“Will he even force the queen before me in the house?”
Did you ever have one of those magical lunches with a good friend that went on for hours? The friend was someone you had not seen in a long time and you had decades to catch up on over a good bottle of wine and an exquisite fish dish. As the hours progressed from one to another, the sky started dimming and early dusk was on the heels of the day. There was something special about these lunches as the conversation traced the changing light.
Today the Daf Yomi discusses a debate between two Rabbis who have a difference of opinion on what to do if their long lunch ran over into early evening, when one should be preparing for the Shabbat meal. If the afternoon meal flowed into the evening one, should they stand up, clear the table, say a blessing, and reset for the evening meal? Or should they stay where they are and continue with their conversation and simply refill their wine glass and bread basket? I have never been able to eat in the evening after one of those long lunches, but the Rabbis may have had much larger appetites.
Rabbi Yosei said that if the afternoon meal ran into Shabbat Eve, the party could simply continue eating. Rabbi Yehuda had a different opinion and said that one must cease eating and establish clearer boundaries between the day and evening meals. The back and forth between these two Rabbis, and Rabbi Yosei’s insistence that his opinion should be the prevailing one, suggests a power play between the Rabbis.
Yesterday Rabbi Yosei reminded us not to spoil our appetite before Passover Eve, because let’s face it, there is a lot of Paschal lamb and matza mixed with bitter herbs to consume. Today we are told that he would prohibit eating before Passover Eve and then we are told that he would allow an afternoon meal. Often the text strives to find a solution when there is such a conflict on the surface.
In a lesson that one needs to dig deeper and not just accept what is told on the surface, the Gemara explains that “even Rabbi Yosei agrees that one may not start eating on Passover eve from minḥa time onward, but he maintains that one who started to eat is not obligated to interrupt his meal even when the Festival begins.” We are told that if there is a point of agreement among the Rabbis it is on the prohibition against starting a new meal in the hours before Passover Eve. The conflict arises over the long lunch that continues into early evening.
We are told that once there was a meal that was shared by Rabbis Shimon ben Gamiel, Yehuda and Yosei. They were reclining over a long lunch on a Friday afternoon discussing yeshiva matters, when the day turned into Shabbat Eve. This was surely an opportunity to test the perspective of Rabbis Yehuda and Yosei. Rabbi Gamliel asked if the party needed to get up and clear the table in respect for Rabbi Yehuda’s perspective. Rabbi Yosei appeared insulted by the statement as suggested by his query, “Each and every day you cherish my statements before those of Rabbi Yehuda, and rule in accordance with my opinion, and now you cherish the statement of Rabbi Yehuda before me?”
Rabbi Yosei quotes from the book of Esther (which should be noted given the time of year): “Will he even force the queen before me in the house?” That is a strong statement on the part of Rabbi Yosei to compare what he perceived to be a slight with what the King in the Esther story saw as Haman’s violation of his Queen. I envision a scene where everyone at the table had stood up in preparation for clearing away the food, when Yosei said that no one should move and they all sat down in silence. We are told that the “Sages later said” that “they did not move from there until they established the halakha in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yosei, that one need not interrupt one’s meal on the eve of Shabbat and Festivals.”
We are presented with a simple solution that might have returned peace to the table of the Rabbis. We are told that a cloth could be spread over the table. A kiddish would be recited and the meal could continue. The cloth serves as the barrier between day and night and the afternoon and evening meals. We are told that the spreading of the cloth is sufficient for creating these boundaries.
Central to today’s discussion is boundaries – the boundaries between an afternoon and evening meal, day and night, an ordinary hour and the onset of Shabbat and Passover. Boundaries have been more fluid since the world shutdown almost a year ago because of the pandemic. There are few boundaries left between day and night, as I sit down at my computer in the early morning and work until the evening. The boundaries between my inside world – which is my small city apartment – and the larger world have collapsed, as so much of my life has been conducted on zoom.
Every day seems alike – weekdays from the weekend, ordinary days from holidays. In my imagination there is a pristine, white linen cloth that could be spread over my apartment, my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, the world, and we could all sit down together for one long glorious lunch. Everyone I love would be sitting at a round table drinking wine shoulder-to-shoulder as dusk descended on the sidewalks of the city.