Perception can be reality (Daf Yomi Pesachim 13)

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“And you shall be clear before God and before Israel.”

The Talmud tells us today that appearances matter. We learned this before in previous Tractates. Although intention matters and what is in your heart matters, and how you live your life matters, your actions should not be construed to be untoward, even if its untrue. Perception can become reality and even if your actions are entirely innocent, and you actually did not do what the gossip train is claiming, it is difficult to change what people think. And let’s face it – we all are somewhat guilty of jumping to quick conclusions about people who we have just met. We tend to process information based on immediate visual cues.

We are told in today’s Daf Yomi that it is better to sell off leaven than to present the appearance of eating it at a prohibited time. We are told about an incident where a traveler rested his saddlebag full of luscious bread on the ground while he sat down for a brief rest. While his eyes were closed – however briefly – a family of field mice bore a hole through the bag and feasted on the bread. They were not the neatest lot of rodents and left a trail of crumbs behind. But they had a wonderful, gluttonous feast.

Our traveler was beside himself when he opened his eyes and saw the mound of crumbs. He appealed to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi on Passover eve who coincidentally resided in the town our traveler was headed to. The Rabbi advised him to wait and wait and wait before he could touch the remnants of the leaven left in his bag. When the fifth hour was evident in the sky, the traveler was told to go to the market and sell what he could. Surely, there was someone who would be willing to purchase the crumbs the mice left behind.

Here is the interesting part of this somewhat mundane story: we are told that it was not an option for the traveler to eat the crumbs himself. This would put him under suspicion that he was violating the leaven laws. However, it was alright for him to sell them on, even to Jews if it was before the start of the sixth hour on Passover eve. Rabbi HaNasi’s solution allows the traveler to be free of suspicion and earn a few coins, while the purchaser of his crumbs can enjoy the yeast-infused taste of a little bit of leaven before the sun descends from the sky and Passover begins.

A comparison is made with another potential scenario that could put someone in a bad light. If a group of do-gooders collected large quantities of food through a charitable drive but had no one to distribute it to, they should not allocate the food among themselves, because they could be viewed as having improperly misappropriated it, even if that was not their intention.  We are told that “it is not sufficient that a person is without sin in the eyes of God. He must also appear upright in the eyes of other people so that they will not suspect him of wrongdoing.” In other words, appearances matter.

There are many reasons why I would love to be young again. For one, I would like my waist back. I would like the energy I had when I was young, when what I was able to do matched what I thought I could do. I would love to have the wonderment back of reading great novels for the first time and discovering great art. What I do not miss about being young is the self-consciousness of youth. I was the type of young person that was embarrassed at almost everything and often afraid to speak my mind. I was terrified that if I took the wrong step or said the wrong thing, something horrendous would happen. I would literally die of embarrassment.

My waist is long gone, sometimes it takes a while to find the words I need to verbalize my thoughts, and I get tired in the evening. And as tired as I am, I can no longer sleep through the night like I once could. I have lost some of my physicality but have gained some peace in no longer caring what everyone thinks. I feel freer to just be me.

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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