Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Pesachim 5a, b

Today's daf reminds me of Berachot, the first masechet in the daf yomi cycle.  Engaging, exciting, filled with references to halachot that are current still today. The rabbis use one or two words - sometimes even one or two letters - to create meaning out of the Torah text.  In today's daf, we learn about verbal analogy (gezeyrah shavah), that the Torah does not use extra words (im eino inyan), Hebrew aleph-bet calculation of alef-chet-samech, bet-chet-ayin.  These exegetical analyses are commonplace and understood.

I remember learning briefly with an orthodox rabbi while I was doing my Master's degree.  He began conversation with me about a Torah verse as if I understood these basic principles.  "What are we learning about here?" he asked me.  I was lost.  I suggested something simple, something that felt stupid. "If a word is repeated," he explained, "there must be a reason.  What could be the reason that this word was repeated?"  OH.  I got it.  But how in the world would I have known that rule?  And how many other similar rules might exist?  I very quickly ended that learning, one of many times that I stopped learning because I did not already understand.

Today's daf has the rabbis looking for connections between the removal of chametz, the burning of leaven, the prohibition on eating leaven, and the eating of matza.  Also they examine possible connections between the days of Pesach, the days of the week, and the days of Sukkot.  The number seven is ubiquitous.  So is the idea of intermediate days, or work days, and "the first day" yom rishon or "the day before".  

The notion of burning is examined, as these words could be a proof that lighting a fire is one of the 39 prohibited categories of labour on Shabbat.  Lechalek yatzat, being singled out to divide -- could it be that this prohibition is different from the other 39? It carries a different punishment, and it is the only prohibition derived by something other than the construction of the mishkan.

Our Sages end the daf with a longer conversation about leaven, which shall not be seen or found in your home: "Seven days leaven shall not be found in your homes" (Exodus 12:19) and "no leaven shall be seen with you, neither shall there be leavened bread seen with you, in all your borders" (Exodus 13:7).   Some questions: what is the difference between seeing and finding?  Can leaven be covered up?  What if we see the leaven of a gentile who is one's employee?  What if he is one's slave?  Our homes - what about our pits, ditches and caves?  And what is that repetition for?  Perhaps this is about gentiles who have lent their leaven to Jews.  Or not.

Finally, the rabbis shift their conversation to money and objects that are worth money.  But more of that conversation will is forthcoming... tomorrow.

Every ritual, every halacha that I have learned, all of these things that I have assumed were custom rather than rabbinical halachot - they have been discussed, turned upside down, shaken, put back together again, and then learned as law.  I am floored by the depth with which these halachot have been examined.  And I am so privileged to have access to the actual assembling of my own traditions. 

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