Thursday, March 10, 2005

Berachos 7-9

A self-described member of "the peanut gallery" wrote,
One peep from the peanut gallery (which was probably covered in the ArtScroll commentary and/or which you likely long ago figured out yourself) is that themes of the night and the dawn in the Talmud always also allude to the exile and the redemption.
Sadly, no. In the earlier folios I did not pick up on this theme and I did not see it explicitly expressed in ArtScroll's commentary, but before the gemara on the first mishnah ends, I have since seen the boundaries and overlaps of day and night explicitly linked to escape from Egypt (redemption from Egypt happened at night and departure from Egypt happened by day) and Egypt explicitly described as the first exile:
The Holy One Blessed is He, said to Moses, "Go and say to Israel, 'I was with them in this subjugation in Egypt, and I shall be with them at the time of their subjugation at the hands of other kingdoms." Moses, assuming that God wanted him to repeat this entire message to the Children of Israel, said before God, "Master of the universe! It is enough for an affliction to be dealt with at the time it actually arrives. Why should I cause them worry now by mentioning a later trouble?"
With hindsight, Moses forestalls foreshadowing!

I'm listening to music as I write this, and I just realized the irony that the music I am listening to is the funeral of Akhnaten from Philip Glass's opera about the Egyptian Pharoah who was the first to conceive of an abstract god. The irony is even more attenuated by the realization that the first glimpses of God in Berachos are anything but abstract: from the Tefillin that God dons on 6a, this is far from a mystical conception of deity. On 7a, God prays and ArtScroll's footnote 2 quotes Ben Yehoyada:
What need is there for this prayer? He is uttering the prayer to Himself!
Perhaps, as R'Saadia Gaon suggests,
The Gemara doesn't mean that God prays, but rather that God demonstrates how we should pray.
Folio 8a tells us where to pray, and ArtScroll fn 17 that "Truancy from the synagogue is punished with exile"-- a double exile, if you will, since the synagogue itself is a place of refuge during our exile from the Temple.

Alas, exile can also be a psychological condition. Consider R'Yehoshua ben Levi's instructions to his sons on 8b:
Be careful with the honor of an elderly scholar who has involuntarily forgotten his Torah learning, for we say that the second set of Tablets and the broken pieces of the first Tablet both rest in the Ark.
To involuntarily lose one's learning is the most acute of all exiles. I cannot read this teaching without reflecting on my stepmother Sarah, who cared for her husband Sam long after he involuntarily forgot his Torah. When I walked into their apartment wearing a t-shirt with Hebrew text on it, Sam came alive and said, "I used to know Hebrew!" This was at a time when Sarah was changing Sam's diapers several times a day-- taking care to honor the elderly scholar who had involuntarily forgotten his Torah learning. She did not need to study this text to know what it had to teach; she derived it from logic. "After all," she would say, "didn't he change enough diapers in his life? I can do this for him."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that my comment is up, I'm immortal just like you. How many watches in the night and what are the signs is asking how we will know when the dawn is coming. The signs (intercourse, nursing etc. are all symbolic).

I'm surprised you didn't feature the JOKE in the first section: You shouldn't go into a ruin for three reasons:
1. It could look like you're going in to do something illicit, like a drug deal
2. It might be haunted
3. It could fall on your head!

So it's a parody of their own exegetic process.

That section also explains why Chassidim YELL: "Yehay shmay rabbah..." in the kaddish. They know it causes God pain and regret for the exile.

This business of God praying is interesting. Moslems, when the mention the name of Mohammed always add: "Salah allahu alayhi wasalama" -- may God pray for him and grant him peace. But I disagree completely that God wearing tefillin is nonmystical. The gemara utterly rejects the idea of a man-like physical god entity, and having done that, then feels free to indulge in the
most outrageous gross anthropomorphisms (remember God giving Sennacherib a bad shave and haircut in Sanhedrin?) Another characteristic is just when they take you to somewhere realy spooky or esoteric they make sure to pop the bubble by taking you down, Like the section you just did where God nods his HEAD -- they immediately then say we learn from that, that you should
acknowledge everybody's greeting, even those who you feel are socially inferior to you. In shir hakavod (anim zemirot - sung in many Ortho shuls by a kid at the end of shabbat services) there's an allusion to the incident (u'vebirchati t'na'anah li rosh -- when I greet you, you nod your head at me). The hymn explains why we use anthropomorphisms. God wearing tefillin changes how you feel when you wear it, just like the idea of God as a father changes for you when not only do you have a father, but you also ARE a father.

Enough already -- I refuse to get sucked into this!

9:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home