Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Sukkah 52 - The nature of evil

The Talmud uses the following verse as the basis for separating men from women in the synagogue: "And the land shall mourn separately, the House of David and their wives." It then reasons: if in mourning they are separate, then on all other occasions, how much more so.

Then it wants to know, who do they mourn? Some say that it is the Messiah, the son of Joseph, who will come first before the Messiah son of David and be killed in battle. Others say that it is the desire to do evil that God will slaughter in the future. But if so, why mourn? - The righteous will cry when they recall how hard it was not to do evil - and they withstood. The unrighteous will cry at the thought that the evil was so easy to resist - and they did not.

Abbaye saw a man and a woman planning to go on the road early in the morning, and he decided to follow them and stop them from wrongdoing. After three miles, they parted with the words, "Nice travel, but short." Abbaye was upset because he knew that he would not resist wrongdoing in the same situation. A Sage came and consoled him with a rule: whoever is greater than his fellow, his desire to do wrong is stronger than that of his fellow.

What is the nature of evil? Is it external to a person or part of his make-up? At first, it is outside, as in "The spirit of wrongdoing led them aside." But after a while, it becomes part of their in-born nature, as in "the spirit or wrongdoing is within their midst."

Art: The Artist's Parents by Rafael Soyer

Monday, August 30, 2021

Sukkah 51 - The Water-Drawing Celebration

The water-drawing celebration on Sukkot was the pinnacle of joy. Whoever did not see it never saw rejoicing in his life. 

Down from the Temple Courtyard, separated from it by fifteen steps, was the Women's Courtyard. The women sat and watched from the second tier while the priests and the Levites prepared the illumination. They had a large golden candelabra with four golden bowls on each branch. The total amount of oil used amounted to 120 log measures or about 15 gallons. The wicks were made from the worn-out belts of the priestly garments. There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illuminated from this light.

The righteous men would dance, with the torches in their hands, and sing songs and praises. The Levites came with their harps, lyres, cymbal, trumpets, and countless other instruments. There was a song for each step going down.

When they finally reached the gate, they would turn their faces towards the Temple Courtyards. Then they said, "Our forefathers turned their backs toward the Sanctuary and worshipped the sun, but as for us - our eyes are toward God (Yah)."

Art: David Playing the Harp by Jan de Bray

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sukkah 50 - Which is the essential part, vocal or instrumental?

The flute was played in the Temple during the nights of Sukkot. It served as a musical accompaniment before the drawing of the water for libation. Since it was not played on Shabbat or Festivals, sometimes it worked out to five days of flute playing and sometimes six.

But why was it not played on Shabbat? Indeed, there is an opinion that it was played on Shabbat. It all depends on whether the instrumental part is essential - and then flute music qualifies as Temple service, which should be done on Shabbat. Or whether the vocal part is essential - and then the flute is not played on Shabbat.

If we believe that the essence of the Temple musical service is instrumental, we can derive other laws from it. For example, the flute used in Moses' times was made of wood (based on the assumption that the wooden flute has the sweetest sound).  From here, it follows that all service vessels, such as the menorah, can be made of wood. Others would argue that the flute of Moses had to be made of wood and could not be made of metal. They say that you cannot take a situation where you are forced to do something and derive that you have to do it in other situations. Which logic is more correct? It is one of the unresolved questions in the Talmud.

Art: Boy playing the Flute by Judith Leyster

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Sukkah 49 - Uncovered water

The mitzvah of the water libation was done in the following manner. There was a golden vessel with a capacity of three lugin (between half a liter to a liter), which they filled from a freshwater spring outside of the Old City of Jerusalem. They would blow the trumpets and pour the wine into its bowl and the water into its bowl. The water bowl had a thinner spout so that both water and wine would pour out in the same amount of time.

The bowls were situated at the left corner of the Altar going up, and the wine was poured from there into the deep ducts. The priest would go down into the ducts once in seventy years, bring up the congealed wine, and burn it. Others say that the ducts were there from the beginning of creation, and no cleaning was needed. The hint to this is in the Song of Song, "Your concealed thighs are the work of a master craftsman." From here, Talmud learns that Torah study and good deeds are to be done in private.

The water used for libation cannot stay overnight and cannot be left uncovered. In general, uncovered water should not be used because snakes may drink from it. Here, even using a filter would not help because of the idea that if you would not present something to a ruler, you would, of course, not do it for God.

Art: The Art of Painting (detail) by Johannes Vermeer

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Sukkah 48 - A quick repartee

Earlier, we said that many mitzvot on Sukkot last for seven or even eight days. For example, rejoicing goes on for eight days, and it is expressed with thanksgiving prayers (Hallel), eating (ideally, sacrifices), and drinking. The source for this is the phrase, "And you will be only happy." There is a rule that the word "only" comes to emphasize something at the expense of the other. What is it? - The eighth night of the festival is included in the joy of the previous seven days.

A certain heretic whose name was Sasson (rejoicing) said to Rabbi Abahu, "In the future, the Jewish nation will be drawing water for me." He quoted the phrase from Isaiah, "You will draw water with rejoicing (Sasson)."

Rabbi Abahu answers, "If it said, for Sasson, you may be right. But since it says with Sasson, the skin of that person (you) will be made into a flask and be used for water drawing."

Art: Still Life with Four Stone Bottles, Flask and White Cup by Van Gogh

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Sukkah 47 - Pezer Keshev

There are seven days in the Holiday of Sukkot, and day number eight is also a Holiday, called "The eighth day," or Shemini Atzeret. There are many reasons why the eighth day continues the first seven. There are also many reasons why it doesn't.

The conclusion, however, is that the eighth day is an independent Holiday, for six reasons, abbreviated as "Pezer Keshev."

P (payis) - lottery. During the previous seven days, the priests had a rotation system to allow every priest to bring a bull sacrifice - because the sacrifices were numerous. On day number eight, they would return to drawing lots for the right to perform the sacrifice.

Z (zman) - time. A new time blessing, "Thank you for allowing us to live to this time," was said.

R (regel) - festival. It is a different festival when one does not dwell in a sukkah.

K (korban) - sacrifice. The sacrifices for this day were different from Sukkot and fewer in number.

Sh (shirah) - song. The Levites sang a different song.

V (brachah) - blessing. The Holiday is mentioned by a different name in the prayers. Some say this refers to a special blessing for the king that the people said to commemorate King Solomon, whom the people blessed on the eighth day of the First Temple.

Art: The Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon by Piero della Francesca

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sukkah 46 - A full cup

Rabbi Zeira said, "Observe how human properties differ from God's. In the human world, an empty cup can receive liquid, but a full one cannot. But in the spiritual world, only a person who already has a certain measure of Torah knowledge in him - only he can receive more." What is the proof? The Torah said, "And it will be that if you listen, then you will listen." That is, if you listened before, then you will listen more.

A young child can acquire things but cannot legally give them to others. This is due to a combination of Torah law and later decrees. Therefore, one should not give the lulav to a young child on the first day of Sukkot before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of the lulav himself. Otherwise, the child may acquire the lulav but will be unable to legally give it back. As a result, the father will be doing the mitzvah with a lulav that does not belong to him, and one must own the lulav.

Art: A Cup of Water and a Rose by Francisco de Zurbarán