Thursday, May 23, 2024

The only person you can change in a relationship is you TB Baba Metzia 85

Today’s daf TB Baba Metzia 85 contrast Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Both suffered great afflictions. “The Gemara says: But even so, the afflictions of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, were greater than those of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. The reason is that whereas the afflictions of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, came upon him out of love, and left him out of love, i.e., they were solely the result of his own request, not because he deserved them (see yesterday’s daf for the entire story-gg), those of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi came upon him due to an incident and left him due to another incident.” (Sefaria.org translation)

The Gemara stated that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s suffering came upon him due to an incident. What was that incident that led to his suffering? The Gemara answers that there was a certain calf that was being led to slaughter. The calf went and hung its head on the corner of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s garment and was weeping. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to it: Go, as you were created for this purpose. It was said in Heaven: Since he was not compassionate toward the calf, let afflictions come upon him.

The Gemara explains the statement: And left him due to another incident. One day, the maidservant of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was sweeping his house. There were young weasels [karkushta] lying about, and she was in the process of sweeping them out. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to her: Let them be, as it is written: “The Lord is good to all; and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalms 145:9). They said in Heaven: Since he was compassionate, we shall be compassionate on him, and he was relieved of his suffering.” (Sefaria.org translation)

The moral of the story is clear. God treats human beings as human beings treats their fellow persons. During the High Holidays if we want God to be merciful towards us and forgive us we in turn first must be merciful and forgive those who have wronged us.

This is true in all relationships. The only person we can change in any relationship is us, but paradoxically the other changes as well. If you want your significant other to love you, you must love him/her first. When you do, he/she will return that love. If you want the other person to be kind, you must be kind first. When you do, he/she will return the kindness. If you want the other person to be helpful, you must be helpful first. When you do, he/she will reciprocate and be helpful.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What we love, we protect #parashatbehar#devartorah#parashathashavua

The Owyhee River is a 346-mile-long tributary of the Snake River that begins in northern Nevada and flows through southwestern Idaho, before finishing its route in Oregon. In the fall Brown trout begin their fall nesting ritual. You can see them excavating their nests in the gravelly shallows.

Wise fishermen know that fish are spawning and try not to disturb them. They avoid walking on gravel bars where they might trample the eggs, or wading upstream from the nests where they might dislodge debris that can smother them. And they don’t fish for these trout, though it’s tempting to do so as they rest near their nests.

These precautions are part of an ethic that governs responsible fishing. But there is a deeper and a better cause.

This week’s Torah portion Behar stress the fact that we are only God’s tenants here on earth. “for the land is mine—; for you are sojourners and resident-settlers with me;” (Leviticus 25:23) The earth is ours to use, but we must use and care for it because it is only on loan to us.

I marvel the work of God’s hands every morning when I walk around Cunningham Park. The men and women who take care of the park do an awesome job. I love seeing all those trees with their pink blossom in the Spring as well as all the beautiful colorful flowers that change season to season. When I see trash to spoiling the beauty of the park, I don’t hesitate picking up and throwing it in the trash receptacle.

What we love, we protect.

 

A good debate shouldn’t devolve into insults TB Baba Metzia 84

Today’s daf TB Baba Metzia 84 recounts the famous relationship between Rabbi Yoḥanan and Reish Lakish.

The Gemara relates: One day, Rabbi Yoḥanan was bathing in the Jordan River. Reish Lakish saw him and jumped into the Jordan, pursuing him. At that time, Reish Lakish was the leader of a band of marauders. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Reish Lakish: Your strength is fit for Torah study. Reish Lakish said to him: Your beauty is fit for women. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: If you return to the pursuit of Torah, I will give you my sister in marriage, who is more beautiful than I am. Reish Lakish accepted upon himself to study Torah. Subsequently, Reish Lakish wanted to jump back out of the river to bring back his clothes, but he was unable to return, as he had lost his physical strength as soon as he accepted the responsibility to study Torah upon himself.

Rabbi Yoḥanan taught Reish Lakish Bible, and taught him Mishna, and turned him into a great man. Eventually, Reish Lakish became one of the outstanding Torah scholars of his generation. One day the Sages of the study hall were engaging in a dispute concerning the following baraita: With regard to the sword, the knife, the dagger [vehapigyon], the spear, a hand sickle, and a harvest sickle, from when are they susceptible to ritual impurity? The baraita answers: It is from the time of the completion of their manufacture, which is the halakha with regard to metal vessels in general.

These Sages inquired: And when is the completion of their manufacture? Rabbi Yoḥanan says: It is from when one fires these items in the furnace. Reish Lakish said: It is from when one scours them in water, after they have been fired in the furnace. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Reish Lakish: A bandit knows about his banditry, i.e., you are an expert in weaponry because you were a bandit in your youth. Reish Lakish said to Rabbi Yoḥanan: What benefit did you provide me by bringing me close to Torah? There, among the bandits, they called me: Leader of the bandits, and here, too, they call me: Leader of the bandits. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: I provided benefit to you, as I brought you close to God, under the wings of the Divine Presence.

As a result of the quarrel, Rabbi Yoḥanan was offended, which in turn affected Reish Lakish, who fell ill. Rabbi Yoḥanan’s sister, who was Reish Lakish’s wife, came crying to Rabbi Yoḥanan, begging that he pray for Reish Lakish’s recovery. She said to him: Do this for the sake of my children, so that they should have a father. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to her the verse: “Leave your fatherless children, I will rear them” (Jeremiah 49:11), i.e., I will take care of them. She said to him: Do so for the sake of my widowhood. He said to her the rest of the verse: “And let your widows trust in Me.”

Ultimately, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Reish Lakish, died. Rabbi Yoḥanan was sorely pained over losing him. The Rabbis said: Who will go to calm Rabbi Yoḥanan’s mind and comfort him over his loss? They said: Let Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat go, as his statements are sharp, i.e., he is clever and will be able to serve as a substitute for Reish Lakish.

Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat went and sat before Rabbi Yoḥanan. With regard to every matter that Rabbi Yoḥanan would say, Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat would say to him: There is a ruling which is taught in a baraita that supports your opinion. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Are you comparable to the son of Lakish? In my discussions with the son of Lakish, when I would state a matter, he would raise twenty-four difficulties against me in an attempt to disprove my claim, and I would answer him with twenty-four answers, and the halakha by itself would become broadened and clarified. And yet you say to me: There is a ruling which is taught in a baraita that supports your opinion. Do I not know that what I say is good? Being rebutted by Reish Lakish served a purpose; your bringing proof to my statements does not. (Sefaria.org translation)

This story raises a lot of difficult questions. Yitchak Blau answers some of these difficulties in his book Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine. I would like to share with you his comment on their harsh responses to each other while discussing a fine point in halakha.

“I believe that the key to the story lies in the exchange between Rabbi Yoḥanan and Rabbi Elazar . The latter tries to console Rabbi Yoḥanan by citing proofs for everything Rabbi Yoḥanan says. Rabbi Yoḥanan is incredulous that Rabbi Elazar thinks this will replace Reish Lakish. It was precisely the ongoing argumentation between Rabbi Yoḥanan and Reish Lakish that led to a flowering of Torah. This is what Rabbi Yoḥanan feels cannot be replaced. Rabbi Yoḥanan is teaching us that the ideal chavruta is not the person who quickly endorses everything his study partner says. On the contrary! The ideal chuvruta challenges one’s ideas. This process generates growth in learning. We should add the same principle also applies to other forms of friendship. Instead of looking for friends who will always agree with us, we should seek out those who are willing to tell us when they think we have erred, whether intellectually, ethically, or religiously.

“Assuming that the preceding idea reflects the essential theme of the story, we can now understand the harsh exchange. If the ideal study partnership involves argument, then there is a lurking danger that the arguing will get out of hand. In the heat of a verbal dispute, people will say things that they later regret that can no longer take back. Thus, the very strength of the partnership of Rabbi Yoḥanan and Reish Lakish was the source of his downfall, as they temporally lost themselves the passion of the music debate…

“The possibility of having such productive interactions without resorting to harsh or insulting words is a challenge beckoning to all of us.” (pages 66-68)

Primary elections have confirmed that the 2024 elections will be a rematch between Pres. Biden and past Pres. Trump. When we vote in November for the next president of the United States, this story of Rabbi Yoḥanan, Rabbi Elazar , and Reish Lakish teaches us before we vote we should not only look at these two men, but who will be their advisors as well. We need people to challenge the President’s decisions to make sure that he hasn’t erred intellectually, ethically, and legally. A president who only wants loyal sycophants who always agree with him as advisors will surely will lead our country to disaster. Such a man is a danger to our democracy as well.

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Is this the halakha? You betcha TB Baba Metzia 83

 Today we finish the sixth chapter of our masekhet with daf TB Baba Metzia 83. It concludes with a very famous story which teaches an important lesson. Albeit the law is the law, sometimes one has to go beyond the letter law to do what is right and good.

“The Gemara relates an incident involving Rabba bar Ḥanan: Certain porters broke his barrel of wine after he had hired them to transport the barrels. He took their cloaks as payment for the lost wine. They came and told Rav. Rav said to Rabba bar Ḥanan: Give them their cloaks. Rabba bar Ḥanan said to him: Is this the halakha? Rav said to him: Yes, as it is written: “That you may walk in the way of good men” (Proverbs 2:20). Rabba bar Ḥanan gave them their cloaks. The porters said to Rav: We are poor people and we toiled all day and we are hungry and we have nothing. Rav said to Rabba bar Ḥanan: Go and give them their wages. Rabba bar Ḥanan said to him: Is this the halakha? Rav said to him: Yes, as it is written: “And keep the paths of the righteous” (Proverbs 2:20).” (Sefaria.org translation)

Rabbi Elliott Dorff writes:

                         Thus, while the Torah and the rabbinic tradition help make justice a

                        reality by giving it concrete expression in law, Jewish law itself recognizes

                        that justice sometimes demands more than the law does, the moral duties

                        go beyond the letter of the law. Moreover, such moral duties sometimes

                        require reshaping the law itself so that in each new age it can continue

                        to be the best approximation of justice.

 

                        The underlying conviction that pushes Jewish law not to stop with defining

                        justice in his procedural and substantive aspects but to insist instead that we

go beyond the letter of the law, if necessary, to achieve justice is the belief that God requires us to aspire to a moral and theological ideal. All Israelites are obligated to aspire to a life of holiness: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord

your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) In the verse that follows this divine

demand, the Torah specifies that holiness requires providing for the poor

and the stranger; issuing theft and fraud; rendering fair and impartial decisions

in court; treating the blind, the deaf, and the stranger fairly; and ensuring

honest weights and measures. These are all components of the society that has both procedural and substantive justice and even more-namely, generosity

and caring. We are to treat each other as members of one extended family.

To the decree that we can and at least in some areas, then, holiness requires that we go beyond insisting on or do look instead it was seems to be good results

for everyone concerned. (To Do the Right and the Good: a Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics, page 118)

 

Many commentators explain that paying the workers is an attribute of piety (midat hasidut-מידת חסידות) that goes above and beyond the law. There those who say that for an important person like Rabba bar Ḥanan the attribute of piety is not optional response, but what the law requires of him.

I think that were all important people since each individual is created in God’s image. Consequently, we should go above the letter of the law when necessary.

 

                       

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Tzedaka at its best #Emor#devartorah#parashathashavua

 The three hundred middle and high school students of the small town of Neodesha, Kansas, filed into a surprise school assembly. They then sat in disbelief upon hearing that a couple with ties to their town had decided to pay college tuition for every Neodesha student for the next twenty-five years. The students were stunned, overjoyed, and tearful.

Neodesha had been hard hit economically, which meant many families worried about how to cover college expenses. The gift was a generational game-changer, and the donors hoped it would immediately impact current families but also incentivize others to move to Neodesha. They envision their generosity igniting new jobs, new vitality—an entirely different future for the town.

God desired His people to be generous by not only tending to their own acute needs but also by envisioning a new future for their struggling neighbors. God’s directions were clear: “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them” (Leviticus 25:35) The generosity wasn’t only about meeting basic physical needs but also about considering what their future life together as a community would require. “Help them,” God said, “so they can continue to live among you” (v. 35).

The deepest forms of giving reimagine a different future. God’s immense, creative generosity encourages us toward that day when we’ll all live together in wholeness and plenty.

 

When is the employer obligated to pay the employees? TB Baba Metzia 76-77

We began yesterday the sixth chapter of our massekhet with daf TB Baba Metzia 76. This chapter discusses employer-employee ethical responsibilities towards one another.

When contracting work to be done there can be three different outcomes. The best outcome is when work is contracted by the employer and is completed by the employee. The employer pays the employee the wages due. The second outcome can be called retraction with grievances (תַּרְעוֹמֶת). This case is when either the employer or the employee negate the contract before any work is done. No wages need be paid leaving one side with grievances. The third outcome is when in the middle of work one side refuses to complete the job, wages are due.

Rava provides four case studies on wage liability. “This is like that which Rava said: With regard to one who hires laborers to till, and rain fell and filled his land with water, preventing the laborers from performing the work, if he surveyed his land the night before and did all he could, this is the laborers’ loss, as it is a consequence of their misfortune. But if he did not survey his land the night before, it is the employer’s loss, and he gives them the wages of an idle laborer.

And Rava further said: With regard to this one who hires laborers to draw water from a river or a trench to irrigate his field, and rain fell, so that he no longer needs laborers, this is the laborers’ loss. The employer does not need to pay them, as he could not have known ahead of time that this would happen. But if the river comes up and irrigates the field, this is the employer’s loss, as he should have taken this possibility into consideration. And therefore he gives them the wages of an idle laborer.

And Rava says: With regard to this one who hires laborers to draw water from a river or a trench to irrigate his field, and the flow of the part of the river used to irrigate the field stopped midday, the halakha depends on the circumstance. If it is not prone to stopping, this is the laborers’ loss, a consequence of their misfortune. If it is prone to stopping, then one acts in accordance with this consideration: If the workers are residents of that city and know that this might happen, it is the laborers’ loss; if the laborers are not residents of that city and are not aware that this is a likely occurrence, it is the employer’s loss.

And Rava says: With regard to this one who hires laborers to perform a specific task and the task is completed by midday, if he has another task that is easier than the first one, he may give it to them. Alternatively, if he has other work that is similar to the first one in difficulty, he may assign it to them. But if he has other work that is more difficult than it, he may not assign it to them, and he gives them their full wages.  The Gemara asks: Why must he pay them their full wages? Let him pay them for the additional time at most as an idle laborer. The Gemara answers: When Rava said his ruling in this case, he was referring to workers [be’akhlushei] of Meḥoza, who become weak if they do not work. These laborers were accustomed to steady, strenuous work, and therefore sitting idle was difficult, not enjoyable, for them.” (Sefaria.org translation)

The Ritba [1] formulated the following rules based upon the four above case studies. If both the employer and employee have equal knowledge or lack of knowledge of the circumstances, the worker suffers the loss of wages. Similarly, if the worker had knowledge of the circumstances but not the employer, the employee’s suffer the loss of wages.

The only time the employer is obligated to pay is when he has the information or knowledge of the circumstances and the employee doesn’t. He should have informed the employee; consequently, he is obligated to pay the wages of an idle worker, meaning the amount of money the employee would want not to work.



[1] For his biography see https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/yom-tov-ben-abraham-ishbili 

Monday, May 13, 2024

An important reminder TB Baba Metzia 75

Today we finish the fifth chapter of our massekht and usury has been the main topic. Not only actual interest on a loan is forbidden, the rabbis forbade anything that looked like or smelled like interest. Today’s daf TB Baba Metzia concludes with some words of musar. We have to be careful what we do and what we say not to embarrass the borrower.

It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai says: From where is it derived with regard to one who is owed one hundred dinars by another, and the borrower is not accustomed to greeting that lender, that it is prohibited to start greeting him after being granted the loan? The verse states: “Interest of any matter [davar] that is lent with interest” (Deuteronomy 23:20), which can also be read as indicating that even speech [dibbur] can be prohibited as interest…When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael, he said: From where is it derived that with regard to one who is owed one hundred dinars by another and knows that the borrower does not have the funds to repay him, that it is prohibited for him to pass before the borrower, so as not to embarrass the borrower and cause him discomfort? The verse states: “Do not be to him as a creditor” (Exodus 22:24). Even if he does not claim the debt from the borrower, his presence reminds the latter of the debt, which distresses him…Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi both say that if one upsets another in this way, it is as though he sentences him to two types of punishments, as it is stated: “You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water” (Psalms 66:12). As the one in control, a creditor is regarded as though he had brought the debtor through fire and water.” (Sefaria.org translation)

Money does strange things to people. Wealthy people may begin to think they are better than the common people and treat them accordingly. Our chapter concludes with an important reminder. Just because we loan somebody money, we should be careful not to put the lender in an obsequious and subservient uncomfortable position. In all our business dealings we need to remember that everybody is created in God’s image and were obligated to maintain his/her dignity.