Imagine if the Torah had not been given. While for many, such a thought is unthinkable—“for they are our life and the length of our days, and on them we will meditate day and night”—for many, actually, most Jews, such is the reality. Raised with little connection to Judaism, with little or no Jewish education, and part of the 70% of Jews who do not attend synagogue on Yom Kippur, the Torah, for all intents and purposes, was not given.
I often ask my high school students what they consider the most difficult mitzvah to observe. The two most common answers I receive are keeping Shabbat and keeping kosher. Considering that I teach in a communal high school where the overwhelming majority of the students are not shomer Shabbat and few are strictly kosher, this is pretty much what one would expect to hear. From the outside looking in, these mitzvot do appear most difficult—and for one not brought up keeping these mitzvot, they are.
“Rabbi Elai said: A person is recognized through three ways: b’koso, b’kiso, u’b’kaaso” (Eiruvin 65b).
This teaching of Rav Elai, one of the more famous teachings of our Sages, advises that if one wants to get to know someone, one should look “in their cup, their pocket, and their anger” (it has a much better ring to it in the Hebrew).
Two of the most fundamental mitzvot are those of prayer and Talmud Torah. Observant Jews pray three times a day, and for those who daven with a minyan, the time spent going to shul, davening, and coming back home can easily take up to two hours a day - a rather startling amount of time that does not even include Shabbat and Yom Tov. There is little need to dwell on the importance of learning: Talmud Torah k’neged kulam, Talmud Torah is equal to them all.
“One cannot compare one who learns the chapter 100 times to one who learns it 101 times” (Chagiga 9b).
The mitzvah of Talmud Torah involves much more than spending time learning Torah, important as that may be. The mitzvah requires that we become knowledgeable in Torah to the best of our ability, understanding what we learn and remembering it. This requires reviewing that which we have learned over and over and over again.
One of the hardest hit industries of the pandemic has been the restaurant industry. Many restaurants have permanently closed; surely, many more will close in the coming months, and those that survive may never fully recover.
The focus of masechet Shabbat is the definition of the parameters of the 39 prohibited melachot, creative activities prohibited on Shabbat. Of the 39 melachot, it is that of carrying that, by a large margin, takes up more Talmudic discussion than any other. There may even be more discussion on this melacha than the other 38 melachot combined. The other 38 melachot are also creative activities that must cease on Shabbat, thereby acknowledging G-d as the ultimate Creator.
In Talmudic times, it was common for one to wear tefillin all day long. As the Torah does not limit its observance in any way, there would seem to be no reason to limit time spent wearing them to a few minutes a day. Even the exemption from wearing tefillin at night and on Shabbat is subject to much Talmudic dispute, with many asserting that Shabbat z’man tefillin hu (“Shabbat is a time for [the wearing] of tefillin”).
As more and more of our economy runs on credit, as we increasingly pay for purchases with debit cards or even smartphones, the necessity—or even the capability—of using cash is becoming less and less common.
Truth be told, this not a modern phenomenon. “Rabbi Yochanan said: According to the words of the Torah, money acquirers ownership; yet why was it said that one must lift an object [in order to acquire ownership]? It is a [rabbinic] decree, lest he tell him, ‘Your wheat was burned in the attic’” (Eiruvin 81b).
For thousands of years, a meal was defined by the eating of bread. Not only as did bread serve as an appetizer, the main course itself was consumed with bread. The term lelafet et hapat, to spread the food on the bread, is a fair indication of how most foods were eaten, and we can readily understand why korbanot were generally accompanied with loaves of bread. The command to eat the korban Pesach with “bread”, i.e. matza (and marror), was a reflection of how meat was generally eaten.