The commitment to learn Daf Yomi is a remarkable one. It is the only study project I know that takes seven and half years to complete (2,711 days, to be precise). Even the most complex and difficult Ph.D programs are generally finished in less time. And of course, once the cycle is finished, it's time to start all over again. Those who want rest and relaxation must look elsewhere. And this, without even one day of vacation. Not one--not even on Tisha B'Av. Considering it is forbidden to learn Torah on Tisha B'Av--as we have learned in Moed Katan--this is quite amazing.
One of the greatest and the most tragic figure of Talmudic literature is Rav Eliezer ben Hurcanus, known simply as Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol, Rabbi Eliezer the Great. His teacher, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zackai, declared that "he was like a plastered cistern that does not lose one drop" and, "if all the Sages of Israel were on a scale and Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus was on the second side, he would outweigh them all" (Avot 2:12). Yet this great Sage was excommunicated for refusing to accede to the ruling of the majority in a most arcane debate about the purity of an oven.
The primary way we can tell which commandments are more important than others is by the punishment recorded in the Torah for various offences. Thus, murder and adultery carry the death penalty; whereas eating on Yom Kippur "only" subjugates one to karet, heavenly excision.
Halacha reflects not only legal truths, but moral, psychological, and philosophical (and other) truths, as well. The wide observance of the laws of mourning--one of the major themes of Masechet Moed Katan--is likely due more to the psychological comfort it offers than to the legal requirements mourning entails.
One of the fascinating features of the Talmud is how it seamlessly moves from topic to topic. The opening Mishnah of Moed Katan teaches that amongst the permitted activities on Chol Hamoed is to “mark the graves”, thus helping people to avoid impurity--something especially important at Yom Tov time. The Gemara asserts that this law is rooted in the Bible, and quotes various proof texts to demonstrate such; the last proof being “and to him who orders his way, v'sham derech, will I show the salvation of G-d” (Tehillim 50:23).
Moed Katan has as its focus two contradictory themes: the laws of Chol Hamoed and of aveilut, mourning. Chol Hamoed is a time when we are obligated in the mitzvah of simcha, joy, whereas mourning is the time when we are obligated to be sad.
“And I have given them statutes that are not good, and laws that they do not live with" (Yechezkel 20:25). In our last post, we discussed the application of this verse to those who learn Torah without singing. While there is much to be gained in using song in study, Abaye is startled that one who does not learn via song is in fulfillment of this verse--a seemingly harsh appraisal for one who is, in actual fact, learning Torah.
One of the ways we show respect for a person is to stand in their honour, and such an honour is not only bestowed on people. The notion of the “changing of the guard”, with those guards standing at attention, is one of the ways we demonstrate honour to institutions of great importance. “We stand on guard for thee” has even been incorporated into our (Canadian) national anthem.