Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chagigah 4 – When the Sages cried

We mentioned that a deranged person does not have to appear in the Temple, as well as do any other mitzvah. Who is considered deranged? – One who goes alone at night to uninhabited places, sleeps in a cemetery, and tears his clothes for no reason. Do we need him to do all three? Rav Huna said that we do. Rav Pappa said, “Had Rav Huna heard another definition, 'One who destroys all that people give him', he would change his mind.” However, the Talmud is not convinced, for sleeping in a cemetery may be done for spiritual reasons, and walking alone at night can be explained by being depressed.

Rav Huna, when he came in his studies to the following phrase, wept. The Torah said, “Three times a year every male will come to be seen in the Temple.”  “To be seen” can be read as “to see,” and one who is blind in one eye does not have to go. Said Rav Huna, “The servant was beloved to his Master, and the Master wanted to see him, and now suddenly he is distanced!”

Rabbi Elazar wept when he came to the phrase, “And Joseph's brothers could not answer him, because they were confused.” He said, “If because of the rebuke of a human one is confused, how much more so before God!”

Rav Ami wept when he read about the destruction of the Temple and the following dispersion, “Let him put his mouth to the dust – perhaps there is hope.” He said, “All this suffering – and only 'perhaps'!?”

Art: Fishermen's Cemetery by Franz Heinrich Louis Corinth

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chagigah 3 – The case of a deaf-mute

Earlier we said that a deaf-mute does not need to appear in the Temple. Presumably, this is because he in general does not have to do the mitzvot, not being in full possessions of his senses, and that is why he is mentioned next to a deranged person.

What about one who is only deaf or only mute? Generally, he has to do the mitzvot, but he still does not have to go to the Temple. Why? We have do admit that our ruling is incomplete, and some words we intentionally omitted by the teacher. Since going to the Temple on a Holiday is for the purpose of hearing and learning, and one who is deaf cannot hear, while a mute cannot learn, they don't have to go. However, the joy of the Holiday is still for them, and they should bring a “peace offering of joy” and eat it.

But is it really true that one who cannot talk can't learn? Why, there were two mute brothers who always attended the lessons of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, and nodded in agreement, and moved their lips, so in the end Rabbi Yehudah prayed for them and they recovered, and it was found out that they knew all parts of the Torah!? True, but the purpose of learning is also teaching, and a mute cannot teach.

What does it mean that “The words of the Wise are as goads and as nails well planted... given by one Shepherd”? – That just like goads direct a cow in the field, so the words of the Torah direct people to ways of life; and that they are fastened steady like nails. However, while nails take away from the object into which they are fastened, the mitzvot are “planted” and give back to those who observe them. Finally, they all come from one Master, and even though the Sages disagree, one can still find a correct way.

Art: Two Brothers by Maurice Leloir

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chagigah 2 – Celebration and joy

As we saw in many places, the Holidays (Passover, Shavuot and Succot) are for celebration and enjoyment. This is actually an obligation: one must make merry. One of the ways of doing so is by bringing the “celebration” sacrifice (chagigah) and eating the meat.

More specifically, one must come to the Temple during a Holiday. Having come, one should bring a sacrifice, because the Torah said, "Do not appear before Me empty-handed." But who is this "one?" In other words, who is obligated to visit the Temple and bring the sacrifice?

All males are obligated to go the Temple, following the commandment of "Three times a year every male must appear before God, the Master of the Universe." Women and minors do not have to go. Also not included are people of undetermined sex (tumtum), hermaphrodite, a deaf-mute, deranged, and one who physically can't walk up the Temple Mount.

Why does the rule start with "All males," if later it gives all the details? - This is to silently include an additional class of people, half-free and half-slave. We have discussed this special situation before: such a person cannot marry a slave woman because he is free, but cannot marry a free woman, because he is a slave. He does not have to visit the Temple either. However, the Sages later establishes that the court should force the slave's master to free the half-slave part.

Art" Village Celebrations by David The Younger Teniers

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Moed Katan 29 – But in the future death will be erased

When a burial takes place on a holiday weekday, they reduce their grief and permit only some of its expressions. Those expressions were elegy – when all chant together, and lamentation – when one woman speaks, and the others respond after her. However, in the future “He will remove death forever, and God the Lord will erase tears from all faces.”

When the sons of Rabbi Yishmael died, the Sages came to console him. He started first and lamented that his bereavements came in a close succession and he has bothered his teachers twice to come and console him (which emphasized the tragedy). Rabbi Tarfon compared the sons of Rabbi Yishmael to the two sons of Aharon and derived that the sons of Rabbi Yishmael will be accorded an even greater honor. Rabbi Akiva spoke last and said, “If king Achav, who only did one good thing, was accorded great honor, then the son of Rabbi Yishmael – how much greater honor they will have!”

When one takes leave of a dead in a cemetery, he says to him “Go in peace,” but when he parts from the living, he wishes them “Go to peace,” because they can always achieve greater spiritual elevation while they are still alive. By contrast, the Sages don't have rest even in the World to Come; the pursuit of the study of Torah which occupied them in this world continues there as well.

Art: The Burial by Edouard Manet

Moed Katan 28 – Honor for the dead

Out of respect for the dead, they are buried as soon as possible, and moreover, the biers of women are not set down, but rather proceed directly to the grave. The source for this law is the phrase, “Miriam died there and was buried there” - right away.

Incidentally, why is Miriam's death mentioned next to the story of red heifer? – To compare the two: just as red heifer provides atonement, so the death of the righteous provides atonement. In the same vein, the death of Aharon is mentioned next to the priestly garments, which also provided atonement – each for a specific wrongdoing.

Rav said: “The length of one's life, his material success and the number of his children does not depend on his merit, but rather on luck.” Other say that prayer and good deeds can change one's luck for the better.

The Talmud then recounts the stories of various Sages meeting the Angel of Death. For some it was as easy as a puncture of the skin, for another – like a hair drawn from milk. How do we know? They made a pack to communicate this back to their living friends. The one who died like "hair from milk" added that if God told him to go back living, he would refuse, because of the fear of the Angel of Death.

Art: The Burial by William De Hartburn Washington

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Moed Katan 19 – Seven and thirty

Although it is permitted to write some documents on the holiday weekday, because without these documents one may suffer a loss, still there are documents that one is not allowed to write. For example, when one loans money to his friend for the needs of the Holiday, he should not require that the loan document is written. However, if he does not trust the borrower, or if the scribe is poor and needs the money – then writing is allowed. Likewise, a scribe should not write tefillin or a Sefer Torah. Rabbi Yehudah allows him to write tefillin for himself – and then change his mind and sell it. And Rabbi Yose says that the enjoyment of the Holiday is more important than refraining from work – therefore he can write tefilin and sell it, as usual, in order to add to his festivities.

One whose relative dies has to observe the period of seven days of mourning after the burial – these are called “shivah,” or “seven.” However, if a Holiday comes during these days, his “shivah” is canceled by the joy of the holidays.

After “shivah” there is a period of thirty days, or “shloshim.” Likewise, if a Holiday occurs during this time – that is, after shivah and until thirty days after the burial have passed – his shloshim are canceled.

On Shabbat one does not observe any external signs of mourning – that is, he wears shoes and nice clothing, eats meat and drinks wine – and the day is counted as part of his shivah. However, unlike a Holiday, Shabbat does not cancel the mourning, only suspends it.

Art: The Scribe by Charles Wilda

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Moed Katan 18 – Nail biting

Untrimmed nails give a man an unkempt appearance. Just as the Sages prohibited one from cutting his hair on the holiday weekdays (in order that one should do this before, and appear groomed for the Holiday), so too they prohibited pairing the nails. Others say that there is no such enactment – either because people are careful about nails and no enactment is needed, or because nails grow too fast, and this would inconvenience people. This is where nail biting may be useful, because one may prohibited to use scissors, but not bite or remove nails with other nails.

Since the seven days of holidays are comparable to the seven days of mourning, would the same disagreement exist about a mourner cutting his nails? Shmuel was of the opinion that it does not apply on the holiday weekday or during mourning. It happened that Rav Pinchas was in mourning and did not cut his nails. Shmuel came to console him and asked why he behaved this way. Rav Pinchas retorted, “And if happened to you, would you cut them.” These words indeed came to pass, and Shmuel lost a close relative. When Rav Pinchas came to visit him, Shmuel threw his nails at him in anger.

How do we know that spoken word has power? From the words of Abraham: when he was going to sacrifice his son, he said to his attendants, “We will worship and we will come back,” and indeed, Isaac came back with him.

Having quoted a certain teacher, the Talmud brings his other statements. For example, the Pharaoh at the time of Moses was one amah (2 feet) tall; his beard was also one amah, and his member was an amah and a half. This is a metaphor.

We mentioned that only unskilled labor is permitted on the holiday weekdays, and even that - for the purpose of the Holiday. Some consider writing to be skilled labor, and prohibit it. However, in those cases where not writing will lead to a loss - it is a allowed. For example, one can write an engagement document for a woman - lest someone else precedes him and snaps her away.

Art: Abraham and Isaac By Sir Anthony Van Dyck