Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Sukka 52 a, b

When the Messiah comes, there will be a great funeral.  What will happen at that great eulogy, the eulogy for the Messiah ben Yoseph or perhaps the eulogy for the yetzer ha' ra, the evil inclination?  First, men and women will be separated.  The rabbis comment on how important it is for men and women to be separated at times of levity, even if the evil inclination is dead.  Second, people will cry.  Why would we cry for the end of the evil inclination?  Because we are sad that we could not overcome such a great mountain of evil.  Or, if we have succumbed to the evil inclination easily, we cry because we were unable to resist something as small as a strand of hair - or a spiders' web.  

In a note, Steinsaltz teaches us about the evil inclination:
  • it has seven names
  • each level of evil is worse than the next
  • it is the source of all evil in a person
  • it conceals the good as the foreskin conceals [the good?]
  • it corrupts pure thoughts in the heart
  • it works purposefully, planning this vengeance
  • it entraps us by using artifice
  • once captured, it is hard to move - like stone
  • it acts stealthily, as it is hidden in our hearts
Interesting that magical thinking is encouraged when it comes to the concept of evil.  None of these characteristics are based on logic or science.  The rabbis go on to find verses in the Tanach that will verify their ideas.  However, I would argue that this understanding of evil is based on metaphor and experience.

The rabbis want to understand why the yetzer ha'ra is so difficult to counter, even for righteous people. Abaye tells a story: he overheard a man and a woman speak about rising early to travel together on the road.  Abaye, sure that they would be overcome by yetzer ha'ra, followed them at some distance to stop them should they begin to sin.  At the end of their journey, having kept the halachot, he overheard them saying that the other was a pleasant travelling partner.  If it had been someone I hate, thought Abaye, referring to himself, he would not have been able to overcome the yetzer ha'ra.  Seeing him despairing on a doorpost, an Elder taught him that one who is a greater person has a greater evil inclination to overcome.

Amud (b) continues to describe the yetzer ha'ra; its strength, its power, its tenacity.  One of the major themes of this conversation is the yeter ha'ra is being within the person. It lives in us and aims to overcome us.  When we allow the yetzer ha'ra even to undermine one tiny part of ourselves, we will be at the mercy of its overwhelming, gradual usurping of our personality.  This will extend beyond the grave; we will continue to face the yetzer ha'ra in the world-to-come.

Rabbi Yochanan quotes Hosea to explain why we should have sexual relations in moderation.  If we have sexual relations frequently, it is as if we are starving "the organ"; it craves even more.  If we have sexual relations infrequently, we are satiated.  Hosea tells us that when G-d gave us food, we ate until we were full - and then we forgot about G-d (13:6).  While this isn't a perfect metaphor, it allows us to understand the rabbis' views on healthy sexual behaviour.

We learn that the rabbis believe that G-d regretted four creations: Exile, Chaldeans, Ishmaelites, and the Yetzer Ha'ra.  How could G-d regret anything?  A note tells us that G-d could not regret anything, but these four creations cause G-d pain.  The yetzer ha'ra is on the list because it leads to the exile of G-d's people, for they were corrupted.  Micah (4:6) hold this prooftext.  I wonder that these other three concepts/peoples are listed as well.  Perhaps these are the four things that the RABBIS regret in G-d's creation.

The rabbis continue to imagine the end of days.  They name four craftsmen (Zecharia 4:3), the seven shepherds and the eight princes (Micah 5:4).  The people chosen are both historical giants, including patriarchs, and more 'modern' leaders, including a great Sage. 

We end the daf by moving back to the Mishna.  In looking at the descriptions of the ladders and the menorah, we learn about the son of Marta.  He had tremendous strength.  A note teaches us that Marta was the son of Baitos, from a prominent wealthy family.  Marta had great influence in her lifetime; she is mentioned in the Talmud!  But we learn that she died of starvation following the destruction of the second Temple in the streets of Jerusalem.

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