Attention must be paid (Daf Yomi Pesachim 34)

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“A diversion of attention constitutes an inherent disqualification.”

Today’s reading continues the discussion on the improper use and desecration of teruma. I have somehow lost the thread on how this is relevant to the original discussion of ridding one’s household of leaven, but deep within the text is an important message on attention. The discussion resonates with a theme from Berakhot 28 when we were advised to add a “novel element” and something a little extra to our prayers, so that we would not fall into the allure of simple repetition and could engage with full attention.

We are told today that attention must be paid to consecrated property and that it “must be guarded, and when one fails to do so, it is treated as though it were impure.” The example is given of saplings that grow from the earth, and although they may be the offspring of impure plants, they are considered pure in and of themselves. But that is only the case if attention has been paid. If the priest “diverts attention from them,” they are considered impure and prohibited even after another generation of plantings sprout from them.

The diversion of attention constitutes an inherent disqualification according to the Gemara. We are told that the obvious answer is not the answer, as it rarely is in the Talmud. The unwatched teruma is not disqualified simply because it may have become impure. Instead, we are told that it is disqualified because the Rabbis said so, and there is an independent Rabbinic decree that says that teruma that is unwatched is impure even “if it could not possibly have become impure.”

It is a conservative approach and if the priests and Rabbis who are charged with overseeing the teruma cannot confirm that it was carefully watched, there is the possibility that it is impure, and as Rabbi Shimon says, “it is an inherent disqualification.” The Rabbi is adamant in his pronouncement and says it is the case even if Elijah himself shows up and renders it pure. We are told in conclusion that Rabbi Shimon believes that his opinion is irrespective of whether the teruma is actually pure or not.

We have read multiple times in the daily Daf Yomi readings that intention matters (except of course when it doesn’t.) But today’s reading, as we learned back in the halcyon days of Berakhot when the world was all about blessings and before the recognition that the pandemic could wreak havoc in our communities, that attention also matters. We know that ignoring our problems often does not end well. When we turn away because it is difficult, or we have other priorities, we are avoiding something that may come back to haunt us later, but with more urgency and complexity.

It is also important to apply attention to how we live our lives and to actively manage our time on earth. I read today’s text against the backdrop of the pandemic-infused holiday season and what it means to live with attention during these difficult times. If there has been any upside to living through a pandemic, it has resulted at least for me in a hypervigilance that although feels uncomfortable at times, has resulted in paying attention to every aspect of my life. I do not know if I can ever return to the automatic living that characterized my life before when I fell into an easy routine, without paying a great deal of attention to the actual blessings around me.

And Happy Holidays! Christmas is an odd day to be Jewish, with an unexpected day off from work and low expectations for any kind of merriment or family gathering.  I will be partaking of the standard Jewish Christmas, with Chinese food delivered to my home and a Netflix movie. And I will do so this year with a great deal of attention.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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