Daf Yomi Shabbos 71: Learning Lessons from the Past

“There is no awareness for half a measure.”

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the ongoing discussion among the rabbis on transgressions against Shabbat laws and the appropriate punishment. They are no longer discussing “karet” or a spiritual “cutting off” that is cast down from above, but rather the more mundane “sin offerings” which I like to compare to a religious traffic ticket. Such a ticket can be expensive and the monetary cost painful, but it is routed very much in the human realm.

The Rabbis discuss the appropriate punishment for multiple unintentional transgressions. There is a modern-day comparison with the enforcement of traffic laws. If one is caught speeding by a cop who stops your car and also discovers that your inspection sticker has expired, will one or two tickets be issued? In most cases, it is just one ticket, with perhaps both infractions listed and a fine calculated based on a predefined formula. The Rabbis are in essence defining that formula for whether one should be held responsible for violating Shabbat laws through “reaping and grinding.”

In a determination that might not hold up today in a court of law, if one eats prohibited food several times over the course of Shabbat and had the awareness of his transgression at one point, but kept forgetting and making the same mistake over and over, he only is liable for one sin-offering. If during the course of eating two prohibited foods unintentionally, he becomes aware that one of the foods is forbidden and then unwittingly eats a third forbidden food and brings a sacrifice for the second, atonement is obtained for all three transgression through “middle ground” guidance.  I could review the permutations that the Rabbis considered in their debate but the gist of it is what is the appropriate punishment for someone who does not learn from the past?

We are provided with examples of people who unintentionally do not learn from their mistakes and transgress over and over. They are required to make “sin offerings” or animal sacrifices in the Temple for their transgressions.  It is difficult not to make comparisons our society that is on pause today. Why didn’t we see this pandemic coming sooner and prepare ourselves for its impact? There are scientists who warned this was coming. And even if we didn’t listen to them, we should have known much earlier this year when the first cases appeared in China that we were vulnerable to the virus. We went about our lives unwittingly without foresight of what was heading our way.

Some of our leaders thought they could just declare that the pandemic was overblown and no threat to us, and it would stay away. Or they thought that they could keep it away by shutting the borders (much too late) to visitors from China while they let visitors from hotbeds in Europe through the gates. Some US states appear to be making the same mistakes that had such tragic consequences during the 1918 pandemic. And so here we are again. And the consequences are much greater if we get this wrong than a sin-offering.


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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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