There was a famous song by the Police -“Dont Stand So Close to Me.” Wrong. The Talmud in Yoma 21 a says there was a miracle in the Temple. Despite being so crowded during the holidays, there was room for everyone to bow down. Rashi says something even greater. Despite the crowd there was room so no one heard the confession of the next person when he bowed down. The person giving the shiur said that someone once said all miracles in the Torah can be explained within the context of the natural world So what is the explanation for the enlargement of the Temple to allow for all these people to bow down?
The answer is RESPECT. Each was careful to respect the other and allowed the person allowed the other to bow and then respected his privacy to make his confession. There was a respect for the other that dominated.
Rather than ask about why the terrible tragdy in Meron occurred. Lets us re-invigorate and commit to respect each other.
In page 9b, we learn the famous reasons for the destruction of the Second Temple. The Talmud famously tells us that the Temple was destroyed for senseless hatred- sinas chinum. The Talmud tells that the people were scrupulous in the mitzos, rituals, learning and ironically they were even careful in their acts of kindness- gemilus chasudum. However, despite being careful in acts of kindness they still displayed sinas chinum- senseless hatred. It is possible that hatred could conceivably exist with meticulous ritual… but chesed? How does hatred exist in the same person as chesed.
How is this possible? It makes no sense! How can one act kindly and be a bal chesed and yet still harbor hatred?
The SD would like to weigh in. There might have been individual or systematic acts of kindness, but there was NO ETHOS of kindness or compassion or love. There was no overarching emotional sensitivity and awareness of others. It is possible that the kind act is isolated in one’s psyche and does not pervade one soul. This exactly what the Torah wants us to promote. The Torah wants systemic kindness. Organic kindness. A kindness and concern that overwhelms. A real Jew is one who feels the pain of other and acts on the pain of others. It is pervasive in one’s being.
The work of the SD is to recognize that individual acts are not enough. It must be a culture or ethos of character elevation.
“Man was made in God’s image long before the covenant of Abraham and the Israelites. To be a Jew is the Jewish way of being human. It is not a justification for others to be less human”
Rabbi-Lord Jonathan Sacks
This tractate winds up with the most interesting conundrum. What happens if the paroches (the curtain in holy Temple which separates the holy of holies from the hall with the menorah, lechem hapanim and gold altar) becomes impure due to coming into contact with something impure. This is an eye opener. How can this happen in the most holy temple? There is tremendous care by a host of workers, priests, assistants in keeping the people, animals, and utensils free of impure contamination (tumah). Anyone who goes to see the archeological digs around the temple sees many mikvaos. We know there are several mikvoas in the temple complex. We know people took great pains to stay pure to bring sacrifices. So how does this happen. How can the curtain become impure? How can a person who had touched a sheretez or nevilah or some spritz of a dead animal come into contact with the curtain?
The SD would like to propose why it happens is not that important. The issue is that it can happen. The central lesson is that MISTAKES can happen. Anyone or any environment can is susceptible to error. Random things happen that we have no control over.
The Talmud is recognizing that no one is perfect. The most controlled environment in the world is still subject to imperfection. What is important is how we deal with mistakes. That is the beauty of the Talmud. The next tractate is Yoma- Yom Kippur or the day we deal with our mistakes.
Matza is ubiquitous. Even non-Jews know about Passover and Matza. Recently my wife’s healthy food influencer who is the most secular person around, eating chazer treif with high fiber exhorted her listeners to eat Matza-on Passover. But in a rabbinic sing song exhortation sher reminded her listeners “only the two nights are required”.
Why is Matza such a symbol of Judaism? Matza resolves our spiritual/physical tension.
Matza breaks our mental gaps or divides about the world. Most people see the world as a conflict or tension: good -bad or more relevant “sacred-profane.” We see the world and our actions as falling into one of these distinctions. We see our spiritual actions as prayer, charity, chesed. Our physical needs- eating, bathing sleeping even procreating we mistakenly believe do not have a spiritual dimension. However, we don’t realize that in Jewish thought and the Torah even EATING is a spiritual undertaking.
Eating Matza breaks the mistaken spiritual/physical distinctions. By saying that Gd commanded us to eat Matza and then eating by eating Matza we dissolve the physical-spiritual conflict into one dimension. By eating Matza with the understanding that this act signifies are belief in Gd, his dominion and most importantly his charge for us to improve ourselves by helping others around us; by spreading the message of monothesim-love thy neighbor (all who need come sit, eat and be satisfied)
Matza is a step in breaking down the artificial divisions we have in our lives.
The parsha of Vayikra introduces the various sacrifices in the Torah. The prophet reading is Isiaiah chapter 43-44. The prophet rebukes the people by saying your “small” animals mean nothing in light of your sins. However, it is not clear (at least to the SD ) which sins Isaiah is referring to. The commentary in the chumash the SD uses says it refers to idol worship which is referenced later in chapter 44. The language is interesting. In 43 the haftorah starts with “yazarti”-“I fashioned” the people to praise me. But in 44 verse 9, the prophet says “yatzar” the people formed idol images. It seems like the prophet is saying, Hashem created us and yet we did not show gratitude but rather created or form alternate gds or idols.
What is all this have to do with the sacrifices? Sacrifices should be about gratitude. Showing gratitutde by bringing a sacrifice without acting gratefully all day makes no sense. This is particularly hard for the SD. In some ways it is easy to pray, drop or drop a few coins in a box. The hard work being grateful all the time. In recognizing, that even when the ship is sinking, or things are going against you, Hashem is there and not to run to worship other idols or ideals.
On page 115 there is a story about a great Talmudic rabbi Abaye as a little boy. The story says that Abaye as a little boy asked at the seder on passover night why the grown ups were removing the table before the meal. The adult responded, you have now exempted us from reciting the Ma Nishtana and we can continue.
On page 116 the same story occurs, this time with a slave of a rabbi known as Daru. He asks a question about the oddness of the night and again, the rabbi says, you have exempted us from Ma Nishtana.
The Talmud recognizes that substance wins over form. In Judaism we tend to do things in a repetitive manner. We pray the same thing every day, our sabbath prayers are the same, our grace after meals is the same. Things are done with great regularity at set times and at set places. This has the potential to lead to a “check the box” experience. It could lead to mindless observance and formulaic acts.
The Rabbis are sensitive that a “seder” (order) and written Hagadda which is forumulaic and very scripted could lead to hollow evening. We are therefore reminded that the script is not important, rather the meaning, the lessons and the experience is primary. Our seder should be “ordered” with energy, off script discussions and exploration off the pages.
The parsha Vaykhal begins with telling us about keeping shabbos despite the work on the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah then goes on to explain the work done . The Torah then says the work was done by “Bezalal” who was filled with the spirit of Hashem in knowledge and understanding.
The Ishbitzer makes a startling statement. He claims the artisans were working above their level of skill and consciousness. That it was Hashem himself who was guiding their work and skills. They were conduits for his work who guided their skill and created the Miskan through them.
The thought is obvious. Hashem rules the world. He allows the perception that we are creating, or building or constructing our lives. But Hashem is behind all our labors. Without his will nothing is accomplished . It is hard to swallow that according to Ishbitz nothing is done without the will or Hashem. It is hard for modern or post modern man to accept this.
As a final thought, maybe that is why we are told to keep shabbos and refrain from working. Shabbos is reminder that we can get engrossed in our goals, work or aspirations , but ultimately we are bounded or commanded to stop and refrain and keep the shabbos in accordance with will of Gd. It is a manifestation of his will and guidance over us. The shabbos is a reminder that our destiny and product of our work is all in the hands and will of Hashem.
Pesachim page-88 is gem. It is packed with thought provoking ideas. It will take at least two and maybe three days to unravel. The daf starts with a story When Ula comes to a town in Babylonia known as Pumpedesia. He is given a basket of rich dates. He asks how much is this and they tell him that you get three baskets of these dates for one zuz.
Ula exclaims, for such cheap and abundant food you people do not learn enough Torah. Clearly a slight and a jab. That night after Ula eats the dates and then he gets sick. He retracts the slight and says basically, considering you guys eat such dangerous food, its amazing you can learn Torah.
The first lesson is pretty obvious: Don’t judge people. Don’t think you understand them or their predicaments. Don’t think that given what they have, they should do more, give more; or conform to your opinions or values.
The second lesson is a little more nuanced: The rich dates are delicious and cheap. To really appreciate something one must know it, understand, know how to handle it and to keep balance and perspective in life. Not everything is a blanket blessing. It is only a blessing if used or consumed properly. One can be too rich or have too much and fail miserably if the blessings are not used properly. We must learn that when given things, how to properly use them. Ula is telling us that the people of Pumpedesia known how to balance their lives. They know how to balance the blessings of abundance and the mission of learning Torah. To those bestowed with blessing comes the obligation to use the blessings responsibly and in the will of Hashem.
Page 80 continues this esoteric discussion about bringing the Pesach offering when a majority of the people of Israel are in a state of Tumah (impurity) which is allowed. The question arises what if the situation is a 50-50 meaning half are not tuma and half are tumah. One suggestion is to make one of the pure people impure by touching a dead creepy crawler (sheretz), thereby breaking the even deadlock and making the majority impure so the sacrifice can be brought. As explained, when the majority of people of Israel are in a state of impurity, it can be brought. The second opinion is, why not just send someone far away, thereby breaking the tie that way.
Rav Nachman gives a snarky, but insightful answer. Who is pulling up their tent pegs and leaving Jerusalem. Interestingly, he does not slight the first option of making someone impure. He thinks it is worse to leave, rather than become impure.
Why? The SD would like to give an answer. FOMO. Who wants to leave Jerusalem in the spring. Who wants to leave the great masses of people who gathered from all over Israel and maybe all over the known world to celebrate. It is a social scene. Even in the ancient world, the Rabbis realized how powerful the need to socialize can be. Given the bizarre times (the Unprecedent) we live in: no one can see a smile, no one can shake hands; hug; eat together. We are all literally starving to be together. We are all experiencing some FOMO. The lesson from page 80 is that we need to start socializing, we need to start recoginzing we are social creatures who crave each other.