Finding one’s flow in a pandemic (Daf Yomi Pesachim 71)

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Dual intentions of these types is valid.”

Since the beginning of this daily journey through the Talmud, the consistent overriding lesson is that intention and attention matter. We learned back in the first Tractate that the intention that one recited a blessing with was critical to carrying it within one’s heart. At the same time, we were told that it was important to add “something extra” to morning prayers, in order to not fall into a trancelike state of repetition. The something extra was designed to focus the senses on the act of recitation. And it was critical to finding one’s “flow.” When I search for one thing each day in this difficult text, I keep returning to the dual concept of intention and attention.

Today’s Daf Yomi discussion continues the ongoing dialog about offering sacrifices when Passover occurs on Shabbat. There was some disagreement on the topic, but mostly we are told that Passover overrides Shabbat. We are told that if someone unwittingly slaughtered an animal on Shabbat that was unfit – such as an animal that is more than one year old – that he is liable for bringing a sin-offering. This is because the act of slaughter was unnecessary, since it did not meet the requirements of a Paschal offering.

The act of offering the Paschal lamb is tied up in one’s intentions. If one slaughters the Paschal lamb on Shabbat, but changes the purpose of the offering, he is liable, because he has overridden the Shabbat for an impermissible act. If he slaughters the lamb for someone who cannot eat it because of illness of frailty, or for someone who is not registered to receive it (and I would love to know what kind of database was kept back then), he is liable for an unnecessary act of slaughter on Shabbat. If, however, his intentions are mixed and he slaughtered the lamb for people who can eat it and those who cannot, and registered and unregistered recipients, he is exempt from a sin offering. We are told that “since a Paschal lamb slaughtered with dual intentions of these types is valid, the act of slaughter was justified.”

We are told that in addition to intention, attention also matters. If one slaughters a lamb that has a blemish that he has overlooked and the offering is disqualified, he is liable to bring a sin-offering “for having unwittingly performed a prohibited labor on Shabbat, as he should have examined the animal before it was slaughtered.”  In other words, he should have taken the time to pay attention to the act at hand and performed the sacrifice with more care. If a diligent person sacrificed an animal that was diseased and destined to die within twelve months, but he did not know the true condition of the animal, it is disqualified, but he is not held liable. We are told that this is the case of “ones” which is described as “an unavoidable accident.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about a book I read in the early 1980s by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on flow. Flow is the mental state that you reach when you are entirely absorbed in an activity that has your complete focus and energy. The act of slaughtering a Paschal lamb in the Talmud is a good example. It is that feeling of accomplishment that comes when you have solved a problem and completed a creative act, like writing a poem or composing a song. It is the feeling that your life has purpose and that you are connected with the greater flow of humankind.

You cannot enter the state of flow without proper intention and attention. Intention assumes a goal, such as solving a problem or creating something new. Attention is necessary to reach the state of flow because you need to be fully present. Many of us that are surviving the prolonged pandemic with some sanity intact have focused on flow to get us through. I have friends who have taken up running since we have been in lockdown and are in the best shape of their life. Some have thrown themselves into home improvement projects or have taken up new hobbies. They found their flow.

I have found my flow through a group of women who are studying the Talmud together, day in and day out. We are finding new meaning in the text that has been traditionally the domain of men, and we have found our own unique way in. And just as we are told in today’s text that dual intentions are valid, so are different voices and perspectives.

It is through this diverse, talented, and supportive group of women that I am finding my flow, one Daf Yomi at a time.

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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