Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sukka 48 a, b

After establishing that Shemini Atzeret is a Festival unto itself, the rabbis further their arguments.   A new Mishna teaches that Hallel and rejoicing are mandated for eight days, just as they are required on the other days of Sukkot.  And then the Gemara finds further proof texts regarding the observance on the evenings and the direction to rejoice.

A Mishna tells us that the mitzvah of sukka is 7 days.  When we finish eating, we shouldn't take down the sukka immediately.  Instead, we should take down the vessels from mincha (afternoon) on out of respect for the last day of the Festival.  The Gemara  discusses what should be done when this does not apply.  Some people do not have vessels.  Instead, they can light a lamp in the sukka to distinguish the last day from the other days of Sukkot.  But what if the sukka is large and the lamp lighting was already permitted (small sukkot cannot accommodate lamps because of the fire risk, it seems).  The rabbis agree that different vessels can be permitted into the sukka in these cases.  The underlying message is that things should be distinguishable from other Festival days.  Again, we notice our rabbi's concern with creating a barrier between 'this' and 'that'.

Another Mishna, the last of today's daf, teaches us about the water and wine libations of Sukkot.  We learn how to full a golden jug with water from the Siloam pool and to fill two silver basins on the Altar.  Those basins are perforated with 'nostril-like' openings, where one is larger than the other to help regulate the flows of wine and water.  It is permitted to mix the libations - after the fact.  In order to distance themselves from Alexander Yannai, the Sadducee-educated Hasmonean King, who once spilled this water on his feet, the priest must raise one hand as he pours.  Finally, this Mishna teaches that the wine and water are collected and protected earlier for Shabbat to avoid any exposure.

In breaking down these directions, the Gemara begins with the notion of joy.  With joy we draw the water from the Siloam spring.  The rabbis tells stories about two heretics named Sasson, Joy, and Simcha, Happiness.  They fought over which was more important.  When Sasson's name was mentioned first, he found proof for his superiority.  However, Simcha could do the same.   We learn in a note that the rabbis are confused with the placement and meaning of these stories.  Perhaps this is a mockery of the heretics in Isaiah who attempted to appropriate Torah hermeneutics in a grab for power.

I love that we believe that self-referential text is 'post-modern'.  Is the writing of antiquity post-modern, too?

The Gemara clarifies how the priests approach and leave the altar.  Other than the water libation, the wine libation and the bird sacrifice as a burnt-offering, the priests approach from the right, circle the Altar three times, and descend on the left.  In these circumstances, the priests approaches from the southwest corner - where the rite is to take place - and immediately descends the same way.  Steinsaltz teaches us in a note that the circling is omitted to ensure the purity of the wine/water and to ensure that the bird is not overcome by the smoke of the Altar.

Hard to imagine that a bird might be overcome but all of the other animals would not mind the smoke.  Perhaps birds were most difficult to restrain.  Another distasteful reminder about the Temple services.

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