Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Nedarim 32: Astrology & Divination, Circumcision, Numerology, Wholeheartedness

Nedarim is the study of contract law.  But the most interesting parts of this masechet, for me, are shared through the digressions.

The rabbis wish to prove that the mitzvah of circumcision is more important than the halachot of Shabbat.  They use proof texts from Exodus (2:24-26) and other places to understand how Moses did not circumcise his child but Zipporah did.  They point to a fear of both anger and wrath (Psalms 37:8, Isaiah 27:4, Deuteronomy 9:19) which may have led to Moses killing the angel Cheima.  Further, Abraham was called tamim, wholehearted, only after he performed circumcision.  

Wholeheartedness is not specifically defined, but it seems to be a very important concept. Is it focus?  Mental direction?  Does it involve more than the mind but the soul, as well?

The rabbis use different proof texts to validate their claim that the mitzvah of circumcision is equal to all other mitzvot of the Torah (Exodus 34:27, Jeremiah 33:25).  Some rabbis disagree with that assertion and argue that the Torah, not circumcision, is being discussed in those and other proof texts. 

Abraham went outside and looked to the constellations, noting that he was only to have one son - and he already had Ishmael.  The rabbis speak more about the significance of acting with wholeheartedness, and then they proclaim that divination - looking to see the future - will lead to that same 'sign' injuring the person who seeks answers.  The proof texts for this argument revolve around Jacob, for it was said that "For there is to him/no divination with Jacob".  The word for "to him" is "lo", which could also mean "no" when spelled lamed aleph (which is the case here).  Another argument suggests that all divination is unacceptable because of Jacob and because Israel is already closer that the angels to G-d (Numbers 23:23).

Speaking about why Abraham's children were enslaved to Egypt for 210 years, the rabbis suggest that  he was punished for sending his trained men - his Torah scholars - to war.  The rabbis then begin a conversation about numerology: the numeral value of the men who went to war (Genesis 14:14) is the same as that of the letters of Abraham's name: 318.  Further, G-d enthroned Abram over 243 limbs - also the numerical value of his name - until he changed his name to Abraham.  At that point he w ruled over 248 limbs, which is the numerical value of the name Abraham.

We learn that limbs are any part of the body with a bone that is covered over with skin.  Additional limbs - eyes, ears, tip of the sex organ - are considered to be "additional limbs".  Rami bar Abba explains Ecclesiastes 9:14-15 as follows: A little city with a few men in it refers to the body with its limbs.  The great king who came against it and besieged it and built great bulwarks against it refers to the evil inclination and our sins.  A man who was poor and wise delivered the city with his wisdom but was not remembered means that the good inclination - good deeds and repentance - overcomes the evil inclination, but no one remembers the good when faced with the evil.

The rabbis also explain Ecclesiastes 7:19 in a similar manner.  They then speak about G-d's wish for all of G-d's children to be priests.  This is discussed.

The daf ends with a new Mishna: Those who vow not to benefit from another person's food, in particular, may not lend or borrow any food-related item, from a strainer to an oven.  However, unrelated items - cloaks, nose rings, etc., may be shared.

Today's daf mentioned things I'd understood as law without any reason or meaning attached.  The first was the idea that circumcision is equal to all of the Torah; it is more important than Shabbat.   The second was that divination is against Jewish law.  Again it is incredibly powerful to find the reasoning behind what I have understood as law. Divination, for example, seems weaker than other halachot.  I suppose I'll find out more about what the rabbis have to say about this as I continue to learn.

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