Thoughts from the Daf

Pesachim 68b: Fasting or Feasting

The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) records a debate as to the proper way to celebrate Yom Tov. Rabbi Eliezer says that one must make a choice; we must either “eat and drink, or sit and learn”, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua says, “Divide it—half for eating and drinking, and half for the beit midrash”. Rav Yochanan (living three generations later) explains that this argument is actually rooted in contradictory Biblical texts.

Pesachim 66: People Power

One of the underlying pillars of democratic thought is confidence in the people to make the right choices, and in leaders to respect those choices. In a healthy democracy, people are well informed, allowing for vigorous debate; and leaders have the best interests of the state at heart. The will of the people is constricted by the Constitution, which reflects the core values that are sacrosanct—and as such, can be changed only with great difficulty and a consensus to do so[1].

Pesachim 66a: A Humble Lesson for Hillel

While Korbanot tzibbur, public offerings, were sacrificed on Shabbat and Yom Tov--and serve as the basis for our davening mussaf on these days--private sacrifices were not. 

Similar to a public offering, the korban pesach was brought at a fixed time. On the other hand, the obligation to bring such rests on the individual, leading to uncertainty as to whether it may be brought on Shabbat. 

Pesachim 64b: You're Out of Here!

Akavya ben Mehalelel is best known for the teaching, “Focus on three things, and you will not come to the hands of sin: know from where you come, to where you are going, and before Whom you will give a reckoning and accounting” (Pirkei Avot 3:1). This teaching should be seen in the light of another teaching of his. The Mishnah records four (rather obscure and technical) areas of Jewish law where Akavya disagreed with the accepted rabbinic view.

Pesachim 62: To Teach or Not to Teach

"Rav Simlai came in front of Rav Yochanan and asked him to teach him Sefer Yuchsin, the Book of Lineage. He [Rav Yochanan] asked him where he was from. 'Lod,' he replied. 'And where do you live?' 'In Neharda'. 'We [Rav Yochanan responded] do not teach it, neither to Lodians or Nehardeim; how much more so to you, who are from Lod and reside in Neharda'" (Pesachim 62b).

Pesachim 60: The Forest and the Tree

Some of the most fundamental mitzvoth of the Torah are stated in the vaguest of terms, with few clear guidelines as to how they are to be fulfilled. The central mitzvah of Sefer Vayikra, and perhaps of the entire Torah, is to "be holy", yet the meaning of holiness is left undefined. One will not find any Talmudic discussion of the laws of holiness. The closest we get to such is Maimonides' inclusion of the "Book of Holiness" in his Mishnah Torah, which details the laws of kashrut and forbidden relations.

Pesachim 56: Medical School

The greatest blessing one can have is that of good health. And aside from the three cardinal sins of adultery, idolatry, and murder, no law is as important as that of pikuach nefesh, the mandate to prolong life. Some of our greatest sages and scholars—most notably Maimonides—were doctors, and it is not by chance that Jews are disproportionately represented in the medical field. Just as teaching Torah is the greatest spiritual gift one can give to a person, healing is the greatest physical gift we can give; and we are mandated to do both.

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