Thursday, 31 October 2013

Shekalim 14 a, b

Daf 14 describes some of the Kohen families that are responsible for different tasks in the care of the Temple and its functions.  The criticism of some families is vivid and descriptive.  I am not clear how the rabbis were able to justify these words which might be called lashon hara.

One of the insults is worth remembering. We learn that a pious man who digs ditches has lost both his son and his daughter to water-based tragedies.  Though pious, this man cannot stop sobbing when learning of his daughter's death.  We are to learn that even those of us who are pious must sin, and all sins are punished, even small sins.  If one should doubt G-d's strict punishments for sin, we are told the following: If one should say that G-d is lax in His punishments, may his bowels be relaxed!  My criticisms would fall in the "blaming the victim" realm.

We are told that Gevini the Cryer would passionately sing and call to the Kohanim.  We look at Ben Gever who locks the gates, Ben Beivai who is responsible for the wicks, Ben Arzeh who plays the cymbals, Hugras the Levi who had the strongest, most beautiful voice, the House of Garmu who were in charge of the shewbread, the House of Avtinas who presided over the incense, Elazar who oversaw the making of the curtains, and Pinchas who dressed the Kohen Gadol.

Each of these characters or families has a story attached to them.  The Gemara describes either their righteousness, their stand-offishness; their gifts and their flaws.  Two families are villainized for their presumed vanity or secretiveness or seemingly sinful behaviour.  One of these families is vindicated by Rabbi Akiva in today's daf, described hundreds of years after the events took place.

Amud (b) covers Halacha 2, which really is a description of what we might call 'by-laws' in modern legal thought.  The minimum number of officers and their roles are laid out. The roles of those officers are explained.  It also covers Halacha 3.  Here we learn about the tokens, slips of parchment with names like "calf" written on them to be used as proof of payment for the nesachim.  I find this final halacha quite confusing; it describes the allotment of responsibilities and the ordering of payments for different offerings in different circumstances.

At the end of my first read through, it suddenly dawned on me that I should not be surprised about my confusion.  I have a tough time with modern economics.  Why would it be easy for me to understand an ancient monetary system that was an attempt at a description of Temple economics?  The pressure lessened.  But I'll keep trucking on...

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