Saturday, 21 September 2013

Pesachim 94 a, b

So many days without daf yomi posts!  Between Sukkot and Shabbat, I have had it easy with my blogging practice.  But then again, all of that time and more has gone into sukkah building, cooking and hosting.  So... maybe it has not been pure laziness on my part.

Todays blog is an incredible voyage into past understandings of the physical world: its measurements, its relationship to the sky and the stars, and its barriers that affect us all.

We begin with the rabbis' debate about the meaning of "distant journey". They have established that a person who delayed from offering the Paschal lamb only due to the delay of a distant journey should be allowed to offer again at the second Pesach.  But what is a distant journey?  How long does it take to walk from one of the cities surrounding Jerusalem to the Temple inside of Jerusalem?  What is reasonable accommodation?  

In attempting to explain the distance between one place and another, the rabbis enter into a conversation about metaphysics.  How can we understand time and space based on the movement of the sun, the organization of the stars, the placement of the firmament?  They put forward a number of theories each disputing the one before.  If I had the time and patience to do so, I would repeat these theories, which clearly reflect the knowledge base of people living in the Middle East two thousand years ago.  The world is a flat surface with a measurable circumference.  The sun travels in one of many mysterious ways.  Most likely, the rabbis agree, it returns from the west to the east during the night, travelling behind the opaque firmament.  The darkness that results is all that we can witness of this process.

The daf ends with a conversation about those who are impure and their travels to the Temple. Much less intriguing that the preceding conversation.  

When the rabbis argue so assuredly about their understandings of how our world works - and when they were clearly so wrong - how can people continue to understand them as infallible?  As I continue to delve into the world of Talmud, it seems more and more evident that I am learning about the thoughts of human beings - brilliant human beings, but not beings inspired by G-d's immediate presence.  And if that is the case, they must be inspired by something else.  How could they not be influenced by the power structures, the societal issues and the struggles of that time and place?

I continue to marvel as I have the privilege of entering the texts of my ancestors.  Regardless of whether or not their understandings of "the facts" match mine, I am allowed to watch their thoughts.  What an amazing experience!  Today's daf is highly recommended reading, of course.

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