I love the poetry of the Talmud, especially when it makes promises like "One who cohabits with his mother in a dream can anticipate attaining understanding" (57a) or when it observes that "a sigh breaks even a person's entire body" (58b); "that man was formed last in creation and first in misfortune" (61a).
One doesn't need to go to Plato to find the legend that the first man was "one male and one female, joined back to back" (61a).
There is also the sly humor of the one who teaches that "If, in his dream, one relieved himself, it is a favorable sign for him . . . but this applies only where in the dream he did not wipe himself."
This text is alive with all the dimensions of living. Its greatness is its breadth as much as its depth. There is quite a bit of etiquette for the privy in these pages, but there are also grim reminders of brutal persecution.
With All Your Soul
The themes that seem to dominate these pages are the boundaries within which we can learn and the boundaries to which we must hold fast. Regarding the former, the text seems to suggest that there are no questions that are off limits, whether one's teacher is being flayed alive, making love to his wife, or wiping himself after a bowel movement. Regarding the latter, I was too hasty in dismissing Reed Chopper's suggestion that nullification can go beyond appearance, since here (63a) Rava interprets Bar Kappara's teaching to signify that "at times God's honor demands that one perform a transgression for its sake."
This text compresses a lot of material in only a few pages. The passages that seem to be repetititions of earlier sections go deeper. And the earthy examples create unforgettable mnemonics to ensure that they will not be forgotten.