Thoughts from the Daf

Shabbat 49a: The Wrong Reason

The Talmud teaches that everything is dependent on mazal, “even the Sefer Torah in the ark”. Some sifrei Torah are used week in and week out, while others only see the light of day on Simchat Torah. So, too, certain mitzvoth “get lucky” and are widely observed, whereas others are somehow neglected. And mitzvoth that enjoy widespread observance in one generation may be less fortunate in another.

Shabbat 33: Let's Talk

One of the differences between Talmudic rabbis and those of the post-Talmudic era is the “ability” of the former to link “crime and punishment”, or more specifically, sin and consequence. This is something we find distasteful, even blasphemous (and if we don't, we should), as we, unlike prophets, do not know the working of the Divine. Thus Rav Soloveitchik, for example, considered it a desecration of G-d’s name to attribute the Holocaust to sin.

Shabbat 31b: One-Foot Judaism

One of the most famous Talmudic stories is that of the potential convert who conditioned his conversion on whether or not he could be taught the Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai, bothered by the chutzpah of this non-Jew (imagine going to a nuclear physicist and asking to learn all of physics while standing on one foot!), “pushed him with the construction board in his hand”. Hillel, non-plussed by this ludicrous request, simply answered, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn”.

Shabbat 22: Lights Out!

In an age before electricity, having light at night was no simple matter. While various forms of lamps were in use, their effectiveness was limited. Simply put, most people went to bed at nightfall and were up by the crack of dawn. Of course, on Friday night, this was not feasible; and the Talmud spends much of the second chapter of mashechet Shabbat detailing which wicks and oils may and may not be used to kindle the Shabbat (and Chanukah) candles.

To Forget Is Human: Shabbat 12

Human nature is to be forgetful, even in the midst of doing something. This human frailty is what leads the Mishnah (11a) to rule that a tailor may not go into the street with his needle nor may a scribe go out with his quill on Friday afternoons just before dark, lest they forget and accidentally carry their materials on Shabbat (in a place which has no eruv). Yet, the Gemarah (12a) rules that one may go out while wearing tefillin late on Friday afternoon, as “Rava bar Rav Hunah taught that one is obligated to feel his tefillin every moment and moment”.

Shabbat 10: In Your Court

While the prelude to the giving of the Torah is the establishment of a court system (see Shemot 18), it would seem that having to actually use the justice system is less than ideal. In a perfect society, people would be honest, forgiving, and not fight for every right that is theirs. Spending one’s time learning Torah is surely a much greater pursuit than listening to litigants argue. And thus, the Talmud records that Rav Hisda and Rava bar Rav Huna, after spending the entire day in court adjucating one case after another, were upset.

Shabbat 10a: Stop Praying Already

Two of our most fundamental mitzvoth are those of Tefillah, prayer and Talmud Torah, the study of Torah. Yet there has long been a tension regarding which is of primary importance. The view that "if only one would pray the entire day" (Brachot 21a) cannot be easily reconciled with G-d's words to Joshua that, "The book of law shall not depart from your mouth and you shall meditate in its words day and night" (Joshua 1:8).

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