One of the classic debates of the Talmud – and one with no clear resolution – is whether or not mitzvoth tzreechot kavanah. The term kavanah, which literally means “direction”, is not easy to translate into precise halachic terminology, but is generally understood to mean focus and concentration on what one is doing.
Thoughts from the Daf
One of the first innovations of the Reform movement was the removal from the siddur of all references to Zion and the Temple. The emerging democracies of Europe, which had begun to treat the Jews as equal citizens, were to be our home. The idea of yearning for the return to Jerusalem was a relic of a bygone era and the notion of sacrifices in modernity viewed as absurd. Judaism, they argued, had moved beyond that stage in its development.
One of the benefits of learning Daf Yomi is that it “forces” one to learn subject areas that would otherwise be ignored. Each one of the 2,711 pages of the Talmud Bavli is given equal treatment, allowing one to study the breadth of Talmudic literature. If not for Daf Yomi, it is hard to imagine too many people would open up Seder Kodshim, dealing with the sacrificial rites, which have little relevance or resonance today.
We have often commented on the fact that our tradition does not shy away from pointing out the weaknesses and failings of our great Sages. This idea is first found in the Torah itself, which does not hide or excuse the sins – minor as those sins might be – of our greats. Even when it is not necessary to read a story in a negative light, such as Abraham going to Egypt when famine strikes the land of Israel, our commentaries often do just that (see, for example, Ramban, Breisheet 12:8).
Not every question has an answer and not every problem has a solution. This may be depressing for some, especially the young and idealistic (all too often, they tend to be one and the same), but this is something one realizes more and more as one gains life experience. This may be frustrating, but it is also ennobling, pushing us to search further and further to find solutions. While some questions may eventually find answers, some may not; often, a new answer is needed for an old question. Different circumstances require different approaches.
Judaism has long rejected the notion that the ends justify the means. One of the most basic of Talmudic rules is that a mitzvah haba b’aveirah, a mitzvah enabled through the commission of sin, is rendered invalid. The third chapter of masechet Sukkah, lulav hagazul, the stolen lulav, gets its name from the fact that a stolen lulav is an invalid lulav and one gains nothing by using one, but may indeed be helping to create a desecration of the name of G-d.
In his best-selling book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely notes how very rare it is for humans to make decisions in absolute terms. Rather, we weigh our options, compare one choice to another, and decide accordingly. It is the relative merits of one choice against another that determines our actions. Truly, everything is relative and context is crucial.
In the days before instant replay took over much of sports officiating, the rule of thumb was that the ‘umpire is right even when he is wrong’. In the fast paced nature of sports it is inevitable that the umpire (or referee) will make the occasional mistake and such was accepted as part of the game. Occasionally, actually very rarely, games were won or lost due to a “bad call” but such was the price of live action.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the Torah is its very real portrayal of its personalities. People—heroes and villains alike – are presented in all their complexity. The sins of our greats are not only not whitewashed, but are often highlighted and punished all too severely. As Nehama Leibowitz often noted, the Torah is no respecter of persons. The Torah does not hesitate to tell us that “the brothers hated Yosef” (if they did not, we might be eating bread now!) or even that Leah was the hated wife.
It is the rare business that looks to create competition for itself. In fact, the success of a CEO is often judged less by profits than by market share. Growing the latter, even at the expense of the former, is generally viewed as a mark of success; whereas rising profits often will not save the job of a CEO if accompanied by a shrinking market share. Reaching effective monopoly status is the ticket to great riches.