Thursday, 22 December 2016

Bava Metzia 87: Abraham & Sarah as our Mentors; Labourers and Eating

We begin with a conversation about Avraham and Sarah.  The rabbis are able to demonstrate Avraham and Sarah's personality traits - and thus the traits of righteous people - through interpreting the verses regarding their hospitality.  The same thing is done through interpretation of the birth of Isaac, which was said to have been doubted by the community until all were invited to a feast where Sarah became like a "fountain" and nursed all of the babies present.  Talk about generous people!

Moving away from these narratives and back to the last Mishna, the Gemara discusses which food a labourer is permitted to eat while employed.  Again, labourers' contracts should disclose their wages - expected to be at the average between the lowest and highest community standards.  Those contracts should also suggest how much and what food a labourer will eat while employed.  That food should follow the community minhag, custom.

We look in greater detail at the laws regarding a worker who labours in the field surrounded by food.  What is this person permitted to eat?  A new Mishna teaches us that one is permitted to eat from food that is ready to be harvested and attached to the ground; food that will not be tithed.  Food that is not yet ripe or food that is detached from the ground and food that is to be tithed may not be eaten.

The Gemara asks what we should use as an example and from which crop we are permitted to extrapolate.  A vineyard?  A standing crop (like wheat)? An olive crop?  What about crops that are harvested with scythes?  As our daf ends, the rabbis name a number of guidelines around eating from an employer's crop.  These include not gorging oneself and not sucking the juice and leaving the peel of the food on the ground.  These types of guidelines seem to be based on basic rules of conduct or 'good manners' in a given society.  

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