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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Comma

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

On Sunday we will mark the occasion of completing another masechet in the Daf Yomi cycle.

This Masechet, Masechet Beitzah (egg) is about the laws of Yom Tov. Wiith my own very limited knowledge, this Masechet helps us understand perhaps why we do what we do not on Yom Tov, but even more important, it gives us a peek through a window of what Yom Tov was like in ancient times. As my teacher, Yardaena Osband, repeated frequently on the podcast Talking Talmud, Beitzah taught us how much more complex life was for people. Cooking, refrigeration, slaughtering, heating; all of these things needed to be considered in a much more serious way before the innovations of electricity and refrigeration. Even a restful day such as a Yom Tov left people with much to do in order to maintain the spirit and dignity of the day.

As I thought of how I could express this in poetry, I thought about the rules of grammar and particularly, the comma. We don't think much about where our rules of grammar originated; we merely follow them. As it goes for Yom Tov. We follow (as best as we can) the halachah and forget where the ideas originated....hence, this poem called The Comma. A little far fetched, but hopefully there is some connection.

What if life was long one long sentence without a period without a comma without a semicolon without a question mark words sentences would run on and on we would never know where to breathe when to breathe how to rest when to rest we would prattle on and on and on without stopping and language would wind endlessly streaming no rest for the weary a series of words upon words tangled and teased and then one day one year ten years a century maybe more the rules of grammar were invented question marks and exclamation points colons and semicolons and best of all

the comma,

which allow us

to rest,

to stop,

to focus,

to take a breath,

to speak the world differently.

Commas have many rules.

They are placed here and not there.

Once people debated the rules,

considered and discussed

and then finalized.


creating sense

and rhythm

and a tiny pause between words and ideas.

And now we know the rules.

They are written down.

Someone once debated to create

a system

of rests



We learn them.

We hear them.

We speak them.

We live them.

We don't recall the hows now.

We just know that a comma creates a pause,

helps us make sense of language.

And so it is with commas.

And so it is with the rules of life.

Pauses are important,

holy even.

And so it is with the rules of Yom Tov.

We know them, we do them

without thinking much about what was before,

how things once were;

how so many things,

both small and large,

were debated and discussed.

Language ornamented with


and so many questions

until there they were


with all their complexity,

their perplexity,

and all their history,

even their beauty.

So, take a moment.


There it is,

the comma.


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