A Peace of Torah: Gittin 59

Perhaps the most famous Talmudic story is that of the convert who wants to learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot. For good reason Shammai threw him out of his home yet Hillel famously responded "what is hateful to you do not do to others, all the rest is commentary, go and learn." (Shabbat 31a) This is a beautiful and profound answer, much more than we generally realize. 

Yoma 35: Not Such a Good Excuse

One of the most difficult things for we humans to do is to admit that we are wrong. Even when we know we have acted in ways that leave much to be desired, we are great at offering excuses, rationalizations, justifications, and the like. This is especially so when we are dealing with an act of omission, rather than one of commission. There are always good reasons to explain why we did not do something.

V'zot HaBracha: Four Giants

“And Moshe was one hundred and twenty years when he died” (Devarim 34:7). It is a beautiful, if somewhat unrealistic, custom to offer blessings to those celebrating a birthday that they should live to be 120. While this quantity of life is (usually) unrealistic, the blessing to live to 120 relates not only to quantity, but to the quality of life; “his eyesight did not diminish and his strength did not wane” (ibid). 

Pesachim 66: People Power

One of the underlying pillars of democratic thought is confidence in the people to make the right choices, and in leaders to respect those choices. In a healthy democracy, people are well informed, allowing for vigorous debate; and leaders have the best interests of the state at heart. The will of the people is constricted by the Constitution, which reflects the core values that are sacrosanct—and as such, can be changed only with great difficulty and a consensus to do so[1].

Pesachim 66a: A Humble Lesson for Hillel

While Korbanot tzibbur, public offerings, were sacrificed on Shabbat and Yom Tov--and serve as the basis for our davening mussaf on these days--private sacrifices were not. 

Similar to a public offering, the korban pesach was brought at a fixed time. On the other hand, the obligation to bring such rests on the individual, leading to uncertainty as to whether it may be brought on Shabbat. 

Shabbat 46a: Going Barefoot

One of the inspiring things we see in the many stories found in the Talmud is the realistic portrayal of our great sages. We see not only much greatness, but also the occasional lapses. Our sages were not averse to displaying their feelings, and were unafraid to both heap praise and scorn upon their colleagues. “Rav Avia visited Rava's home. His feet were full of mud, [yet] he sat down on a bed before Rava. Rava was annoyed and wanted to bother him” (Shabbat 46a).

Shabbat 31b: One-Foot Judaism

One of the most famous Talmudic stories is that of the potential convert who conditioned his conversion on whether or not he could be taught the Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai, bothered by the chutzpah of this non-Jew (imagine going to a nuclear physicist and asking to learn all of physics while standing on one foot!), “pushed him with the construction board in his hand”. Hillel, non-plussed by this ludicrous request, simply answered, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn”.

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