Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Pesachim 84 a, b

When we register as part of a group for the offering, it seems that we can register to consume a specific part of the Paschal lamb.  We know that the bones of a Paschal lamb cannot be broken, but is there leniency when it comes to particular bones?  What about tough sinew?  Which parts of the Paschal lamb can be eaten?  How do the rules regarding consumption of an adult ox help us understand how to eat a kid?  And so that we understand what we are in for, what are the punishments if we break the bones of a ritually pure Paschal lamb; a ritually impure Paschal lamb? 

In daf (b) we are witness to a discussion about a Paschal lamb that has broken a bone. It seems that this is a different consideration than previous discussions, where we are defining how to divide and then consume an animal that is 'whole': we are not to break a bone.  But what if the bone has been broken?  Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish (among others) argue about how much meat must be on the bone to render the offering void (because the meat cannot be eaten and thus the mitzvah is not fulfilled).  

The rabbis put great effort into understanding exactly how we can fulfill the commandment to burn and consume the Paschal lamb.  So much energy has been spent on these seemingly minute details; we likely will not have opportunity to participate in such rituals again.  Why study this material in such depth?  Why not spend inordinate amounts of time on directly helping others, or on less structured personal growth exercises, or on relationship-building?  

Part of my interest in this learning is the historical, sociological, ritualistic and spiritual similarities between this ancient culture and my own.  The fact that rabbis have spent such time on the study of Talmud is interesting in itself, even without examining what they are studying.  It is a firmly held belief in Jewish thought that study of Torah is necessary.  It is not only that social justice is achieved through what we learn in the Torah about how to be just.  It is that Torah should be studied for its own sake - because it is in itself a fulfilling exercise.  

That is my experience of Talmud.  It enriches my life to learn every day, even though it distracts me from other priorities and interests.  And I suppose I want to feel connected to others who felt the same way.

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