Empty out to bring something new for this Chag Shavuot

Every so often, through the miracles of the internet, I chance upon “old” photos, from 3-6-12-24.. months ago and even more… photos with people hugging, leaning, sitting shoulder to shoulder… everything is back to normal. Almost. I am walking down the street with my mask on, while as of today, people are sitting in restaurants, talking, sharing, smiling… I’m reminded of the story about someone who put nails in the wall, then pulled them out. Now there were no nails, but there were holes… yes, it’s “back to normal”, but the “holes” are still there.

This week’s daf allocates much space to “bathroom laws”, where, what, how… somehow, this all relates to Shabbat activities which we should be mindful off; not easy section to “stomach”; our sages talk about e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g…

Here are a couple of great pieces, emphasizing how learning about the world is critical and likened to “real” Torah:

אמר ליה [לו] רב הונא לרבה בריה [בנו]: מאי טעמא לא שכיחת קמיה [מה טעם אינך מצוי] לפני רב חסדא דמחדדן שמעתיה [שמחודדתות שמועותיו, הלכותיו]? אמר ליה [לו] רבה: מאי איזיל לגביה [מה אלך אליו]? דכי אזילנא לגביה מותיב לי במילי דעלמא [שכאשר אני הולך אליו מושיב הוא אותי ומעסיקני בענייני עולם שאינם דברי תורה]. ולמשל אמר לי: מאן דעייל [מי שנכנס] לבית הכסא לא ליתיב בהדיא [יישב מיד], ולא ליטרח טפי [יטרח, יתאמץ מידי], משום דהאי כרכשתא אתלת שיני יתיב [שכרכשתא זו, סופו של המעי התחתון יושב, תלוי, על שלוש שיניים], שהם השרירים האוחזים אותו, ויש לחשוש דילמא [שמא] מתוך המאמץ משתמטא [יישמטו] שיני הכרכשתא ואתי [ויבוא] בתוך כך לידי סכנה. אמר ליה [לו] רב הונא לרבה בנו: הוא עסיק [מתעסק] בחיי דברייתא [הבריות] ואת [ואתה] אמרת שעוסק הוא במילי דעלמא [בסתם דברים]?! עכשיו מששמעתי במה דברים אמורים אומר אני כי כל שכן זיל לגביה [לך אצלו].

Rav Huna said to his son Rabba: What is the reason that you are not to be found among those who study before Rav Ḥisda, whose halakhot are incisive? Rabba said to him: For what purpose should I go to him? When I go to him, he sits me down and occupies me in mundane matters not related to Torah. For example, he said to me: One who enters a bathroom should not sit down immediately and should not exert himself excessively because the rectum rests upon three teeth, the muscles that hold it in place, and there is concern lest the teeth of the rectum dislocate through exertion and he come to danger. Rav Huna said to his son Rabba: He is dealing with matters crucial to human life, and you say that he is dealing with mundane matters? Now that I know what you meant, all the more so go before him.

And one more. Towards the end of the chapter we find this important advice:

תנו רבנן [שנו חכמים] בברייתא: הנכנס לסעודת קבע ורוצה להתכונן שלא יוכרח להפנות בשעת הסעודה, יהלך לפני הסעודה עשר פעמים מהלך של ארבע ארבע אמות, ואמרי לה [ויש אומרים]: ארבע פעמים של עשר עשר אמות ויעזור הדבר להחיש את פעולת המעיים, ונפנה, ואחר נכנס וישב במקומו.

The Sages taught in a baraita: One who wishes to enter and partake of a regular meal that will last for some time, should pace a distance of four cubits ten times, and some say, ten cubits four times, in order to expedite the movement of the bowels, and defecate, and enter, and sit in his place.

This one actually ties into Shavuot… how so, you wonder? The idea of having to “empty” before “filling up”. This is parallel to the Children of Israel venturing to the desert, to an empty place, to receive the Torah; also parallel to Ruth, who, like Abraham, goes out into nowhere, not knowing but hoping – to learn, discover, chance upon new opportunities, none of which could have happened in Egypt to the nation, or to Ruth (and Abraham) in their birthplaces.

In Leviticus 23:15-16. We’re told about how this period of Counting the Omer will reach its end:

וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete:

עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים י֑וֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃

you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring a new offering (of new grain) to the LORD.

We are to bring a “new offering”. True, the text likely refers to the grain offering, but we can see in it the newness. How? The yogis tell about the pupil who comes with his dish, full of leftover and dirt to the master begging for food. “Empty this out first, then I’ll give you”. The master of course, speaks not only of the dish but of the heart and mind as well, not unlike our Shavuot message. Maybe there is no need to get back to “normal”, if normal means we learned nothing and gained nothing. Maybe we do need to bring with us something new.

Chag Sameach & Shabbat Shalom.

 

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