The task of editing involves critical decision-making. Beyond questions of language and syntax, an editor must decide what to include and what to exclude, and how much prominence to give to any particular story. This is doubly true when editing an anthology of material from multiple sources spanning hundreds of years, the task that lay before Rebbe Yehuda Hanassi, the final editor of the Mishna.
Thoughts from the Daf
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.
“For there will never cease to be needy within the land. Therefore, I command you, saying, you shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor one, and to your needy one in your land” (Devarim 15:11).
“Mitzvot were given only to purify people” (Breisheet Rabba 44). By refraining from gossip, not bearing a grudge, not giving misleading advice, by showing sensitivity to the orphan, widow, stranger and poor, paying our debts on time, willingly accepting rebuke, and by acting in ways that demonstrate our love towards others, we are able to embody the traits that are meant to define a Jew: rachamanim, baishanim and gomlei chasadim, merciful, sensitive and performing acts of chesed.