This blog post is a difficult one to write. I had high hopes for this post. I thought that I would review the 157 pages that I have listened to over the past number of months and find something relevant and meaningful to say, which I always hope for any blog post. Instead I find myself perplexed and not sure what to write, which I don't think is a bad thing; it merely reflects the challenges and joys of studying the Daf each day.
I listen to highlights of the Daf each day. As a first timer, I don't even open a page of the Talmud and actually wrestle with the page on my own. I put my earbuds in my ears, head outdoors and begin walking and I listen. (I have been walking a lot!) For the past few months, as I tried to catch up to the Daf (I started about six weeks after everyone began) I took Yardaena Osband and Anne Gordon with me. They have done the heavy lifting and I merely do the legwork. Anne and Yardaena do not cover the Daf in total, instead they cover a few salient points from each page.
On any given day the teachers might share a "story" from the Daf, or medical advice from the rabbis, or biographical details of the rabbis or the fine details of a halachic point. I walk and they talk. I don't take notes. Occasionally, if something really strikes my fancy, I will go to a different podcast and listen to what other people have to say about the full Daf. So, when it finally comes time for me to share the wisdom that has been shared with me I I don't know where to begin!
For Masechet Brachot I did a top ten. I guess that is a good forum, so I will do my best to make a list of the points I remember most and I hope that, as our teachers recited a formula that you say at the completion of a Masechet, that I have the chance to return to Masechet Shabbat and study it again. Maybe if I am fortunate enough to be able to do this once again, I will take notes and have a more complete way of organizing the material in my own mind. For now, though, Masechet Eruvin is beginning. There is no time for breaks as the Daf keeps marching on.
Note to myself for Masechet Eruvin: Take Notes!!!
My Top Ten Masechet Shabbat List
I want to write this one first because this is the most important point that I learned over the past few months. Shabbat is at the heart of who we are as Jews. The rabbis approach this in the most serious way. It is clear from their writings that the observance comes from God to Moses to the judges to the men of the Great Assembly and then to them. It is serious business, from the smallest point which I might think is not relevant, to hundreds of other points. They are all taken seriously. Remembering and guarding the Shabbat harnesses the Jewish people to the simplest but most important idea, which is rest and the rabbis spend a lot of time trying to envision how that translates into real life.
Honoring Shabbat is thought about in hundreds of ways in the Masechet. How we dress, how we eat, how we dress, how we prepare the food, how we talk about it and how we talk during it. Shabbat is for everyone. Although there are some exceptions, Shabbat is observed the same way by a king as by his subject. Shabbat is democratic; it does not have different rules for the wealthy than the poor. Shabbat brings joy and rest. The prohibitions are there yes, but so is the concept of rest and food and company and the pure joy of observing the day.
What's more important than Shabbat? Life is. This Masechet goes into what takes precedence over Shabbat. Surely, the life of a human is worth saving so there is discussion of the lives of mothers and babies. While there is lots of talk about medications, how they are made and which are ok to be administered on Shabbat, any law of Shabbat can be broken to save a life.
There is lots of talk about Brit Milah in Masechet Shabbat. In fact, there is so much that sometimes people refer to it as a mini-masechet within Masechet Shabbat. It begins by connecting Brit Milah to something that can be done on Shabbat, but it then continues to the mohel, the tools that are used and how they are cared for. How the mohel arrives for the brit and how his tools arrive is also covered and we progress even to the science of the brit and possible physical issues that either delay or cancel the brit.
People and animals and slaves and non-Jews are all included in the universe of Shabbat. How do people relate to animals on Shabbat? How to deal with the following categories of people on Shabbat: sick people, well people, babies, women in labor, animals in labor? How do people who are not Jewish but live in the universe of Jews celebrate?
What do people think? Marat Ayin and giving people the benefit of the doubt. The teachers spoke a great deal about giving people the benefit of the doubt regarding the observance of Shabbat. It became more and more clear that Shabbat is celebrated as part of a community. People in a community can be judgmental. My own take on this is that people sometimes do as they are told, but sometimes they do not. How do we live in a community and be tolerant of different ways of keeping the Shabbat? What we do to celebrate Shabbat is in our hearts and souls, but observance can clash sometimes with human nature. It is important to keep this in our minds in this day and age.
The Talmud doesn't go neatly from subject to subject or even stick to the subject at hand. One piece that resonated deeply with me, perhaps because I am saying kaddish for my mother each morning, were the mentions of life and death. The rabbis described a scene where a person passes on Shabbat. The rabbis comment that if one is present when someone's soul departs, he tears his clothing just as a family member would do. This is because of the sheer power of the experience of dying and witnessing that death. As someone who was present at the deaths of both of my parents, I fully understood the power of witnessing this experience.
Perhaps I beginning to understand the difference between Greek linear logic and Associative logic. As my teacher says, the Talmud will start in the thick of things and slowly work its way outwards. As someone who has zero powers of logical understanding, the rabbi's system seems so random, but perhaps there is more than meets the eye and someday I will understand more.
We begin the tractate with a discussion of space, and although I didn't understand most of it, it was fascinating to hear discussions only about what space means. What is public space and what is private space and how are the connected? How high do you need to go before the air becomes public space? What about the ocean? Is that public space? What about semi-private space? All of these terms were mentioned as they relate to passing objects between public and private space. Although the idea of space never enters into my head regarding Shabbat, this discussion was fascinating if only for how thoroughly the rabbis examined questions and their knowledge base seemed endless.
Perhaps the most accessible to me, the easiest to catch on are the many pieces of advice that the rabbis share. In Masechet Shabbat the rabbis engaged a great deal on the subject of medicine and cures. There is advice for men, women and children. There is advice that would never hold up to our practice in 2020, but that is what makes Daf Yomi a way to travel back to ancient times, to sit in the homes of people who observe Shabbat, to taste their food, sample their medicines, "view" their clothing and hear about things that they did which would not do today. As a concrete learner and a beginner, I am so grateful for these snippets. They keep me going forward.
Bonus- #11 It was fascinating to hear about the comparisons between the Babylonian Jewish community and Israel's community. There were two centers going on and two academies studying and interpreting laws. There had to be a bit of competition between the two and there had to be some misunderstandings as to how the different communities conducted their business. Every once in a while there are stories of representatives of communities visiting one another and one can easily sense their differences and even a bit of competition going on!
The more I write, the more I realize that I cannot include here. I need to do this Masechet again and perhaps the second time I will understand more.
Last, I will direct you to podcasts that you can also do. I can assure you that you will find the Daf interesting, challenging and different each day. I am specifically directing you to the siyum yesterday and to the words of others at the Siyum. Their words carry weight and depth and I am happy to share them here with you.
A segment of the formula recited at the end of a Masechta. Taken from Sefaria.
May it be your will, Lord my G-d, just as You have helped me to complete tractate _____, so too may you help me to start other tractates and books, and to complete them, to learn and to teach, to observe and to enact and to fulfill all the words of the teaching of your Torah with love. And may the merit of all of the Tannaim and Amoraim and Torah scholars be present for me and for my descendants, to ensure that the Torah does not depart from my mouth and from the mouths of my descendants for all eternity. And may the following be fulfilled for me: (Proverbs 6:22) "When you walk, it will lead you, when you lie down, it will watch over you. When you awake, it will speak with you." (Proverbs 9:11) "For through me your days will be multiplied, and the years of your life will be increased." (Proverbs 3:16) "Length of days is in her right hand; in her left, riches and honor." (Psalms 29:11) "G-d will give strength to his nation, G-d will bless his nation with peace."
Link to the Hadran Community's Masechet. I would direct you toward the end to the particular talks of participants. (starts at minute 22)