Thursday, 24 October 2013

Shekalim 7 a, b

Our focus on 'what to do if...'; when the Shekalim contribution goes wrong, continues with today's daf. What if a nazir dies before donating?  What if another person dies after the Shekalim have been designated but before they have been collected?  And on...

Halacha 5 and a new Mishnah: Surplus funds collected for redeeming captives who have been redeemed go toward redeeming other captives (now or in the future).  The same for poor people who have already been given funds - the suplus then goes to to other poor people.  Similarly, when dead people's funeral arrangements, etc., do not require further funding, the surplus funds go toward the needs of other dead people.  However, if the money is designated to any one individual captive or poor person, the excess funds go to those individual people.

Regarding surplus funds dedicated to a specific dead person, the rabbis argue.  Gemara: heirs get the surplus; R. Meir: Elijah the prophet will determine this unresolved point of law and so the funds are set aside; R. Natan: a monument for his grave is built with the surplus funds.

Some interesting ideas come from these suggestions.  Rav Yirmiyah challenges Rav Idi of Chutra, saying "I never stated my opinion categorically. How are you so certain that I am wrong?".  I am pulling out this particular quotation not for it's point of reference but its reflexivity.  This ancient text has recorded not only a disagreement, but analysis of that disagreement.

A Baraita teaches that we use designated funds only for the purposed agreed upon. However, should a community leader use money earmarked to buy a cloak for one person to buy a cloak for another needy person (assuming that the first person already has a cloak), we should not question that decision.  Why not simply change the halacha to reflect our values and behaviours?  Why not say that we can change the designation of a gift if that gift will not benefit it's target?  Jewish legal tradition is tremendously particular when it comes to the maintenance of minhag and halachic consistency.  However, it leaves room for divergent behaviours when it comes to deciding on how to care best for a community in need. Progressive because the community needs might be met?  Regressive because we maintain a problematic power structure?

Finally the rabbis consider the pros and cons of building monuments.  Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel shares a beautiful teaching: we do not make memorials; words are their memorials.  In discussing this idea, the rabbis agree that a memorial is not appropriate for a righteous person.  Instead, his [sic] teachings will live on in the study halls and his inscriptions will last longer than any monument.  I am drawn to the notion of memory as something tangible.

A story about the egos of our rabbis (well, that's my take) follows this  conversation. Rav Yochanan was a large man who needed assistance walking.   When walking while leaning on a colleague, Rav Yochanan becomes upset with Rav Eliezer, ostensibly because R. Eliezer was hiding from him rather than "inquiring after my welfare," ie. greeting Rav Yochanan.  Although a number of rabbis try to convince Rav Yochanan that he should not think badly of Rav Eliezer; that the customs are different in Babylonia, it is not no avail.  And then it comes out: Rav Yochanan is upset because Rav Eliezer has not been naming Rav Yochanan as the source of his teachings.  To end the dispute, Rav Yaakov bar Idi suggests that Rav Eliezer does not quote each of Rav Yochanan's teachings just as Joshua does not give appropriate credit to Moses for all of his teachings.

The rabbis go on to discuss the importance of naming one's sources, both for current purposes and for merit in the World-to-Come.  There are some interesting references to the World-to-Come, and how we might benefit from students stating our name in the earthly realm.  In particular, when a student speaks the teaching and its source, "their lips move with them in the grave". The rabbis note that this is impossible, but the more esoteric meanings are discussed further.

We are told that Rav Yochanan was angry for fear that he would not benefit as is his right in the World-to-Come.  However, the Gemara notes that surely the Heavens would know the source of any teaching!  And thus it seems that all are making excuses for Rav Yochanan's rude and disrespectful behaviour.  The status of Rav Yochanan forces other rabbis to run around placating him.  But what does it say of a great rabbi when he holds on to shallow, silly disputes?  Should a rabbi of great status publicly criticize a disciple?  And when that public criticism was based on dishonouring his teacher... this seems petty and far below the concern of a rabbi as learned as Rav Yochanan.

Again, the Talmud allows us to see the human behaviour of our Sages.  Rav Yochanan demonstrates everyday emotions and behaviours: anger, indignance, pride, embarrassment, stubbornness, self-centredness.  The rabbis who attempt to placate him show other human traits: eagerness to please, desire for acceptance, desire for peace, feeling compelled to creatively stretch the truth for a 'greater good', etc.  All of this is recorded.  We cannot pretend that our Sages found out how to live without anger.  As the Talmud is one step more recent than the Torah, we can feel that much more validated in our own struggles with unwanted emotions and behaviours.  And as Abraham and Sarah were not perfect, our Sages were not perfect, and we are very far from perfect.  

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