Thursday, April 21, 2005

Berachos 49-50

Pull Up a Chair Next to the Fire

There is one story from the previous section that I meant to mention in my previous post. Actually, it is hardly a story at all. It is inserted as a prolog to a section in which we find teachings about Bircas HaMazon on 46a. The text begins "R'Zeira once took ill." Then R'Abahu refers to R'Zeira as "the small man of the singed thighs" in the context of planning a party to celebrate Zeira's recovery (a party where someone will have to break the bread and someone will have to recite Bircas).

Frankly, the question of whether the host or the honored guest should recite Bircas is not going to keep me awake at night. But I may never forget the bizarre story of Zeira's thighs. According to ArtScroll fn1, the story is in Bava Metzia (85a):
. . . every thirty days R'Zeira would seat himself in a burning oven to check whether he was vulnerable to fire, so as to determine whether the fire of Gehinnom would ultimately have an effect on him. Never was he harmed at all by the fire of the oven, except once, when his thighs were singed due to the influence of an evil eye . . .
I related this story to two fellows the other evening and their reaction was visceral. "I would never do such a thing!" one of them said indignantly. But I think we need to ask ourselves exactly what it was that R'Zeira was doing. It seems to me that the point of this story is that we should all regularly do a "reality check" to determine whether we remain on the path we have resolved to follow. And to discover that we have strayed would be no less painful than sitting in a burning oven, but to fail to discover it for a prolonged period would be even worse.

Remember Not to Forget

In a Gemara that offers remedies for one who neglected to add the Rosh Chodesh blessing to his Bircas, R'Zeira (the small man of the singed thighs) is taught that he should say a blessing that concludes, ". . . Who gave Rosh Chodesh to His people, Israel, for a remembrance." This much he remembers. But in a teaching about remembrance, it is most curious that he forgets everything else: whether "gladness" was mentioned in the blessing, whether or not it was concluded with a blessing clause, and whether the teaching came from the man he heard it from or from that man's teacher.

Food Fight!
The Three Am Haaretz
On 50b two teachings are presented that are seemingly in opposition: one holds that just as we may not throw bread we may not throw other foods; one holds that even though we may not throw bread, we can throw other foods. As someone who strongly holds that the Three Stooges are among those who continued to transmit the Oral Torah during our lifetime, this question is a special concern. The Stooges, after all, were famous for throwing pies.

I was pleased to see the issue resolved as it was, with the final determination being that the teachings are in fact not in opposition and can be read as follows: just as we may not throw bread, which becomes repulsive when thrown, we may not throw other foods that become repulsive when thrown; other foods that do not become repulsive when thrown may be thrown. Since it is not the pie that becomes repulsive when thrown, but the face that is hit by it, pie throwing is permitted.


Anonymous Reed Chopper said...

My favorite story about R"Zeira (whose name means "shorty") is the following from Sanhedrin 37a:

In the neighbourhood of R. Zeira there lived some lawless men. He nevertheless showed them friendship in order to lead them to repent; but the Rabbis were annoyed [at his action]. When R. Zeira's soul went to rest, they said: Until now we had the burnt man with the singed legs to implore Divine mercy for us; who will do so now? Thereupon they felt remorse in their hearts and repented.

It sounds to me like he didn't have to worry about the fires of gehinom.

4:12 PM  
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