Reading each other (Daf Yomi Pesachim 106)

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The wise man, his eyes are in his head.”

How do you measure a day? We learned in the first Tractate of this Daf Yomi journey that it is from sundown to sundown, and the most sanctified day of the week is Shabbat. We are asked to consider today why we recite kiddush at night when the verse in Exodus (20:7) says “remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it.”

The voice of the Gemara reminds us that the “essential mitzva of kiddush is to sanctify the day at night.” So, why all the energy to determine if what was really meant was that the kiddush should be recited during Shabbat day? It seems like there is some hair-splitting in the kiddush discussion, which has been going on for days.

It is fairly settled through the authority of the Gemara that kiddush is performed at the onset of Shabbat Eve. But what are we to make of the quoted Exodus passage? Should we also say kiddush during the following day, and if so, how? We turn to Rabbi Yehuda for the answer on what to recite during the day, who says that one simply says the usual blessing over wine: “who creates the fruit of the vine.’

We are told that one day Rav Ashi found himself in the city of Mehoza. He was asked by the local sages to recite what they called the “great kiddush.” It is unclear what is meant by the “great kiddush,” but the notes in the Koren Talmud suggest that it is an “euphemism” because the recitation is so short. Rav Ashi is described in the text as “unsure what they meant by the term great kiddush” and I can imagine him shifting from one foot to another trying to figure out how he would embellish the basic blessing.

I am sure we have all been in similar circumstances during a meeting when you prepare and prepare and are asked a question that comes from out of the blue and is not something you are familiar with. What do you do? Rav Ashi recited the essential blessing and then looked around to see if something more was expected. He glanced over at an elderly man who lifted his cup and drank a sip of wine upon its conclusion. It was clear at that moment that nothing more was needed to be said. We are told that Rav Ashi was “alert enough to discern the expectations of the local residents.” He demonstrated to be a “wise man” who is quoted in Ecclesiastes 2:14 as having “eyes in his head.”

In other words, Rav Ashi was alert to the body language of the people around him. It takes a degree of sensitivity and emotional intelligence to ascertain what was expected of Rav Ashi when he was asked to recite the “great kiddush.” A less sensitive man might have either hesitated and admitted he had no idea what the “great kiddush is” or worse, made something up.

One of my favorite ways to pass time is to people watch. Unfortunately, this has been put on pause since the start of the pandemic. There is much to be learned by how people furrow their brow, cross their legs, place their hands in their pockets when they are standing, or rest them on their knees when they are in a sitting position. There are stories to be told in how people hold their bodies, and sometimes it is often more revealing than what they actually say. (See Joe Navarro’s book titled “What Every Body is Saying” for what a former FBI agent learned about body language.)

It is difficult on Zoom to truly decipher communications when all you can see are upper bodies and torsos. In many ways, we have become a community of bodiless heads, and it is difficult to understand the human code that is being transmitted when so much of a person is hidden behind a computer screen. The past year of living so much of our lives online has resembled the anonymous future of virtual lives that have been portrayed in movies. These portraits always struck me as lonely.

I am left wondering how after so long of living mostly online, do we find our way back to interacting with each other in the physical world. Will we remember how to walk side-by-side on a busy street while giving each other the right of way or sitting pulled into ourselves on a subway bench so that the optimal number of seats are available, or how to wear a backpack on the same subway without wiping out fellow commuters.

I like to think that despite Zoom being the great connector of people who have been sheltering-in-place for a year now, there is a future in the physical world once again. It will take some time but with the pace of vaccinations picking up dramatically in New York, that time will come. Until then, we have Zoom.

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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