The daf for 2/15/18 (Avodah Zarah 31) continues with the discussion about the use of the wine of Gentiles and their storage. The main concern is the wine or storage materials, may have been used for idolatrous purposes which would halachically forbidden to an Israelite.

There is an interesting discussion (Avodah Zarah 31a) within the sugya (Talmudic discussion on a particular topic) which I would like to focus on in the daf. The translation is from Sefaria.com, The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noe Talmud Bavli:

I have mentioned in a previous blog, that the Torah is often referred to as a tree with many branches. The sages often refer to Torah wisdom (or in this case, the disciples of a great Sage) as the fruit of the tree. However, it is worthwhile to consider the context of Ecclesiastes 11:1-3 to understand the reference on a deeper level (translation from Sefaria.com, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by JPS):

Verse 1 refers to bread cast upon the waters. The Torah is also likened to water as it flows downward and entering every crevice, no matter how small. Bread (lechem) can refer to Torah teachings. When you “Send forth your bread” (sh’lach lachm’cha al p’nai hamayim), one is transferring over knowledge. The Hebrew root L”CH”M (lamed, chet, mem), also alludes to “soldering” or “to fit”. The meaning is to not just lecture, but to impart wisdom to the point where it becomes connected a part of the learner.The wisdom becomes embedded deep within the learner, the same as when a glass vase is blown by an artisan, some of the breath from the artisan gets embedded deep within the glass itself.

Notice also that the verse says, “Send your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find it”. This is not an allusion to the ritual procedure of “tashlich” (casting away our sins on Rosh Hashannah in which we throw pieces of bread upon the water so that it symbolically takes it away), but to deliberately “sending” something. How then does it come back? Like the fruit of the tree, the water finds its way back from teacher to student. All of use can be teachers and all of us can be learners. Thus, the gemara quoting Rabbi Yochanan, “Is there any mishnah of bar Kappara here?”, is intended to refer to any of his teachings. Bar Kappara was a Tanna, one of the Rabbinic sages (the word tanna literally means “repeater”) recorded in the Mishnah from about 10 CE – 220 CE.

If you look at the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes 11:1, you will notice the words ha-mayim (the water) and ha-yamim (after many days). The Hebrew letters in each word are almost the same except for the addition of the letter yud after the letter hei in ha-yamim. This addition of the yud, a seemingly small insignificant stroke of a pen, has a powerful meaning in Judaism. Spiritually, the yud (also representing the number 10) alludes to the spiritual connection between Man and Hashem. Yud is like yad (hand) that reaches out to make the connection. Sending for bread upon the waters, and finding it days later is an allusion to the connection between a teacher and student with regards to Torah knowledge. days may not be a physical 24 hour day, but the metaphor is apt.

In verse 2, the seven and eight are mentioned. Seven alludes to completion (see Sefer Bereishit), and eight (as in the eight days before a bris milah; ritual circumcision) alludes to being spiritually above creation.

In verse 3, we find the fallen tree as mentioned in the gemara.  But the verse also mentions clouds. “If the the clouds are filled, they will pour down rain upon the earth; and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, the tree will stay where it falls.”

This calls for some deeper exploration. Clouds contain water vapor. This fine mist (like dew) is spiritually significant. in kaballah we speak of of “gashmius” and “ruchniyus” (physicality and spirituality). Rain (geshem) is physical. Life needs water, and in Israel, the rainy season was necessary for survival. Ruach (wind, spirit), is different. Like the dew (tal), it is a necessary part of the weather cycle needed for life (we say in the siddur: “mashiv ha-ruach u’morid ha-gashem“; Who causes the wind to blow and the rains to fall). Ruchniyus is a higher level of spirituality that is not tangible. Winds cause trees to sway and sometimes fall. Too much rain can cause the soil to subside, and leave the roots with a weak foundation. Additionally, just as the clouds convert the water vapor into rain, we should transform our inner spirituality into physical mitzvot (like helping others, giving tzedakah, and tikun olam). As it is said  in Mishlei (Proverbs 6:23), “Ki ner mitzvah, v’Torah ohr”      (“For mitzvot are the lamp, and Torah is the light”).

Why does verse 3 mention a tree falling to the south then the north (why not east or west or just falling). The word “badarom” (to the south) may allude to the fact that in the northern hemisphere, the path of the sun in the sky is in the southern half of the sky (rising in the east and setting in the west; at noon, the sun is most southerly above the horizon). the sun (shemesh) sustains life and brings light. The root shin-mem-shin also alludes to attending or officiating (shamash) and traces its origin back through the earliest Semitic languages. The word for north is tazfun, which also alludes to “darkness”, or “to be hidden”. So, in verse 3, even when a Torah sage) passes away, the light of their knowledge (both the outward and inner aspects of their wisdom) will remain. The word for “east” is kedem, which alludes to “being before” or “in front of”. The other word for “east” is mizrach, which alludes to “orientation”. One faces “east toward Jerusalem” (mizrach) in prayer. The orientation is both physical and spiritual(kavannah). The word for “west” is ma-arav, which means “to set“, but also alludes to mixing (as in the twilight where day and night mix). In Judaism, the evening marks the start of a new day, and a state of cleanliness. nevertheless, the verse in Ecclesiastes, mentions only south and north perhaps to emphasize the outer and inner portions of the person’s wisdom.

Thus, the gemara is teaching us, even in the connection of using or not using gentile wine stored in barrels, that the wisdom of one who toils in Torah will endure.