“A mouse does not typically generate crumbs.”
Today’s Daf Yomi was written for the absent-minded among us and continues the discussion from the previous day on uncertainty. In addition to crafty martens, we are presented today with mice who carry breadcrumbs and loaves of bread in their mouths as they go from house-to-house foraging for food. It is a testament to the imperfection of human memory, and how we may experience the same events but remember things differently.
We are presented with the dilemma of two paths and two very different interpretations from Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei. In one example, there is stack of bread loaves residing between two houses that were already searched for any left-over leaven. A mouse nibbled from the pile and then hurried off. As is often the case after a mouse sighting, it is uncertain where he scurried to. He may have entered one of the two houses or left in search of a cool field somewhere.
In a complication, there are two paths that lead from the two houses; one path is deemed impure because there is a dead body buried beneath it while the other path is not tainted by any such corpse. If two people walked on each path, but cannot remember which one, are they pure or impure? Rabbi Yehuda considers how each one approached a sage for assistance with determining purity. According to the Rabbi, if each person approached him separately, then each one would be deemed pure because “each person retains his presumptive status of ritual purity.” But if they approach the Rabbi together, they would both be deemed impure, “since one of the two certainly passed on the impure path.” Rabbi Yosei has a simpler solution to the problem. He said that “one way or another they are both ritually impure.”
This idea about certainty and uncertainty is extended through a series of examples in today’s reading, with several august Rabbis weighing in. We are told that if one entered a field without permission in the rainy season when seeds are sprouting, he has traversed in a private domain and disturbed the crops. It is assumed that he has contracted ritual impurity through this thoughtless act. And if there was known ritual impurity in the field, but he is uncertain if he had entered it, Rabbi Eliezar would deem him pure, while a chorus of unnamed Rabbis would disagree and find him impure. Rabbi Eliezar would only deem the forgetful person pure, however, if the uncertainty concerned entry to field. If the uncertainty concerned touching something impure, then he would be presumed to be impure. The Rabbis do not distinguish between the two scenarios. For them, it is all impure.
The discussion on how to cope with uncertainly continues with an example of walking through a field where there is an unmarked grave somewhere, but its exact location is unknown. In this example, walking in the field would deem one impure. But if the grave is found and properly marked and one can walk around it, there is no such concern that he is tainted with impurity according to the perspective of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, however, is much more skeptical and says that one cannot automatically presume he is free and clear from impurity because the grave that was identified might not be the original one that was lost.
We are told that a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and a chorus of Rabbis can be extended to leaven and our little mouse that is quietly slinking around with a bread crumb in his mouth. If someone places nine breadcrumbs on the counter and then all of a sudden there are ten, it might be assumed according to the logic of Rabbi HaNasi that our little mouse dropped the last one when he jumped up to inspect the treasure of leaven. And along with one little mouse comes a family. The chorus of Rabbis question if our family of mice ate all the breadcrumbs and replaced them with ten new ones from a loaf that they appropriated. We are told that since it is obvious that there is a family of mice present who are interfering with the search for leaven, the entire house would require another inspection. And maybe if we leave humane traps near the bread box, we can carry them away to that nice field where they can seek shelter in the tall grass.
The marten, which counts mice as a primary food source, makes a cameo appearance in today’s reading. If we see a mouse in the house with a loaf of bread in its mouth, we can assume that if there was one loaf left on the counter, we have found all the leaven. This holds true unless we are certain we have witnessed two mice – as evidenced by the fact that they might be different colors. If we see that very mouse in the mouth of a marten, with the loaf still in his mouth, can we assume we have located all the leaven? And what if the marten now has the mouse and the loaf in its mouth? Can we still assume it’s the same loaf? We are told that due to uncertainty, “consequently, this must be a different loaf of bread.” Or perhaps, the “loaf of bread fell from the mouse’s mouth due to its fear and the marten took it separately.” This is one of the instances where we are not presented with a resolution, and the Gemara tells us to let it stand unresolved.
When one has lived a long life, there have been many choices and paths he could have taken, but the constant over the years is uncertainty. While some paths are conscientiously chosen, others just appear, and life goes in a different direction than anticipated. Life has a way of following its own course and trajectory. You can plan and plan and plan, and then as everyone older than me has said, life just happens. You select a path, and you walk on it and hopefully, grow and learn something along the way.
Like the little mouse, who is set free to run through the field with a bread crumb in his mouth, as long as one is alive and willing to somehow manage the anxiety of uncertainty, there is always another path to explore and a different perspective to consider. And one way or another, life finds you.