Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Berachos 35-36

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Chapter Six (35a) begins with a new question: “In what manner does one recite the blessing on fruits?” From this question, it is a brief transition to R’Akiva teaching that “It is forbidden for a person to taste anything before he recites a blessing.” The rabbis search for a Scriptural foundation for Akiva’s teaching, but their search is (pardon the pun) fruitless. They conclude, “This requirement is based on reason.” And, personally, I am relieved, because I don’t need a proof for a teaching that is simple common sense: I want to feel the blessing of every thing and every person that I encounter.

We are told that “whoever derives benefit from this world without first reciting a blessing has committed an act of me’illah” (unauthorized use of Temple property) and (even more grave) “is regarded as if he robs the Holy One, Blessed is He . . .” Passages like this often prompt Mike to ask why God would care. I tend to think of this sort of homily as externalizing our own need to be conscious of the benefits we derive as the day unfolds. On the other hand, I don’t know what to make of the suggestion on 36a that intent to use a substance as a remedy rather than for pleasure does not need a blessing. Which leads me to . . .

Fear and Loathing
We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the Sixties. Uppers are going out of style. This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously. After West Point and the Priesthood, LSD must have seemed entirely logical to him.
. . . What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create . . . a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody—or at least some force-- is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.
---Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, pp 178-179.

The Levim “do not utter song except over wine”(35a) and the Gemara asks, “Now, if we indeed understand that wine gladdens men, in what way does it gladden God?” Well, surely not in the way that Timothy Leary was suggesting back in the sixties, but red wine, with its resemblance to blood and the power it has, the seeming infusion of life force that it provides, is responsible for a level of awe that is not dissimilar to that afforded LSD for a brief moment until that culture realized that there was no “force . . . tending that Light at the end of the tunnel” and turned to desensitizing downers that robbed rather than infused the life force. A 2ist Century reading of the ancient text must occasionally reflect on what has unfolded since the ancient text was committed to paper and add these words, too.


Anonymous reed chopper said...

The discussion about the logical origin of Akiva's rule made me realize that some postings ago when I made a list of the sources of halakha, I left one out: Sevarah (reason).

The tremendous thing about Sevarah is how it is classified: One might think that halachot originating from Sevarah would be considered Rabbinic, but they are not -- they are classified as Torahitic! The reason is that Torahitic law necessarily passes through our brains to be understood and implemented, so that Torah law can't have more authority than anything else our reason validly comes up with.

1:59 PM  

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