Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Yoma 75 a, b

The rabbis share their interpretations of different verses.  Proverbs, Isaiah, Numbers - the rabbis think of very different analyses for very different words.  Some of these regard how to deal with worrying: does the word "yashchena" refer to "quashing" the worry, "forcefully pushing" the worry, or "talking with someone about" the worry to relieve its power?  Other verses question the meaning of eating fish for nothing in Egypt: is this to be taken at face value, or does "fish" refer to illicit sexual relationships?  Does a cup refer to money spent on drink leading to drunken behaviour?  We are treated to a number of fascinating ideas.

Further analysis of forbidden sexual relations in Egypt follow.  The rabbis insist that Jewish woman are chaste, using phrases that describe them as "closed gardens" and "sealed sprigs".  However, they argue about women's sexual behaviour, particularly in Egypt, and particularly with family members.  I wonder why the focus is not on male sexual behaviour at that time, which was also subject to rules of purity and fidelity.

All of this talk about forbidden sexual relations leads the rabbis to discuss manna, which is mentioned later in one of their prooftexts.  The people left Egypt and missed "the cucumbers and the melons..." etc. (Numbers 11:5).  Is this to be taken at face value?  Or does this refer to crying over the loss of those sexual relationships?  Perhaps the people missed the texture of those foods, for manna was said to taste like any food but had only one texture.  Rabbi Asi explains that manna looked like white, pearl corriander seed while it tasted like honey wafers.  Other rabbis wonder why manna was called gad.

We learn that manna has magical properties.  Each family was given a certain amount of manna (by G-d, presumably).  When a dispute arose, Moses could identify who was speaking truth because where the manna was offered - to one family or the other - would determine to which family the person now belonged.  For example, if a husband and wife accused each other of sinning, Moses would see where the manna was collected the next day.  If it was in the husband's hut, the wife had sinned for the husband was still able to feed her.  If her nourishment was collected and placed in the wife's family's hut, the husband had sinned.  She was deserving of her ketubah payment and would be kept by her family.

The rabbis resolve a number of complex statements regarding manna - how could the manna both fall at the doors of their huts and have to be gathered?  Of course the righteous could find their manna quickly while less righteous people had to search further to gather their food.  Other fun facts about manna follow, including the spices that must have fallen to flavour the manna when it was cooked in pots.  And the fact that manna tasted like many foods just like breastmilk has many flavours based on the food eaten by a mother.

The rabbis suggest that meat was asked for inappropriately and thus it was given inappropriately.  Similarly, bread was requested appropriately (in the morning) and it was provided appropriately.  There is a suggestion that the Jewish people grabbed at food; they ate anything they could until Moses imposed meal-times.

The quail that was given, literally ad nauseam, to the Jewish people, is discussed.  The people did not necessarily die immediately; instead they suffered for a month.  This solves a possible contradiction in the text.  In turn, the rabbis look to reconcile the slaughter of these birds with the text that suggests that there was no need for ritual slaughter.

Perhaps manna is found in layers.  It is referred to alternately as bread, oil and honey.  The Gemara suggests that this is valid: to the young, manna is bread; to the old, manna is oil; to the children, manna is honey.  In this way, each person was given the appropriate nourishment.  Bizarre stories about the preparation of quail in the desert follow.  And we learn of Rava's experience of fasting - or at least not eating quail daily - once hearing that his teacher Rav Chisda had died.

Conversation about eating ensues.  We are told that the flaky substance that fell with the manna was absorbed into our 248 limbs. The rabbis determine that people would use a spade to deal with their human waste outside of the camp.  And thus did manna and this flaky substance lead to waste? No, the Gemara teaches, they would only relieve themselves of food bought by Gentile merchants. Gentile merchants in the desert?  But wait, there's more: perhaps even that nourishment did not lead to waste.  Is it an ideal experience to live without having to relieve oneself?  The rabbis continue to discuss the merits of eating without creating waste.

The bathroom habits of our Sages were discussed early in the Daf Yomi cycle; I believe that Berachot offered some vivid descriptions of our Sages using stones to clean themselves.  Demons were thought to congregate around centres of waste.  Perhaps the notion of eating without waste was particularly attractive to our rabbis, who lived in a very different time.

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