Language is much more than a method of communication. It conveys the values and culture of those who speak it. The Hebrew language is known as lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue, explains the Ramban (Shemot 30:13), because it is the language G-d used to create the world: “With ten utterances, the world was created” (Avot 5:1). It is the language of the Torah, of the prophets, and the Mishna. The Rambam (Guide 3:8) notes that Hebrew has no words for the sexual organs, forcing us to rely on euphemisms to discuss that which is meant to be private and holy.
I am on occasion asked by my (generally non-observant) students questions about the afterlife. This is a most welcome question, indicating some thinking about the meaning of life. Yet they quickly learn I have little to offer in the way of answers. I tell them I know nothing about the afterlife. More importantly, it is not something we should concern ourselves with or spend much time thinking about. Our job is to make this world a better place, letaken olam bemalchut shakai, to fix the world under the dominion of G-d.
In our last post, we discussed the fascinating view of Rabbi Yehuda (at least, as understood by Rashi) that the prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach does not apply to chametz that is owned by a non-Jew.
There are few ritual prohibitions as widely and carefully observed than that of the prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach. It is not uncommon for people to start “cleaning for Pesach” weeks or even months in advance of the holiday, ensuring that no chametz is eaten outside of the kitchen. Many a household literally (and unnecessarily, but that is a discussion for another time) turns their house upside down looking for moldy chametz that even a dog would not eat, hidden in places they would never look.
There is no more oft-repeated command in the Torah than the charge to be kind and sensitive to the ger—ki because, gerim hayeetem, you were strangers in the land of Egypt". Thirty-six times, possibly even forty-six times (Bava Metzia 59b) the Torah exhorts us to treat the ger properly. Clearly, this is a most difficult mitzvah, on both a personal and national level. If it were easy to do, mentioning it once would have been enough.
In describing our Talmudic Sages, one would not put a sense of humour at the top of the list—maybe not even at the bottom. Yet that would be unfair. The Gemara (Shabbat 30b) notes that Rabba would open every shiur with a joke, bringing a smile to the face of his colleagues. Like Jews throughout the generations, our Talmudic rabbis were not averse to telling jokes, though their style was somewhat different than ours. Their jokes tended to be sharp one-liners that were often understandable only to the educated.
The problem of theodicy—why a benevolent G-d allows so much evil to exist in this world—has troubled thinkers from time immemorial.
One of the principles of Biblical interpretation is that the Torah is not necessarily written in chronological order, ein mukdam umeuchar baTorah. Thematic considerations are generally more important than chronological ones.
One of the requirements our Talmudic Sages set for the receiving of semicha, rabbinic ordination, was the ability to speak clearly (Sanhedrin 5b). We are all familiar with brilliant people who are very poor teachers, unable to clearly explain complex matters to their students. While they may make great contributions to their respective fields, they are not the ones meant to teach others. Torah is no different. It is much more important to have as a rabbi one who can explain things clearly than a greater Torah scholar whose teachings are hard to follow.
“On the eve of the fourteenth, we search for chametz by candlelight” (Pesachim 2a). I fondly recall hiding pieces of chametz all over the house and then helping my father, z”l, find them as we began the formal preparations for Pesach. While not as “rewarding” as hiding the Afikomen, bedikat chametz, the search for chametz, is much more important.