Monday, 24 June 2013

Pesachim 4a, b

Pesachim is a treat, I tell you!  So much to chew on.  But I never take the time to really delve in... this daf yomi process is both a gift and a curse.  Like trying to drink water from a firehose, my partner continually reminds me.

We continue with the larger question of 'or': does it refer to the evening? if so, why?  And today we move on to the search for leaven, bedikat chametz.

We begin with another example of speaking of death euphemistically as done by Rabbi Chiyya.  Rabbi Chiyya's response to learning that he should have been in mourning for his parents results in learning three halachot: 
1) we mourn for only one day and not seven if we learn of a significant death after the shiva period; 
2) one day can translate to any portion of one day; 
3) we remove our shoes when we are in mourning.  

The relatives who died were also relatives (likely) of Rav, and we learn Rav's geneaology.  His parents were step-siblings: Rav's father was Aveyhu (Abba) and his mother was Imma.  They had different mothers. Abba's father was Imma's step-father.  

We like to pretend that the 'nuclear family' is a historically based, static, stable and reliable institution.  Not so much.

The Gemara briefly discusses one man's expression regarding judgement and another man's comment on cypresses by the sea as natural evidence of their geneaology: the tribe of Dan begets people who speak about judges so; the tribe of Zebulun "shall dwell by the seashore". 

Looking at the search for leaven, the Gemara considers which time of day is most appropriate for the search.  Like circumcision, should it should be done first thing in the morning within a window of sanctified time?  ie. Let's hurry to do the mitzvah early in the day!  Also, Abraham rose to kill his son Isaac - to fulfil a mitzvah - bright and early, so that sets a precedent, too.  But Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak reminds us that people are home in the evening, and that lamplight works best for assisting with evening searches.  Thus, the Gemara concludes, the bedikat chametz should happen in the evening, and Torah scholars should be careful not to miss the mitzvah of the search because they began their work too late in the day. 

The Gemara turns to the issue home ownership.  Who is responsible for ensuring that leaven has been removed from the home?  What if the home is occupied on the 14th of Nissan?  This turns into a conversation about legal witnesses.  If a woman, a minor or a slave tell witness that the house is free of leaven, are they believed?  Many rabbis tell us that for purposes of rabbinic law, the word of a least a woman and possibly a minor (perhaps a minor who has been trained in the observance of mitzvot) should be understood as valid.  Rosh stands out as a Sage who tells us that women can never act as legal witnesses, even in matters of Rabbinic law.

I want to read more about Rosh.  I want to know more about the personalities of our Sages, and how they felt about women holding positions of power.  I want to understand how our tradition became one so diluted by patriarchal analysis that we must learn how to swim before we can speak.  But I digress.

In the end, it is agreed that leaven is prohibited from the sixth hour of the day onward.  Some believe that it should be burned at the fifth hour and some believe that it should be burned slightly later.

The last thought of today's daf is quite interesting.  We learn in Exodus that for "seven days, leaven shall not be found in your houses".   In another verse, we learn that "... on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses."  How can both be true?  The Gemara tells us that the "first day" includes the 14th of Nissan and not to the 15th of Nissan which is the actual start of the chag.  

The Gemara begins to explore this further but immediately jumps to tomorrow's daf, and so I'll end here.

These are the types of questions that I have asked myself for as long as I can remember. Why do we stop eating chametz at a particular time and day?  How can we hold the last crumbs of chametz in a spoon - where do we put the chametzdik utensil?  Why is it alright for women to be obligated to some mitzvot but not to most?  

I see that the rabbis asked the same questions, that they disagreed about the answers, and that they respected the tradition of asking.  I wish that I had had access to Talmudic learning when I was young.  It opens the mind to multiple viewpoints and addresses the unrelenting "whys". 

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