Finding compassion in the Talmud (Daf Yomi Pesachim 87)

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“And I will have compassion upon her that had not received compassion.”

Today’s Daf Yomi reading brings together themes of personal choice, transformation, compassion and forgiveness. We have been on a journey over the last weeks involving the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb on the eve of Passover. Today, we are told that there is an element of choice involved in which grouping a married woman or an orphan can select. Today’s reading carries over the discussion from the previous day of a bride who averts her eyes at the noisy Passover table out of modesty or a sense of youthful embarrassment.

We are told when a married woman is settled in her husband’s house it is assumed that she will eat from the Paschal lamb that he has designated in her behalf. Anyone who knows what it is like to split a holiday between two families, can understand the awkwardness of the situation. In this instance, the woman has freedom of choice and can eat the lamb in which ever place she wishes.

We are also told that an orphan with multiple guardians who slaughter a lamb on his behalf, may eat in whichever place he wishes. The key to the designation of the lamb is the determination before it is slaughtered. There is some difference of opinion on the matter of retroactive clarification and if one can assign their name to a lamb retroactively after it has been slaughtered. We are told that no definitive conclusion has been reached on the matter, and its best to put one’s name in early so that there is no confusion.

And just like that, the text takes a sharp turn from the discussion of the Paschal lamb, to a retelling of the story of the prophet Hosea. When God said to Hosea that “your sons, the Jewish people, have sinned,” the expected response from the great prophet according to the text should have been to “extend mercy over them.” Instead, Hosea said to God that he should “exchange them for another nation.”

And wow – to answer in such a way led God to teach Hosea a profound lesson on love. He told Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife and start a family with her. And then, he was told to “send her away from before you” and if he is able to send her away, God will also send away the Jewish people. God, being very wise, knew that beneath Hosea’s dismissive comments was a man of great loyalty and love. And so, Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of a woman of ill-repute and a reported prostitute herself.

Hosea and Gomer had three children. The children were given names that would have burdened them with pain and rejection for most of their lives, which reflected their “otherness” from the tribe of Israel. The first-born son was named after the valley of Jezreel, which was a once beautiful valley that had been scarred by numerous wars. His daughter was named Lo-ruhamah, which means “no mercy or no pity” and symbolized the withholding of love and compassion. The youngest son was named Lo-ammi which means “not my people” and symbolized Hosea’s rejection of the people of Israel.

After Hosea settled into married life with Gomer and his three children, God returned to him and asked that he leave his wife. But Hosea had real feelings for her and responded that he was unable to do so. God replied that just as Hosea is attached to his family, however imperfect they may be, he too is “still attached to the Jewish people.” 

This reading is about finding compassion for people who may have strayed or have difficulty in life, but also about the transformation of Hosea’s heart. He seemed strident and judgmental when we first met him. He was ready to dismiss an entire people because they did not live up to God’s and his standards. Gomer broke his heart over and over, but he accepted her and loved her for who she was. And he stayed with her not just out of loyalty and duty to his family, but love.

Among all the hardness in tone of many portions of the Talmud and the lashings and endless weeks of reading about a roasting lamb, there is a lesson of compassion and forgiveness that makes the daily grind of reading a portion a day worthwhile. I have learned this lesson of patience, forgiveness and loyalty through the years as friends have deeply hurt me. Some literally broke my heart. But I learned that if I turned them away or turned away from them, I would be alone in the world because we are all flawed.

I waited these friends out and gave them second and third chances, because I knew beneath everything else, they were good people, with generous hearts who would one day become who they were meant to be. And over the years, they did.

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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