“And you shall guard and perform, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations.”
Today’s Daf Yomi reading is a very odd one. It veers from discussing learning from a Persian priest (which could result in the death penalty according to Rav) to feeding menstrual blood to cats. (Don’t try this at home, because it will not bode well for you or your beloved feline.) In the spirit of finding one thing that I can grasp onto each day, the discussion on the obligation to use one’s abilities for the betterment of society resonated with me. Today that discussion focused on having the knowledge to calculate astronomical seasons and the movement of constellations.
We are told that one acts improperly if he “knows how to calculate astronomical seasons and the movement of constellations, and does not do so.” The text says that such a person should be shunned for his refusal to use his gifts. We learned in Berakhot that being able to tell time through understanding the seasons and reading the sky was an important ability in a society without official clocks and calendars. Someone who had these skills played a critical role in the establishment of an orderly society.
Bar Kappara is quoted as saying said that anyone who knows how to calculate astronomical seasons and the movement of constellations and does not do so does not “take notice of the work of God, and they do not see His handiwork.” We are told that such work is a mitzva because it is witnessed and appreciated by all. Today’s text is so dense with discussions of sorcerers and heretics and storage prohibitions that the importance of this thread in the discussion could be easily overlooked. The last few day’s recitation of forty-minus-one labors that are prohibited on Shabbat has this theme at its heart; all of these labors in their own way were important at the time to a functioning society. The shearer, dyer, grinder, sifter, reaper, thresher all had their own gifts that they offered society through their everyday labors. And today that includes our doctors, front line workers and scientists.
If astronomers were critical to the working of society 2,000 years ago, we are placing great hope that our world will function again through the application of hard science. Our greatest scientific minds are working around the world in brightly lit test-tube filled laboratories on solutions to contain the coronavirus which has silently encroached on our way of life. They are working tirelessly to develop vaccines and methods for creating anti-bodies that will protect us from infection. I know the dedication and intensity of this community through family members who have spent their lifetimes in these labs, and I am confident that they have the skill, knowledge and dedication to lead us out of this chaos.