Thoughts from the Daf

Shabbat 87: If G-d Agrees

One of the distinguishing marks of many successful companies is the encouragement they give to employees to experiment, encouraging innovation and new ideas. It is this ability to engage in fruitful experimentation, even mind-wandering, that can often lead to great insights and applications. In the best-selling book Start up Nation the authors describe the amazing economic success of Israel, a tiny country that has yet to know a day of peace.

Shabbat 69: What Time is It?

That we are living in unprecedented times hardly needs to be stated. It is hard to believe that less than three months ago we in the west were living in blissful ignorance, oblivious to what lay just around the corner. We may have heard vague reports of something amiss in China, but we continued along our merry way. As the world came to a virtual standstill time slowed down, if not scientifically, then at least in our perception of it. (And with time being relative isn’t that what matters?)

Shabbat 63: I Did Not Know

One of the changes accompanying the creation of the State of Israel is the flourishing of the study of Tanach. Returning to our ancient homeland, and able to see with our own eyes where much of the Tanach actually happened, the Tanach comes alive in ways it just cannot outside of the Land of Israel. Furthermore, there has been a return to placing much greater emphasis on the pshat[1], the plain meaning of the text[2].

Shabbat 33: Silence is Golden

When our Sages entered the vineyard in Yavne, Rabbi Yehuda, and Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yossi, and Rabbi Shimon were there, and a question was asked before them…Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Ila’i, rosh hamedabrim b'kol mamkom, the head of the speakers in every place, responded” (Shabbat 33b). 

The Gemara’s simple question as to why Rabbi Ila’i is called rosh hamedabrim b'kol mamkom gives rise to one of the most well-known Talmudic stories, that of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai spending 13 years in a cave. 

Shabbat 31: Farming and Faith

The Torah is full of mitzvot relating to farmers. Whether one is plowing, planting, or harvesting, the Torah has clear guidelines to direct us. One must separate wheat and the vine, avoid plowing with two different animals, leave the corner of the field for the poor, take our first fruits to Jerusalem, and give some of our produce to the kohen, levi and the poor. We must not pick up that which we might drop, nor go back to harvest a forgotten field. Wherever a farmer turns, there is a mitzvah opportunity waiting. 

Shabbat 25: Who is Wealthy

“Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot!” (Avot 4:1). This teaching of Ben Zoma is undoubtedly one of the best known, most difficult and least-observed teachings in rabbinic literature. Man, by his very nature, is never satisfied with his lot. “One who has one hundred, wants two hundred, and one who has two hundred wants four hundred” (Kohelet Rabba 1:13). 

Shabbat 17: Murder in the Beit Midrash

The Talmud quotes some 316 debates between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. “Since both these and those are the words of the living God”, the Talmud (Eiruvin 13b) asks, “why was the law established in accordance with Beit Hillel?” The answer of the Talmud is not because they were smarter—the Talmud actually says the students of Shammai were sharper—but rather, it was because “they were agreeable and forbearing, they would teach both their own statements and the statements of Beit Shammai.

Shabbat 13: Fasting or Feasting

When it was still forbidden to write down the Oral Law, one of the very few written texts was that of Megillat Taanit, the scroll of fast days. This Megillah lists 35 days on which it was forbidden to fast, as they were days commemorating joyous events in Jewish history. Of the 35 days listed, only two remain applicable today, that of Purim and Chanukah. The others lost all meaning with the destruction of the Temple. 

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