Monday, 24 March 2014

Sukka 49 a, b

Amud (a) is brief, teaching us about the physicality of the Altar.  First,  we learn that the altar requires a ramp, a horn, a base and/or the shape of a square to be kosher.  Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda adds that it requires a completed surrounding ledge, as well.

The remainder of amud (a) looks at the drainpipes of the altar.  When blood, wine and water libations run down from the altar into the Kidron Valley, they pass through drainpipes.  The rabbis suggest that these drainpipes were created as part of the six days of creation.  How could this be?  Looking to the Song of Songs for proof, the drainpipes are compared to images including "The hidden of your thighs",  and "the handiwork of a skilled workman" (7:2).  These metaphors could be referring to the concealed, hollow network of drainpipes/water channels. "In the beginning" (Genesis 1:1) or bereshit could be read as bara sheet, the drainpipes that are connected to the Foundation rock that sits beneath the altar.  The rabbis continue with these metaphors to prove their connection.

We learn that ever so often the young priests would be asked to clean the drainpipes, particularly where the liquid libations would meet the ground.  A note teaches us that those congealed substances would be burned in the Temple courtyard.  The rabbis connect fantastic, other-worldly mysteries to something as mundane as a drainpipe.

But how do we deal with wine that has been consecrated but has not descended through the drainpipes?  Are we misusing consecrated property?

Without solving this dispute, the rabbis turn back to metaphors from the Song of Songs to describe the drainpipe.  Asides from this conversation include the notion that Abraham, as the first convert, is the patriarch who will be surrounded by princes of other nations.  As well, these 'princes' may or may not refer to Abraham's daughter, who was called prince.*

Interestingly, Rav Anan taught that "the hidden of your thighs" is like Torah study done in private.  The thigh should be concealed by clothing and Torah study should be done privately, with modesty.

This takes us on a lovely jaunt with Rabbi Elazar who comments on Micah 6:8: "It has been told you, O man, what is good , and what the Lord does require of you: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your G-d".  Justly: justice.  Mercy: acts of kindness.  Humble walking with G-d: caring for the dead and accompanying a poor bride to her wedding canopy, both of which are done without reward.  Thus giving charity and studying Torah should be all the more so conducted privately.

Rabbi Elazar also teaches that one who performs charity is greater than one who sacrifices all other offerings, for it is stated: "To perform charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than an offering" (Proverbs 21:3).  He teaches that Acts of kindness** are greater than charity, as Hosea 10:12 says: "Sow to yourselves according to charity, and reap according to kindness".   When we sow, we may or may not eat.  When we reap, we certainly will eat.  The immediacy of this mitzvah proves its superiority.

More on Rabbi Elazar: the reward for charity is paid according to one's acts of kindness.  We must set our priorities based on the need of the person we are helping.  He tells us that anyone who performs charity and justice has filled the whole world in its entirety with kindness, for "He loves charity and justice; the earth is full of the kindness of the Lord" (Psalms 33:5).  We should leap into acts of kindness.  And for those of us who are "G-d fearing", leaping should be a simple task - going above and beyond our obligations to show kindness.  

The Sages teach that kindness is greater than charity:
1) Charity is done only with money; Kindness can be done with money or with one's self
2) Charity is done for the poor; Kindness is done for the poor and for the rich
3) Charity is given to the living: Kindness is done for the living or for the dead

Rabbi Chama bar Pappa speaks about people who have chain, grace, about them.  These people must be G-d fearing, he reasons, as they are emulating G-d as described in Psalms 103:17, "But the kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him".  Rabbi Elazar says that  when Proverbs 31:26 says that "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and a Torah of kindness is on her tongue", it is speaking of Torah studied for its own sake.  Torah studied for an ulterior motive is not of kindness.  Some say that Torah studied in order to teach it to others is also a Torah of kindness.

What an intriguing look at kindness, charity and Torah study.

* An interpretation based on Psalms 47:10, where "O prince's daughter" is referring to "The princes of the peoples are gathered, the people of the G-d of Abraham".

** defined as "helping someone in need"

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