Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Yoma 76 a, b

Continuing their discussion of manna, the rabbis wonder why the manna fell daily rather than once each year (which would be consistent with other agricultural practice).  They answer: like a King who gives his son an allowance once a year, that son is not grateful. But when the King offers gifts every day, the son thanks his father every day.  Another possibility is that the people could not carry manna with them for a year while travelling.  

We move into a section of Gemara that discusses whether or not the Flood can be compared with manna.  Both involve something falling from the sky that covers a huge area.  Rabbi Moda'i suggests that there is a mathematical proof connecting the falling rain of the Flood to the falling manna.  It involves a number of complicated assumptions and calculations.  He also introduces a wonderful concept: is the attribute of goodness greater than the attribute of retribution?  A commentary by Rashi suggests that goodness is indeed 500 times greater than retribution.  Why?  In Exodus 20:5-6, G-d explains that His jealousy will lead him to punish people who hate Him for four generations while He will show mercy to those who love him for thousands of generations.  

The rabbis are brought back to their debate about the five afflictions of Yom Kippur.  Five?  Perhaps six?  No, we are told, eating and drinking count as one affliction.  This is followed by a description of different types of drink and arguments about whether or not they count as wine/drink.  Tirosh is discussed at some length.  The rabbis attempt to define this substance, as it is often listed next to wine.  Is it grape juice part-way through the fermentation process?  Is it a fruit substance or a drink?  

The last discussion of amud (b) asks why refraining from smearing oil is one of the five afflictions on Yom Kippur.  Daniel is offered up as an example.  Further, a discussion of "And it came into his innards like water, and like oil into his bones" (Proverbs 109:18).  The rabbis want to understand whether this verse should be used as a proof text or not.  This verse is alternately interpreted in multiple ways.

The interpretation of verses is inconsistent and unreliable at best.  And some of our most meaning-infused traditions originate in these interpretations.  Often I believe that I could create meaningful connections between different verses and other, unrelated ideas or texts.  The beauty of Jewish tradition is also very easy to critique: are our traditions based upon the will of G-d, or upon people inspired by G-d, or upon people inspired by great ideas, or just upon people?

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