“One who performs an action unawares, he had no intention to perform the act at all, incurs no liability whatsoever.”
Ulla returns with today’s portion of the Daf Yomi reading to offer his opinion on guilt-offerings, which in addition to sin-offerings, are a type of penance required for transgressions of religious law. Ulla traveled extensively between Jerusalem and Babylonia and in his encounter with women (remember Yalta!) has proven himself to be rather chauvinistic. In today’s reading he offers his perspective on the liability associated with robbery, the misuse of sacred objects and relations with a maidservant.
Ulla states that one does not need to have prior knowledge that he has sinned. I am wondering why someone who slept with a maidservant would not know that what he is doing is prohibited. I am sure this argument would not hold up in court. And no matter how many times he has relations with the maidservant he is liable to bring just one “guilt-offering.” In other words, he would be allowed to serve his penance concurrently for all the times he transgressed.
Rav Hamnuna, who has a good read of human character, challenges Ulla on the grounds that the system might be “gamed” by a clever person. He strongly fears that one might simply hold off on making the guilt-offering after an initial transgression so that he could continue with the prohibited action and only be liable for one offering. Rav Dimi, who is described as a traveling Rabbi and unwilling to let our sinner off easily, weighs in and says that if he had relations five times with the designated maidservant, he is liable for offerings in order to atone for each and every time he transgressed.
Another traveling Rabbi, Ravin, also weighs in, along with Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, and disagrees on whether awareness between two unwitting transgressions require two offerings or one. It all comes down to if one had prior knowledge that his transgression was in fact a transgression. At the end of the day, we have a group of Rabbis arguing over how much to fine the transgressor without any awareness of the plight of the maidservant.
Maidservants were essentially the property of the household. I became fascinated with the story of the Egyptian maidservant Hagar when I first saw the painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Camille Corot titled “Hagar in the Wildness.” I learned about the story of Hagar in Hebrew School, but it did not resonate for me until I saw the large painting in the Met of Hagar looking upwards to the heavens pleading for her dying son Ishmael. I was as taken in by the golden tones of the painting, the pale lifeless body of Ishmael, the descending angel, and Hagar’s expression of panic, as I was by the injustice of what had occurred. (Here is a link to the Corot painting: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435962)
Abraham fathered a son with Hagar during the time when his wife Sarah was barren. Sarah later became pregnant with Isaac. But it was not an easy living relationship with Isaac, Ishmael Sarah and Hagar under the same roof. Sarah eventually insisted that Abraham send Hagar and her son Ishmael away and he obliged. Hagar and Ishmael traveled the desert for quite a while until their food ran out and Ishmael was on the verge of dying from dehydration. An angel appeared to save the young boy and provided water for the exhausted pair. The angel told Hagar that her son would live, as he was destined to be a leader of a “great nation.”
I used to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art when it opened first thing on Sunday mornings before the crowds would descend. I would have the room with the Corot paintings (the largest collection outside of Paris) mostly to myself. These days with New York City shut down, art is only knowable in its virtual form. I am hoping we don’t forget what it is like to stand in front of a real painting in total awe and feel it wash over one’s soul. We have adapted so well to a virtual world that I fear we may forget what is so inspiring about the real world. Visiting a virtual museum offers something, but it is not enough.