Saturday, 26 October 2013

Shekalim 9 a, b

Although I generally do not blog about what I learn on Shabbat, for the sake of my future reference to the text, I'll share one note.  At the very end of daf 9, we are told brief stories about the physical benefit of learning Torah: "a man's wisdom brightens his face" (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

We cover a lot of ground in today's daf.

First, we 'conclude'* the conversation regarding the measure of a revi'i compared with a shemini.  The previous daf looked at amounts of wine permitted.

Next, we move to one of the uses of this measure, revi'i.  If an animal dies, it becomes neveilah, ritually impure, because it did not die according to the halachot of shechita.  In that status, the blood of the animal may cause its skin, as well, to be ritually impure.  The measure in question is one revi'i of blood - but is that measured in a congealed or in a liquid state?  The rabbis discuss this at great length, including an interesting commentary made by Rav Bivi regarding Rav Chanan's thoughts on some existential ideas.  These include: 'Your life will hang in the balance', 'you will be frightened night and day', and 'you will not be sure of you life'.

The Gemara begins a conversation regarding how to avoid suspicion of the person who withdraws the shekalim.  He must be checked before and after his work, of course, but what else?  The rabbis look at the length of his hair, what he might hold in his mouth.  They create a ritual where he enters with his own shekels between his fingers and adds them to the collection.

In amud (b), the rabbis address the 'layering' of the collection according to location.  The first layer is labelled 'aleph' and is covered.  That collection represents the people of Jerusalem.  the second layer is made up of the shekalim collected from surrounding cities, and the third holds the shekalim that have taken longest to arrive - those from further regions, including Babylonia.   When shekalim are removed, the shekalim left are designated as 'the remainders'.  They are used to pay for any needs that might arise for the purchase of sacrifices.

When praying for each group, all of the people of Israel are mentioned, in addition to the group represented by that collection of shekalim.

We move into a Baraita which describes the path to spiritual enlightenment, as told by Rav Pinchas Ben Yair:
Diligence brings
cleanliness, which brings
purity, which brings
holiness, which brings
humility, which brings
fear of sin, which brings
piety, which brings
divine inspiration, which brings
resurrection of the dead, which brings
Elijah, who is remembered for good.

Interesting commentary on each of these practices follows.  Diligence is said with regard to accuracy and speed in one's practices.  Cleanliness might refer to ritual purity, which requires physical cleanliness that leads to spiritual cleanliness. On the other hand, it might refer to being free from sin due to one's diligence in prayer and practice.  Purity is the repentance; the spiritual cleansing that happens following physical cleanliness.  Holiness is described as taking steps beyond the mitzvot, ie. abstinence from different pleasures.  This runs contrary to other ideas I have heard regarding Judaism and pleasure.

Humility refers to self-effacement, which naturally would lead us to a fear of the sin that we have admitted we cannot avoid.  Fear of sin, though, refers to reverence for G-d.  When we are in awe of G-d at all times, we cannot bear to take on things that might lead to sin.  We are vigilant.  Piety refers to going beyond the letter of the law not for oneself but to please G-d.  Divine inspiration means that G-d is with us at all times; we are privy to secret information in the Torah.

And if we reach this stage of spiritual enlightenment, we move more deeply into the realm of the supernatural.  Resurrection of the dead tells us that we would be like Elijah and Elisha, who have power over the dead.  This also refers to the notion of turning the hearts of the wicked toward goodness.  If we speak of spiritual deadness, a person who reaches this level of enlightenment can bring those people 'back to life'.  And the last stage, Elijah, suggests that we will merit the return of Elijah - either for the world, or, at least, for ourselves.

Not to be outdone, another Bariata on spiritual enlightenment is shared in the name of Rav Meir:
Anyone who is a permanent resident in the land of Israel;
who speaks Hebrew;
who eats produce in a state of taharah (ie. non-sacred food prepared according to stringent halacha);
who recites the shema in the morning and in the evening;
it will be said that he is worthy of the world-to-come

Finally, we look at a new Mishna.  We learn that terumah was used for daily offerings, the additional offerings, and their nesachim (meal or drink offerings).  The omer, the Two Loaves, the Panim Bread and the pulic offerings were paid for with terumah.  In addition, terumah was used to pay those who watched over the fields on the shemittah year, thought volunteers were acceptable.

Portions of today's daf looked much like the shelves of the self-help sections in our book stores.  "The Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment" would be a great title.  In fact, it would be great fun to write a self-help book based on today's daf.  But it would not be particularly appealing.  People are looking for a quick fix, not: "Follow all of the laws with the intent to be perfect" - and that's just step one.  Although I do not follow orthodox halacha at this time, I can't help but wonder at my desire to make life as easy as possible.  Perhaps true spiritual connection comes from a place of struggle and effort rather than from a place of letting go.  Or perhaps it's all about finding the balance.

* does anything in the Talmud ever conclude?

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