Thoughts from the Daf

Bechorot 25: Bad Politician: Great Teacher

Sometimes the most obscure of arguments can teach the greatest of lessons. That Rabbi Eliezer’s “proofs” from heaven were rejected because “Torah is not in heaven” is relatively well known (Bava Metzia 59b). Less well known is that this powerful story is the result of a dispute regarding the purity of an oven, “the oven of Achnai”, that was broken and put back together. This debate took place years after the Temple had been destroyed, rendering the entire debate totally irrelevant—at least from a practical point of view. 

Bechorot 13: All Mitzvot Are Not Created Equal

It is not uncommon to hear people define a mitzvah as a “good deed”. And there is little doubt that many mitzvot are, in fact, very good deeds. Yet as the Hebrew word indicates, a mitzvah means “a command”. Yet like all translations, the word “command” does not quite capture the definition of a mitzvah. Whereas a command implies something we must do, there are many mitzvot that are obligatory only if we find ourselves in a given situation.

Bechorot 2: All Are Welcome

Amongst the many wonderful opportunities and challenges wrought by the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is that of running our own State. No longer need Judaism be truncated, focusing on the ritual and individualist aspects of religion. Rather, for the first time in close to 2,000 years issues with which every other nation must deal with have suddenly become issues that the Jewish people can and must grapple with.

An Introduction to Masechet Bechorot

The privileges and obligations of the firstborn are a major theme of Pesach. Most famously, the proximate cause of the Exodus was makat bechorot, the death of the firstborn Egyptians. Pesach gets its name because G-d pasach, passed over, our homes as He smote the Egyptians. It is in appreciation and recognition of being saved from the fate of their Egyptian counterparts that the custom of ta’anit bechorim, the fast of the firstborn, developed[1].

Chulin 142: Do You See What I See

It is an amazing but all too common phenomenon that two people can witness the same event and yet “see it” very differently. This is the simplest explanation as to why Jewish law requires two witnesses to convict someone in a court of law. No matter how honest and trustworthy a person may be, our inherent human biases—conscious or not—are such that we may only see part of the picture. However, if two people report seeing the same thing, our confidence that they have seen a complete picture greatly increases.

Chulin 139: Where is Moshe?

“Where is Moshe [mentioned] in the Torah?” It is hard to imagine a more—let's be gentle here—superfluous question. A better question would be where isn’t Moshe mentioned in the Torah. Who knows if without Moshe there would even be a Torah. Perhaps the only question that can match it in incomprehensibility is asking where Haman, Esther and Mordechai are mentioned in the Torah. Considering they lived some 1,000 years after the conclusion of the Torah that would be some feat.

Chulin 109: Can I Have Some Udder Please

When I ask ba’alei teshuva what the hardest thing for them to give up is, the most common response I receive is "lobster". This should come as no surprise. Our Sages recognized that having enjoyed the taste of “forbidden fruit”, it is most difficult to give it up, and those who do so are greater than those who never tasted that forbidden fruit: “In the place where penitents stand, the truly righteous cannot reach” (Brachot 34b). 

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