In Talmudic times, animals were generally slaughtered only when there was a known buyer ready to eat from the animal before him. Lacking methods of preservation, there was great financial risk in having beautiful displays of meat in a take-out section of the local (super)market. If not enough shoppers purchased the meat, it would go to waste, causing both great financial loss and likely, a violation of ba’al tashchit, unnecessary waste. Shopping has come a long way since Talmudic times.
Shabbat and Yom Tov are gifts to the Jewish people, and the Jewish people only. As such, we are permitted to benefit from work by a non-Jew on these days--provided the non-Jew is doing such work for his own benefit (Shabbat 122b). It is for this reason that a non-Jewish contractor can do work for a Jew on Shabbat; the hours he chooses to work are his own. However, Jewish law prohibits one from asking for, or even benefiting from, work that a non-Jew does of his own accord if done specifically for the benefit of the Jew.
There is arguably no greater figure in Talmudic literature than that of Hillel the Elder. He combined the Torah leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu with Aharon's peace-making and love for all. It is not by chance the Talmud teaches that if not for Hillel, Torah would have been forgotten from amongst the Jewish people (Sukkah 20a).
Often, when studying Gemara, we fail to appreciate how different day-to-day life was for our ancestors. Yeshiva study tends to focus on conceptual analysis of the legal sections of the Talmud. Even in the academic world—where there is an appreciation for the importance of “realia”, understanding the daily life patterns—much of the focus is on studying the development of the text, analyzing manuscripts, and the like.
All of us are sinners. To be human means that we make mistakes, both inadvertent and intentional. Our tradition shows great respect for those who admit sin, even those who do not repent. They may be wrong in the eyes of Jewish law, but we can appreciate their honesty. Such cannot be said for those who feign an aura of piety, pretending to act in accordance with Jewish law as they manipulate it to serve their own needs.
Our Sages defined a chacham as one who is roeh et hanolad, who foresees the results of his actions. We live in a world which is focused on the here and now, with only the great amongst us able or even willing to try and see the impact on tomorrow of what we do today. “Ulla said: Three things the end was allowed due to the beginning, and these are they; placing leather hides before those who trample upon them, returning shutters, and replacing a bandage in the Temple” (Beitzah 11b).
It is doubtful the Jewish life would exist as we know it if not for the leadership of Rav Yochanan ben Zackai. Seeing the terrible infighting that had beset the Jewish people, he realized that a rebuilding process was necessary. That rebuilding was to take place in the coastal town of Yavneh, ushering in the flourishing of rabbinic law, and ultimately the Talmud. It was a decision that haunted him his entire life—after all, he willingly conceded Jerusalem and the Temple to the Romans—but arguably the most important post-biblical decision of Jewish history.
I have a confession to make. I really like Yom Tov and look forward to having an extra day to celebrate. I know that is not the way the Torah envisioned Yom Tov, and I know my feelings may represent agalut mentality, yet I still love Yom Tov. So the struggle many have with the continued relevance of the second day of Yom Tov, considering it an unnecessary burden, is not one I share.
The very first teaching in all of rabbinic literature is the saying of the Men of the Great Assembly that those who render decisions on matters of Jewish law must be “metunim badin, deliberate in judgment” (Pirkei Avot 1:1).