֲבָל מַה נַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁאִם בָּאנוּ לִכְתּוֹב אֵין אָנוּ מַסְפִּיקִין.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: We also hold dear the troubles, but what can we do; for if we came to write about all these kind of days, we would not manage to do so, as the troubles that Israel experienced in every generation and era are numerous.

Ma na’ase, what can we do. Such a strange “love-hate” relationship we have with “troubles”. Of course, if anyone asks, we don’t want them, and yet, at times, we like to talk or listen to someone talk – about them… get near them, touch them lightly, or not so lightly, with our little pinky, to see, what is this… and at times, they help us appreciate things we didn’t see before, discover new ways… why? Why like this? Is there really no other way?

The month of Nissan, which started yesterday, is marked by spring and with that, openness. It’s visible in nature around, and also internally, with the upcoming holiday of Pesach, we’re invited to open and ask questions, not only of others, but of ourselves as well. Recent days have definitely left us, at least me, with unique time to think, explore and wonder.

May we find good and meaningful answers; may some of those continue to be left with question marks; may we hear good news, and may we all have a – Shabbat Shalom.


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