ToDY: Shabbat 2:a: Why start Shabbat here (and now)

The transition from Tractate Brachot to Shabbat is abrupt. To those who love a good legal debate, it’s a delight; those of us who enjoy midrash and dreams and stories, it’s more of a shock. What are our dear rabbis talking about?

Shabbat (the tractate) doesn’t begin with stories about the beauty of Shabbat, the importance of rest, the lovely feeling at the end of a good meal with family and friends. It doesn’t even begin with a quote from the Torah, perhaps wondering why in the Ten Commandments of Exodus we’re told “to remember” and in those of Deuteronomy we are told “to keep” or “guard” the day. And it doesn’t begin with a verse form this week’s reading we sing weekly, nor with a verse from next week’s reading, or perhaps an instruction how to prepare for Shabbat or a discussion about the special prohibition against lighting a fire or the maybe the first of the 39 melachot, or general categories of things to do on Shabbat… There are so many places they could start with, and ease our way into it!! Instead the tractate opens with a scenario we’re not sure what to do with:

מַתְנִי׳ יְצִיאוֹת הַשַּׁבָּת, שְׁתַּיִם שֶׁהֵן אַרְבַּע בִּפְנִים, וּשְׁתַּיִם שֶׁהֵן אַרְבַּע בַּחוּץ.

MISHNA: Carrying (taking things) out on Shabbat (which is forbidden) constitutes primarily of two basic actions, which are actually four cases from the perspective of a person inside a private domain, and two basic actions that comprise four cases from the perspective of a person outside, in a public domain.

It’s possible to read it again and again, and still wonder, what am I reading?? Then we go on to spell out these options, which, at least at first, confuses more than clarifies:


The mishna elaborates: How do these eight cases take place?

הֶעָנִי עוֹמֵד בַּחוּץ, וּבַעַל הַבַּיִת בִּפְנִים: פָּשַׁט הֶעָנִי אֶת יָדוֹ לִפְנִים וְנָתַן לְתוֹךְ יָדוֹ שֶׁל בַּעַל הַבַּיִת, אוֹ שֶׁנָּטַל מִתּוֹכָהּ וְהוֹצִיא — הֶעָנִי חַיָּיב וּבַעַל הַבַּיִת פָּטוּר.

The poor person stands outside, and the homeowner stands inside. The poor person extended his hand into the private domain, and placed the object into the hand of the homeowner. Or, the poor person reached his hand into the private domain, took an item from the hand of the homeowner, and carried it out into the public domain. In both of these cases, the poor person is liable and the homeowner is exempt.

פָּשַׁט בַּעַל הַבַּיִת אֶת יָדוֹ לַחוּץ וְנָתַן לְתוֹךְ יָדוֹ שֶׁל עָנִי, אוֹ שֶׁנָּטַל מִתּוֹכָהּ וְהִכְנִיס — בַּעַל הַבַּיִת חַיָּיב וְהֶעָנִי פָּטוּר.

The mishna cites two additional cases: The homeowner extended his hand into the public domain, and placed the object into the hand of the poor person. Or, the homeowner took an object from the hand of the poor person, and carried it into the private domain. In both of those cases, because the homeowner is liable and the poor person is exempt.

We’re good?? Because in this Jewish Sudoku, there are four additional cases where neither the homeowner nor the poor person performed the labor in its entirety. Since neither one is doing the whole task by himself, neither is liable. You can try to figure out those cases and check them against those in Shabbat 2:a.

As if that’s not enough, in the following pages, this discussion will develop: maybe those 2 that are 4 that are 8, are actually 12? How do we figure? Well, where exactly is the line between picking up an object and placing it? It’s not just an up and down because that would mean the object landed straight back in the hands of the giver (or taker), so how much can it travel? For how long? Where can it be placed? What constitute what kind of domain for the purposes of this conversation??

But, before diving into the minutia of million details or feeling totally overwhelmed by it and closing our Talmud altogether, maybe let’s pause for a moment and think about the greater topic at stake here. The idea of having and defining “domains”, and of happens when we move things between them; how big is private; how do we explain it; how big is “public”; are there places that are neither (for the Talmud, yes) and more. In short, everything we might call nowadays transportation and its critical impact on our lives. Sitting at home in a self-imposed semi-isolation, listening to news about the need to lessen buses and trains, I wonder, if there could not have been a better (or worse, depends-) time to learn this. We thrive on movement, on coming, going, bringing, taking… we take pride in how many places we visited; how far we traveled; how global and worldly we are, all thing that are restricted on Shabbat. All of a sudden, it’s perfectly clear why this is the opening to tractate Shabbat, discussing a day whose name already means – stop, pause, rest, strike. There’s no better way to say slow down, then to delve into the structure and limitations of movements. For better or worse, we might be learning this difficult lesson right now.

May it be a Shabbat Shalom.

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A little something for Purim

Purim, what a day! And the megillah, what a story! The only book in the Tanach where G-d’s name is not mentioned, or is it? There’s an idea that wherever in the Scroll of Esther it says, hamelech, The king, the text actually means “The King” as in G-d almighty, as opposed to where it says “king achashverosh”, who’s just the local king. This is but one small example of the layers and nuances of the megillah, a story that at first seems like a version of Aladdin and other stories. Indeed, just from its name we learn that Megillat Esther has an aspect which is revealed (megillah related to leglaot, to uncover) and another that is totally concealed (Esther relating to hester, hidden).

A short line in The Bnai Yisaschar (Chasidic commentary written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira 1783-1841 which offers Kabalistic insights into the Jewish year) opened my mind to a new idea and helped see yet another possibility to the story and its background. The Bnai Yisaschar points out that the numerical value of the word Hamelech and Haman – are identical, each 95, and both together equal to 10 times chai (18), another megillah coincidence?

Either way, both names do equal the same numerical value, as if Hamelech and Haman are just the same. But, how can that be? Surely, G-d is all good, while Haman is all bad!

That is some of what Zoroastrianism (or Mazdayasna), one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions, taught. Per Wikipedia, Zoroastrianism “is a multi-tendency faith centered on a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology… it is ascribed to the teachings of the Iranian-speaking spiritual leader Zoroaster (also known as Zarathushtra)…. and although considered ancient, it enters recorded history in the 5th century BCE”, right around the time the Jews find themselves under the Persian rule.

If so, is the megillah (also) a treaty against this newly found religious ideology teaching of the constant fight between “good” and “evil”, by telling a story where good and evil get all mixed up and one can’t tell “who’s Mordechai and who’s Haman”? Mordechai, by the way, is possibly based on – or related to – the local god’s name, Marduch, as is Esther – Ishtar.

Top that with the fact that Purim suffers from other dualities and multiplicities. The Talmudic tractate that deals with Purim opens with the words:

“The Megillah is read on the 11th, on the 12th, on the 13th, on the 14th or on the 15th of the month of Adar…” Who can imagine such an instruction given with regards to Shabbat? Or the Pesach Haggadah?? ‘Sure, read it anytime during any these days’… ? The holiday has a name that is a plural: “therefore these days were named Purim after the pur”… (chapter 9:26), but, if we name it after the pur (cast lots), shouldn’t we name it… well, “Pur”?? Instead, we name it after, not one but “many lots”. And then the megillah ends with …”to observe these two days…. at their proper times… (chapter 9:27-31), again, indicating duality but one that unites under the One.

The prophet Isaiah says in this seemingly outrageous verse: יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י ה’ עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה  —- I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil— I the LORD do all these things (45:7). There is no one else; Haman, no Haman – it’s all part of the same One power. According to some (Kdushat Levi), this is also why we drink on Purim, to get a glimpse of a reminder of this Oneness, above all, where there’s no distinction between good and bad.

For us, who are faced with the ups and downs of life, this is not easy. We judge things by how they meet us. There is also a danger in the “oneness” of becoming fatalistic all the way to the, ‘eh, who cares if anyone is suffering; didn’t we just learn it’s all good anyway’. This, I believe, is wrong and dangerous and nothing more than an excuse for us to not act, reach out, and do our best to make the world better where we can, as if it all depends on us.

But once a year, at least, we remember that there is and must be a silver-lining in a bad situation; that there’s a risk for bad in the seeming good. We mishmash everything and admit we really don’t know which way is up because it’s all part of the One. This is todays…

Happy Purim & Shushan Purim!

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Taste of Daf: Siyum Brachot and some local scenes

With recent world health mayhem, you’d think the streets would be empty, but no. On a crowded city bus, a young Arab mother in traditional clothing with baby in stroller and shopping bags, strikes a conversation with an older religious Jewish couple, a face brightening when she finds out they speak her language. The conversation continues to flow and the bus continues to fill as it stops-and-goes through the jammed streets, packed with tourists, groups and giant tour buses. The Arab lady bids the couple farewell, getting up to give her seat to an older Jewish woman, and makes her way to the door. At her stop, she struggles with the stroller and bags. The stroller gets stuck between the bus’s back door and the curb; the driver is trying to close the door and leave. Hallo, Hallo! yell two angry yeshiva students and a secular couple who rush to aid the Arab lady and her baby to safety. It’s a Thursday afternoon in Jerusalem.

Elections day. If it wasn’t funny, I’d say, we are eagerly waiting for the next one. What’s not to like? A sunny Monday off. In the US it’s been figured out long ago: MLK, Presidents’, Memorial and others, almost monthly, not to mention Sundays. And suddenly, we got it too: no need to schvitz in the sukkah; hurry to shul to not miss the shofar; eat crumbling matzah or recover from an all-night learning. We were just “normal people” having a national holiday. And the weather! Wow. It was fantastic. We couldn’t even get a seat for a late lunch of chumus on the beach, because the line was so long. There were gliders. And surfers. And swimmers. The boardwalk was packed. People in different languages, garments; anything from bathing-suits to kippot to galabiehs and more. We could do this more often, much more often. Only maybe for a different reason.

Seriously, is it just me, or is it so obvious? If aliens landed here, I don’t think they’d be able to tell the two candidates apart: Similar ages. Looks. Even same fist name! Proud IDF background. And, both behaving like two-year-old in the sandbox fighting over a piece of a thing instead of a thing called peace. And health. Yes, somehow in my mind, all this and the fact that people “don’t have discipline” and don’t sufficiently listen to the health ministry’s instructions to be “respectful” of the law and the public, are related. Please do model the same care you want to see. Then maybe we’ll have our own B. Monday we can celebrate yearly.

Siyum Tractate Brachot

Recently I overheard someone discuss what they’d take into “quarantine” (how fast we go from bizarre to noraml??). G-d forbid, if I find myself in isolation, this is The book (ok, one of The books) I want with me, especially the last chapter. Here are just a few (very few) “appetizers” that appear in our core writings book (pages 55-57): 

שְׁמוּאֵל כִּי הֲוָה חָזֵי חֶלְמָא בִּישָׁא אָמַר: ״וַחֲלֹמוֹת הַשָּׁוְא יְדַבֵּרוּ״. כִּי הֲוָה חָזֵי חֶלְמָא טָבָא אָמַר: וְכִי הַחֲלוֹמוֹת הַשָּׁוְא יְדַבֵּרוּ? וְהָכְתִיב ״בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ״!

Shmuel, when he would see a bad dream, would say: “And the dreams speak falsely” (Zechariah 10:2). When he would see a good dream, he would say: And do dreams speak falsely? Isn’t it written: “I speak with him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6)?….

Shmuel uses the same verse as a proof text, once with a question mark and once without; both work. What do we know about dreams? Yes. Are they real or false? Yes. Does the interpretation matter or do they stand on their own? Yes. Do they mean anything or are they just a bunch of nonsense? Are they impact by our daily life or are they pure prophecies? Yes and yes.

אָמַר רַבִּי בִּיזְנָא בַּר זַבְדָּא אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אָמַר רַבִּי פַּנְדָּא אָמַר רַב נַחוּם אָמַר רַבִּי בִּירִים מִשּׁוּם זָקֵן אֶחָד, וּמַנּוּ — רַבִּי בְּנָאָה: עֶשְׂרִים וְאַרְבָּעָה פּוֹתְרֵי חֲלוֹמוֹת הָיוּ בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם, פַּעַם אַחַת חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם וְהָלַכְתִּי אֵצֶל כּוּלָּם, וּמַה שֶּׁפָּתַר לִי זֶה לֹא פָּתַר לִי זֶה, וְכוּלָּם נִתְקַיְּימוּ בִּי. לְקַיֵּים מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כׇּל הַחֲלוֹמוֹת הוֹלְכִים אַחַר הַפֶּה״.

In a long chain of those transmitting this statement, it is said that Rabbi Bizna bar Zavda said that Rabbi Akiva said that Rabbi Panda said that Rav Naḥum said that Rabbi Birayim said in the name of one elder, and who is he, Rabbi Bena’a: There were twenty-four interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem. One time, I dreamed a dream and went to each of them to interpret it. What one interpreted for me the other did not interpret for me, and, nevertheless, all of the interpretations were realized in me, to fulfill that which is stated: All dreams follow the mouth of the interpreter.


אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: הִשְׁכִּים וְנָפַל לוֹ פָּסוּק לְתוֹךְ פִּיו, הֲרֵי זוֹ נְבוּאָה קְטַנָּה.

With regard to the veracity of dreams, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: One who awakened in the morning and a specific verse happens into his mouth, it is a minor prophecy and an indication that the content of the verse will be fulfilled.


אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: אֵין מַרְאִין לוֹ לְאָדָם אֶלָּא מֵהִרְהוּרֵי לִבּוֹ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״אַנְתְּ מַלְכָּא רַעְיוֹנָךְ עַל מִשְׁכְּבָךְ סְלִקוּ״. וְאִיבָּעֵית אֵימָא מֵהָכָא: ״וְרַעְיוֹנֵי לִבְבָךְ תִּנְדַּע״? — אָמַר רָבָא: תֵּדַע, דְּלָא מַחֲווּ לֵיהּ לְאִינִשׁ לָא דִּקְלָא דְּדַהֲבָא וְלָא פִּילָא דְּעָיֵיל בְּקוֹפָא דְמַחְטָא.

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan said: A person is shown in his dream only the thoughts of his heart when he was awake, as evidenced by what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, as it is stated: “As for you, O king, your thoughts came upon your bed, what should come to pass hereafter” (Daniel 2:29). And if you wish, say instead that it is derived from here, a related verse: “And that you may know the thoughts of your heart” (Daniel 2:30). How will you know the thoughts of your heart? By their being revealed to you in a dream. Rava said: Know that this is the case, for one is neither shown a golden palm tree nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle in a dream (we can’t dream of things we have no image for).

אֲמַר לֵיהּ קֵיסָר לְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּרַבִּי חֲנַנְיָא: אָמְרִיתוּ דְּחָכְמִיתוּ טוּבָא, אֵימָא לִי מַאי חָזֵינָא בְּחֶלְמַאי. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: חָזֵית דִּמְשַׁחֲרִי לָךְ פָּרְסָאֵי וְגָרְבִי בָּךְ, וְרָעֲיִי בָּךְ שִׁקְצֵי בְּחוּטְרָא דְּדַהֲבָא. הַרְהַר כּוּלֵּיהּ יוֹמָא, וּלְאוּרְתָּא חֲזָא. אֲמַר לֵיהּ שַׁבּוּר מַלְכָּא, לִשְׁמוּאֵל: אָמְרִיתוּ דְּחָכְמִיתוּ טוּבָא, אֵימָא לִי מַאי חָזֵינָא בְּחֶלְמַאי. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: חָזֵית דְּאָתוּ רוֹמָאֵי וְשָׁבוּ לָךְ, וְטָחֲנִי בָּךְ קַשְׁיָיתָא בְּרִחְיָיא דְּדַהֲבָא. הַרְהַר כּוּלֵּיהּ יוֹמָא, וּלְאוּרְתָּא חֲזָא.

On a similar note, the Gemara relates that the Roman emperor said to Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Rabbi Ḥananya: You Jews say that you are extremely wise. If that is so, tell me what I will see in my dream. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: You will see the Persians capture you, and enslave you, and force you to herd unclean animals with a golden staff. He thought the entire day about those images and that night he saw it in his dream. King Shapur of Persia said to Shmuel: You Jews say that you are extremely wise. If that is so, tell me what I will see in my dream. Shmuel said to him: You will see the Romans come and take you into captivity and force you to grind date pits in mills of gold. He thought the entire day about those images, and that night he saw it in his dream.

And does money matter in dreams?? Abaye and Rava tell what happened to them: 

בַּר הֶדְיָא מְפַשַּׁר חֶלְמֵי הֲוָה. מַאן דְּיָהֵיב לֵיהּ אַגְרָא — מְפַשַּׁר לֵיהּ לִמְעַלְּיוּתָא, וּמַאן דְּלָא יָהֵיב לֵיהּ אַגְרָא — מְפַשַּׁר לֵיהּ לִגְרִיעוּתָא. אַבָּיֵי וְרָבָא חֲזוֹ חֶלְמָא. אַבָּיֵי יְהֵיב לֵיהּ זוּזָא, וְרָבָא לָא יְהֵיב לֵיהּ. אָמְרִי לֵיהּ: אַקְרִינַן בְּחֶלְמִין ״שׁוֹרְךָ טָבוּחַ לְעֵינֶיךָ וְגוֹ׳״. לְרָבָא אֲמַר לֵיהּ: פָּסֵיד עִסְקָךְ וְלָא אַהֲנִי לָךְ לְמֵיכַל מֵעוּצְבָּא דְּלִבָּךְ. לְאַבָּיֵי אֲמַר לֵיהּ: מַרְוַוח עִסְקָךְ וְלָא אַהֲנִי לָךְ לְמֵיכַל מֵחֶדְוָא דְּלִבָּךְ.

The Gemara relates: Bar Haddaya was an interpreter of dreams. For one who gave him a fee, he would interpret the dream favorably, and for one who did not give him a fee, he would interpret the dream unfavorably. The Gemara relates: There was an incident in which both Abaye and Rava saw an identical dream and they asked bar Haddaya to interpret it. Abaye gave him money and paid his fee, while Rava did not give him money. They said to him: The verse: “Your ox shall be slain before your eyes and you shall not eat thereof” (Deuteronomy 28:31) was read to us in our dream. He interpreted their dream and to Rava he said: Your business will be lost and you will derive no pleasure from eating because of the extreme sadness of your heart. To Abaye he said: Your business will profit and you will be unable to eat due to the joy in your heart….

And here’s by far, one of the very craziest moments in this exchange. There is a long list which could appear in any “Dreams” book: if you dream about xyz, it means… As you struggle through it, slightly shocked from details and insight, you come across this:

הָרוֹאֶה אַוּוֹז בַּחֲלוֹם — יְצַפֶּה לְחׇכְמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״חׇכְמוֹת בַּחוּץ תָּרֹנָּה״. וְהַבָּא עָלֶיהָ הָוֵי רֹאשׁ יְשִׁיבָה.

אָמַר רַב אָשֵׁי: אֲנִי רְאִיתִיהָ, וּבָאתִי עָלֶיהָ, וּסְלֵקִית לִגְדוּלָּה.

One who sees a goose in a dream should anticipate wisdom, as it is stated: “Wisdoms cry aloud in the streets, she utters her voice in the broad places” (Proverbs 1:20); geese tend to sound their voices. One who dreams that he has relations with the goose will become head of the yeshiva. Rav Ashi said: I saw a goose and had relations with it in my dream and I ascended to greatness and became head of the yeshiva.

Rav Ashi, what are you saying?? Is bestiality suddenly ok? What’s going on? But maybe they knew the line between imagination and reality; between metaphor and action; between what shows up in the subconscious and what one does. They were not afraid to talk about it, to go all the way to the edge of mental possibilities, touch it, and come safely back.

Shabbat Shalom.









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ToD: Brachot 55a: Perhaps you were in God’s shadow

The last chapter in Tractate Brachot is a “dream”, because much of it is about dreams, and on that, next week. The rest is dedicated to a catch-all of anything around blessings we didn’t get to until now, like what to say when we hear thunder. Or see lightening. Or are saved from trouble, what kind of trouble. And much more.

Among it all, Rabbi Yochanan teaches that “there are three things that the Holy One Blessed be He, proclaims by Himself”; three things that G-d announces, not through messengers and angels, by directly. One of them, which could have been useful now, is a good leader. The idea is taken from the verse in Exodus when G-d introduces Bezalel, the artist who will build the mishkan (the pre-temple temple): “See, I have called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 31:1–2), says the Almighty to Moses.

In the Gemara’s associative manner, the conversation takes off from there, and tell us, that not only did G-d “announce” of Bezal’el, but consulted. The text tells us (italics – from the Talmud with mostly Sefaria’s translation):

אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק: אֵין מַעֲמִידִין פַּרְנָס עַל הַצִּבּוּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן נִמְלָכִים בַּצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״רְאוּ קָרָא ה׳ בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל״,

With regard to Bezalel’s appointment, Rabbi Yitzḥak said: One may only appoint a leader over a community if he consults with the community and they agree to the appointment, as it is stated: “And Moses said unto the children of Israel: See (in the plural form), the Lord has called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 35:30).

אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: מֹשֶׁה, הָגוּן עָלֶיךָ בְּצַלְאֵל?

The Lord said to Moses: Moses, is Bezalel a suitable appointment in your eyes?

G-d is asking Moses for advice, and Moses,, graciously, accepts G-d’s choice:

אָמַר לוֹ: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אִם לְפָנֶיךָ הָגוּן — לְפָנַי לֹא כׇּל שֶׁכֵּן!

Moses said to Him: Master of the universe, if he is a suitable appointment in Your eyes, then all the more so in my eyes.

G-d then says, according to the rabbis, that this is not enough. He needs to ask the people, who will likewise accept. Do they have any other options? Bezal’el is G-d’s choice! Nevertheless, they are asked:

אָמַר לוֹ: אַף עַל פִּי כֵן, לֵךְ אֱמוֹר לָהֶם. הָלַךְ וְאָמַר לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל: הָגוּן עֲלֵיכֶם בְּצַלְאֵל?

אָמְרוּ לוֹ: אִם לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּלְפָנֶיךָ הוּא הָגוּן, לְפָנֵינוּ לֹא כׇּל שֶׁכֵּן!

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: Nevertheless, go and tell Israel and ask their opinion. Moses went and said to Israel: Is Bezalel suitable in your eyes? They said to him: If he is suitable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and in your eyes, all the more so he is suitable in our eyes.

What was so special about Bezalel? He was wise. What was so special about wisdom?

אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: בְּצַלְאֵל עַל שֵׁם חׇכְמָתוֹ נִקְרָא. בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁאָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: לֵךְ אֱמוֹר לוֹ לִבְצַלְאֵל ״עֲשֵׂה לִי מִשְׁכָּן אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים״.

הָלַךְ מֹשֶׁה וְהָפַךְ וְאָמַר לוֹ: ״עֲשֵׂה אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים וּמִשְׁכָּן״.

When the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: Go say to Bezalel, “Make a tabernacle, an ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 31:7–11), Moses went and reversed the order and told Bezalel: “Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle” (see Exodus 25–26).

G-d gave the instruction for the construction of the mishkan, and Moses passes those on, but not exactly. Maybe because Moses was not an artist, he didn’t think the order mattered, and maybe he was testing Bezalel to see if he’s really that good. Bezalel catches him right away:

אָמַר לוֹ: מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ, מִנְהָגוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם אָדָם בּוֹנֶה בַּיִת וְאַחַר כָּךְ מַכְנִיס לְתוֹכוֹ כֵּלִים, וְאַתָּה אוֹמֵר ״עֲשֵׂה לִי אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים וּמִשְׁכָּן״, כֵּלִים שֶׁאֲנִי עוֹשֶׂה, לְהֵיכָן אַכְנִיסֵם? שֶׁמָּא כָּךְ אָמַר לְךָ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, ״עֲשֵׂה מִשְׁכָּן אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים״?!

He (Bezal’el) said to Moses: Moses, our teacher, the standard practice throughout the world is that a person builds a house and only afterward places the vessels in the house, and you say to me: Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle. If I do so in the order you have commanded, the vessels that I make, where shall I put them? Perhaps God told you the following: “Make a tabernacle, ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 36).

אָמַר לוֹ: שֶׁמָּא בְּצֵל אֵל הָיִיתָ וְיָדַעְתָּ?

Moses said to Bezalel: Perhaps you were in God’s shadow [betzel El], and you knew precisely what He said?!

Bezalel intuited G-d’s commands and therefore was named betzel-El, “in G-d’s shadow”, as if he was in G-d’s shadow, and that’s how he knew what’s needed. Further, there is a deeper discussion about the place of details and order: does it matter or not? Take for example, writing an email. I can make all sorts of mistakes in the body of the mail. If writing a friend, I can also mix up the order of things. But, if I put even as much as a comma instead of a period in the address itself, chances are the mail will not reach its desired destination. Where is the line between being meticulous to no end and between careless? Yes. In this case, Bezal’el knew the line, but it wasn’t just because “G-d said so”. It had reasoning too.

But what is perhaps most touching to me, is G-d consulting Moses and the People. This text is not in the Torah! It’s our sages imparting on us a certain kind of relationship with each other and with the Divine. G-d would have most likely done whatever She does. Or not. Only G-d knows. But what we’re left with is the importance of the other, of listening, paying attention, reaching out.

We just entered the month of Adar with Purim ahead. Purim is the only holiday which, in its original form, can not be celebrated alone. And this is what we’re left with, that the Torah and mishkan (Tabernacle) and maybe even G-d Herself, are not things for their own right, but there for us to use to connect.

Shabbat Shalom.


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TOD Brachot 46-47: Traveling on a Donkey & washing Hands…


The Torah tells us to honor parents and my extension, big brothers and teachers. This is one of the top five, and yet it has its boundaries. The question often comes up, what to do in situations of abuse: do we still have an obligation of “kavod”? and what does it mean? Notice, that the Torah told us to love G-d and our “neighbor” but did not tell us to love parents. This can be because love here was not a priority or the Torah realized how complicated this can be or we don’t quite understand “love” and “honor” and what actions are required and derived from either.

The Talmud in this week’s reading, sets one such limit on honoring great teachers. As the text is meandering in its usual associative manner, we’re not near discussion about honor, but rather about “benching”, blessing after the meal, which leads us to looking at hand washing before and after food. From there we remember something (Brachot 46:b-47:a):

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: אֵין מְכַבְּדִין לֹא בִּדְרָכִים וְלֹא בִּגְשָׁרִים וְלֹא בְּיָדַיִם מְזוֹהָמוֹת.

The Sages teach that there are times and places where one does not show respect. There include roads, bridges and dirty hands (i.e., with regard to washing hands at the end of a meal).

Then the Gemara follows up with a  story, which has nothing to do with the hands, but with a journey taken:

רָבִין וְאַבָּיֵי הֲווֹ קָא אָזְלִי בְּאוֹרְחָא, קַדְמֵיהּ חֲמָרֵיהּ דְּרַבִּין לִדְאַבָּיֵי וְלָא אֲמַר לֵיהּ ״נֵיזִיל מָר״. אֲמַר: מִדִּסְלִיק הַאי מֵרַבָּנַן מִמַּעְרְבָא, גַּס לֵיהּ דַּעְתֵּיהּ. כִּי מְטָא לְפִתְחָא דְבֵי כְנִישְׁתָּא אֲמַר לֵיהּ: נֵיעַל מָר. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: וְעַד הַשְׁתָּא לָאו מָר אֲנָא? אֲמַר לֵיהּ, הָכִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אֵין מְכַבְּדִין אֶלָּא בְּפֶתַח שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ מְזוּזָה.

Ravin and Abaye were traveling along the road on donkeys. Ravin’s donkey preceded Abaye’s and Ravin did not say to Abaye: Let the Master go first. Abaye said to himself: Ever since this one of the Sages, Ravin, ascended from the West, he has become arrogant. When they reached the door of the synagogue, Ravin said to Abaye: Let the Master enter first. Abaye said to him: Until now was I not Master? Ravin said to him: Rabbi Yoḥanan said the following: One only defers to those greater than he at a doorway that has a mezuza (or that is worthwhile of the mezuza).

Two sages are traveling together on donkeys. The road, paths and bridges too, are likely narrow and often, dangerous. This is not the right place to begin a ‘you go ahead’, ‘no, you go ahead’, ‘no, I insist, you go’… This is a place that is purposeful and necessitates movement forward. However, Abaye does not attribute Ravin’s considerate behavior to his learning and manners, but rather, thinks of it as rude, for Ravin does not let the master ahead. Further, he thinks “to himself” (how does the Gemara know what anyone thinks to himself??) that since Ravin has “ascended from the West”, his manners have deteriorated. Where is the West for the Babylonian sages? Indeed, it is Eretz Yisrael. Notice two things: 1. Abaye talks about “ascending from”… while we most often speak of going up TO Israel, and down elsewhere, here, Abaye thinks of Babylon as the up and Ravin coming from a place further “down”… oh oh! The land of Israel as “down”? then we see that this is how he thinks of its sages, surely Ravin is rude for not calling Abaye master and not letting him go first. But Ravin uses it to teach Abaye an “Israeli halacha”, taught by Rabbi Yochanan, the editor of the Jerusalem Talmud: respect “games” have their place and time; not everywhere, but where is appropriate and where it has meaning. In a structure that holds a mezuza – or could hold one (in those days, synagogues did not have one), you go ahead, but not on the road, where we are both equal, human travelers.

But how interesting, the tension between “diaspora” and “The Land”, then and now: who is “up”? which direction is the “ascend”? Do we attribute behaviors that are not like “ours” to learning, tradition or some other “inferior” culture we misunderstand?

And how is hand-washing here? That too is considered like a act holding a danger, so just do it. Honor those who deserve honor, later.

Shabbat Shalom.

Walking donkeys on the suspension bridge in Nepal


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TOD: Brachot 41:a: Who’s on first?

It’s Shabbat lunch and we’re sitting around the table after the “meal”, talking and “schmoozing”, when the host brings in a tray of nuts and dried fruits and some chocolate dessert. Should we say a special blessing? Should we say the blessing after the meal and then start a new “set”? what blessing shall we say before and what after? And what order should we bless and eat this food?

First, let us note – again, the extensive amount of time our sages spend on how we should consume food appropriately. That is the seemingly primary topic.  Behind it is a discussion about setting priorities and preferences. Is there room for individual taste? Or is everything prescribed? We join a discussion about the Mishna. Here we are in Brachot 41:a:

הָיוּ לְפָנָיו מִינִין הַרְבֵּה וְכוּ׳: אָמַר עוּלָּא: מַחֲלוֹקֶת בְּשֶׁבִּרְכוֹתֵיהֶן שָׁווֹת, דְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה סָבַר מִין שִׁבְעָה עָדִיף, וְרַבָּנַן סָבְרִי מִין חָבִיב עָדִיף. אֲבָל בְּשֶׁאֵין בִּרְכוֹתֵיהֶן שָׁווֹת — דִּבְרֵי הַכֹּל מְבָרֵךְ עַל זֶה, וְחוֹזֵר וּמְבָרֵךְ עַל זֶה.

The mishna cited a dispute with regard to the order in which one is supposed to recite the blessings when there were many types of food before him. Ulla said: This dispute is specifically in a case where the blessings to be recited over each type of food are the same. Rabbi Yehuda holds: The type of the seven species takes precedence, and the Rabbis hold: The preferred type takes precedence. However, when their blessings are not the same, everyone agrees that one must recite a blessing over this type of food and then recite another blessing over that.

There are two opinions: Rabbi Yehuda thinks that if we have on the table something from the “Seven Species” for which the Land of Israel – ״אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ״. wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive oil and dates, then those take precedence, and in this order of importance; The sages think that one can say a blessing over whichever food they prefer and want to start eating first.

So if I have on the table olives, grapes, avocado, persimmon, dates, figs, apples and pomelo, for example, rabbi Yehuda would say to start with the grapes, since they are the ones mentioned first in the verse above (form Deuteronomy 8:8), while the rabbi will have no problem with me starting with the pomelo, then the avocado, then the olives… while saving the grapes for last.

On the surface, this may be a simple discussion, slightly intruding, slightly minutia, ‘oh, you again, caring about the 10 seconds between my eating a grape, a date and an apple? They all share the same blessing of “creator of the fruit of the tree” – בורא פרי העץ – why bother??

But maybe, it’s about my relationship with the greater community of Israel. Food, is not just about “food”. Food is about relationship, between me and myself, between me and my G-d and between me and my community. This is not a theoretical thing but something we practice daily. To what extent?? In this case, can I eat whatever I like first, or must I pause, reflect on the Land, possibly far away, and put that first, even before the slice of fruit I really, really want? Do I ever get a break from my “peoplehood” or am I constantly first of all a member of the klal, community, and only then, me, myself and I? This is a constant tension in our life, whether as partners, parents, workers… Rabbi Yehuda says, you’re “on” all the time, sort of like a wedding ring you never take off; any move away is a move away. The sages say, you’re within “range”; you’re not eating anything not kosher; you’re saying your blessings and you just want a minute to be an individual, so — we “let you”, maybe so that you stay a unique human being, and our community remains both diverse and cohesive. They do hold the majority opinion, but the debate continues to this very day.

Shabbat Shalom.

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TOD (Taste of Daf): Brachot 34:A – The Power of Blessings, Yeast, Salt & Saying No

I thought of starting like this: “since we are in Tractate Brachot, it may be no wonder that we’re now discussing food and its blessings”. Then I remembered that there are so many discussions about food in every tractate, each for its own reason. So maybe start like this: we’re discussing food because food is “it”. In the opening of the Book of Genesis (2:17), we are introduced for the first time to the root tz.v.h. – command and commandment (mitzvah), but also related to togetherness (tzavta). It is when G-d commands the human being “of every tree of the garden you are to eat (yes, eat)”… He later excludes the Tree of Knowledge, but that’s beyond us right now. What’s important that our connection to G-d goes through food. This helps us understand this week’s reading when the people ask and receive water and the manna. True, they are “thirsty” and “hungry”, and we assume it’s for physical sustenance, but maybe, they also thirst and hunger for that connection with Hashem.

Food and G-d continue to be connected in the Talmud too. Actually, food and other things as well, such as sex, relationship and good behavior. In the pages in front of us this week, the sages quote the Mishna that tells us which blessings to say before which food. The Gemara then asks, mina hane mili?? That is, where did you get this from? Or – how do you know we are supposed to say blessings before food at all??!! The Torah only tells us (Deuteronomy 8:10) that we should eat (what? how much?), be satisfied (how much is that?) and then bless (say, great thanks or is there a formula? Only one? And why?), but nothing before!! How can the Mishna then tell us “out of the blue” to say this and that blessing before? It seems that the Mishna already knows, in principle, much of what the Gemara will unpack. After a complex discussion trying to finding “proofs”, it just lets it go: “everything belong to Hashem”, they quote from the Psalms (24:1). Using anything requires at least an acknowledgement that it’s not ours and we’re borrowing it, whether a potato, grapes or bread, for the sake of our relationship; sort of like a child who gets an allowance for helping around the house, and then takes a portion and gets the parents flowers for Shabbat or a birthday gift. Why bother? The parents can go out and shop for her/himself. Nevertheless, the fact that the math turns out the same, doesn’t matter.

Food is also used for metaphors and to make a point. Here, the mishna teaches that one who substitute a communal prayer leader who made a mistake in the middle of the Amida prayer should not refuse when approached to replace him. The Gemara discusses the halakha as to what is the proper conduct when one is approached to serve as prayer leader (Brachot 34:a):

גְּמָ׳ תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: הָעוֹבֵר לִפְנֵי הַתֵּיבָה — צָרִיךְ לְסָרֵב. וְאִם אֵינוֹ מְסָרֵב — דּוֹמֶה לְתַבְשִׁיל שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מֶלַח. וְאִם מְסָרֵב יוֹתֵר מִדַּאי — דּוֹמֶה לְתַבְשִׁיל שֶׁהִקְדִּיחַתּוּ מֶלַח..

GEMARA: The Sages taught in a baraita: One who is approached to pass before the ark to serve as prayer leader, for the sake of propriety should refuse, to avoid creating the impression that he is too eager. And if he does not refuse, but jumps at the opportunity, he is like cooked food without salt, which is to say that he acts in bad taste. However, if he refuses too much this is similarly inappropriate, as he is like cooked food that was ruined by too much salt.

כֵּיצַד הוּא עוֹשֶׂה: פַּעַם רִאשׁוֹנָה — יְסָרֵב, שְׁנִיָּה — מְהַבְהֵב, שְׁלִישִׁית — פּוֹשֵׁט אֶת רַגְלָיו וְיוֹרֵד

So how should he act? The appropriate conduct when approached to serve as communal prayer leader is as follows: When approached the first time, one should refuse; the second time, one should vacillate like a wick that has just begun to catch a flame but is not yet burning; and the third time, he should stretch his legs and descend before the ark.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: שְׁלֹשָׁה רוּבָּן — קָשֶׁה, וּמִיעוּטָן — יָפֶה, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: שְׂאוֹר, וּמֶלַח, וְסָרְבָנוּת.

On this note, the Gemara cites that which the Sages taught in a baraita: There are three things that are harmful in excess but are beneficial when used sparingly. They are: Leavening (yeast) in dough, salt in a cooked dish and refusal for the sake of propriety.

Yeast impacts volume; salt impacts taste; Saying no impact how we move about in the world, where one ends and one begins. May we find the right balance of all three.

Shabbat Shalom & Happy Tu Bishvat (coming up this Monday)

a lengthy discussion: should olive oil have it own blessing, like wine?? I would have voted yes… (Brachot 35:b)








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