Amazingly, I am well past the five year mark in my study of Daf Yomi. For those who do not know what Daf Yomi is, the program is a daily study of a two page section of the Talmud (called a daf) from its beginning to end. I started this personal pilgrimage when of the current daf yomi cycle began in August 2012. G-d willing (B”H), I will complete the cycle in January 2020, with Jews worldwide at a “Siyum Hashas“.
Why do I call this a “pilgrimage”? For me, it is not just an intellectual exercise, but a chance to connect to Hashem in a personal way and as a way to honor my ancestors from Eastern Europe, who toiled in the Torah despite the pogroms and constant poverty. Some of my ancestors were rabbis who came from the town of Jonova, Lithuania. I doubt, when they came to the United States in the 1890s, that would have imagined the technological advances and freedoms we have. I do not know what they would have thought of the 21st century. For me, a second generation American, I followed a different path. I remain a committed Conservative (Masorti) Jew, who has always enjoyed learning Torah while studying physics and mathematics.
It was difficult to find a study partner (chavrusa) for this type of journey and so I ventured on alone (or so I thought). The study of the Talmud can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone someone who has not gone to a traditional yeshiva. Even for those who can master the intricacies of the Talmud (both the mishnah and the gemara and the side commentaries), one never truly “completes the task”. So it was with much trepidation, that I decided in 2012 , to try to follow the next daf yomi cycle using the various apps and internet resources as a guide.
In the past five and a half years, through good times and bad, I have found my spiritual and intellectual connection with my ancestors from the past and fellow Jews in the present. I cannot claim that I have appreciated all of the nuances of the Talmud, nor can I claim to have fully grasped the full impact of how the daf yomi study has effected me and my religious practices or approach to spirituality in the 21st century. I am not a Rabbi, but a simple Jew who will try, from time to time, bring my thoughts to you as I move forward on the journey in these blogs.
The Talmud is a gift given to all of us, and while it can be messy tangle of legalistic nuances or random aggadic stories, the Torah and Talmud (the written and oral traditions of our people) connect to me in an intellectual and spiritual way. I do what I can and try my best. There are many people much abler than I that understand the Talmud in its original Aramaic (gemara) or Hebrew (mishnah) renderings, and can bring deep insights into how the gemara relates to us today. nevertheless, through these blogs, I will try to bring you some insights into what I have learned as various aspects of the daily daf inspire me. I welcome you to join me on my journey, even in “midstream”.
The daf for today (2/14/18) is from Tractate Avodah Zarah 30 (“Strange Worship”). The gemara has been discussing the permissible use of uncovered liquids. However, in daf 30b, the gemara introduces a statement about grapes and figs which I found intriguing:
Grapes and figs appear numerous times in the Bible (Tanakh) with respect to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. In Hosea 9:10 we read:
And in Devarim 8:7-8, we read:
So why is the gemara discussing the “mouth of a fig” in a discussion of uncovered liquids? We can look deeper. Figs can split open on the tree before ripening, based on their moisture content. But why does the gemara connect “the mouth of a fig ” (pi t’einah) with a verse from Pslams (116.6): “Shomer p’taim…”? The word “p’taim” is usually translated as “simple”, but what is the connection with gemara’s use of the Aramaic word “pi” (opening or mouth)?
A “simple” person in the Torah is sometimes referred to as a “tam“. But by using “p’taim“, the verse in Tehillim is alluding to a person who is “simple” but open to amazement. Open to learning new things. Open to new ideas. The “simpleton” may act impulsively in his/her excitement to learn, but “patah” can also mean “foolish” and “patuach” can also mean to “persuade” or “seduce”. “Patooch” means “blended or mixed”. But by not use the word “tam” (from Bereishit “Yaakov ish tam“). The word “tam” is also not just someone who is a fool, but the word also mans “perfection”. By relating the gemara’s use of the word “pi” to the verse in Tehillim (pitaim), we are learning that at times, we need to Learn as a child learns”…ask questions, wonder, be amazed, and extends one’s knowledge.
The gemara is teaching us, that along with uncovered liquids (which may or may not have become contaminated), we must be careful when trying or learning new things. It takes a mature and logical sense of reasoning to know what is good and what is bad. It is tough to judge, but the lesson is NOT to be reckless. If you are not sure, ask someone who knows, or has been involved in the activity or learned the new idea. Humans are naturally inclined to experiment, but sometimes that can be dangerous (abusing drugs alcohol, endangering ones own life or the life of others, etc.). The gemara gives us daily lessons to live by, and today’s daf, it is to be open to new ideas, but not reckless about them without full investigations and mature reasoning. Logic, facts, data, conclusions, knowing how to reason, all come from today’s daf.