Seder Nashim: Now Come the Hard Conversations

As in every relationship, sometimes you must have difficult conversations. That time has come, dear Talmud. 

Time to say goodbye to Seder Moed. 

The author of the Hadran perfectly captures the feeling of taking leave of a masechet and even more so of a whole seder: It is deep, emotional, and borderline anthropomorphic. 

For months you and the Gemara spend a sizable chunk of every day locking horns with one another: listening to one another’s utterances, exploring each other’s ideas, and now and then talking back in anger to one another. Sometimes those dialogues are enthralling, and occasionally they are deeply upsetting. Regardless, after spending so much time in such close mental proximity, an intellectual intimacy inevitably develops. 

If one is blessed with a vivid spiritual imagination, they feel that the intimacy is mutual, the relationship reciprocal. You develop a deep and emotional attachment to the Talmud, and in your mind’s heart you experience the Talmud responding in kind. A relationship of mutual dependency is established. The Talmud makes you come alive, and, in turn, you do the same for the Talmud. You channel life into its otherwise dead and inanimate pages. 

The result: The Talmud is no less thankful to you than you are to her.  

In fact, there is an idea along these lines from the Baal Shem Tov. 

Our Sages tell us that “every day a Heavenly voice issues forth from Mount Sinai.” 

Reportedly, the Besht wondered: What is the purpose of this voice, if no one hears it?

But we all hear it, answered the Baal Shem Tov. Every time that we are struck with an unexpected thought that pushes us in the right direction—unexpected because it is totally out of character for us, and a complete departure from our present frame of mind—that means that our inner ear has picked up an echo of the Divine voice calling from Mount Sinai.*

When we listen closely with our inner ear, the Besht tells us, we sometimes discern voices we otherwise wouldn’t notice.

I believe (know?) that the same is true for the Talmud. A voice emanates from the Talmud, and only the discerning listener picks it up.

After spending a few hours trying to crack a sugya, when you finally get it, your heart and mind get overwhelmed with a passionate love, and you deeply appreciate the joy derived from the daf. One who harnesses their inner spiritual ear during that ecstatic moment will hear the Gemara respond in kind: “I love you too,” she will say, in a voice that is filled with passion, gratitude, and appreciation. “Thank you for infusing me with relevance and meaning.”

During the months in which we studied Moed, the conversations were sheer and endless bliss. Day in and day out, we would look forward to our time together. Then, when we finally found the time to be in each other’s company, we had a blast, both of us elevated into an otherworldly sphere.

Now the time has come to say goodbye to Moed and turn to Seder Nashim. 

May be an illustrationBoth of us, the Gemara and I, are aware that this seder won’t be as smooth sailing as Moed was. Some conversations will be difficult and at times extremely challenging. We won’t always see eye to eye. There will be times when we will be outraged and horrified by one another. But that’s okay. That is what genuine love is. You love your partner warts and all. 

All of us occasionally experience moments when our loved ones push us to the brink, emotionally, psychologically, and perhaps even spiritually. 

This relationship is no different. The Gemara in Seder Nashim will sometimes make claims that are troubling or offer postulates that are difficult to bear. And, in the privacy of my study or office, I will respond in ways that she will find difficult to hear, at times perhaps even hurtful and dismissive. But that is okay. That is the nature of a love relationship. Sometimes the coin of love is flipped, and hate—the antithesis of love—rears its ugly head. The deep love you have for your loved one is suddenly experienced as fury and perhaps disdain. But, thankfully, it does not last. You let off some steam and then the coin flips back to its correct angle: the side of love. 

That, my beloved Talmud, will occasionally happen during our mutual journey through Seder Nashim. It won’t always be sugar and spice. There will be times when anger and spite will be the bond that binds us to one another. But it is okay. That is the way it was meant to be. 

Hadran alach, Seder Moed, we will eventually return to you, but I commit that in the interim I will be fondly thinking about you. Hopefully, you will respond in kind. הדרן עלך ודעתן עלך. לא נתנשי מינך ולא תתנשי מינן. 

See you in Yevamot!  

* (This formulation of that story is not my own. I didn’t write the two paragraphs that describe the Besht’s idea. I lifted them from a Chabad website.)

About the Author
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is the Senior Rabbi of PHS, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and Chair of the Talmud department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for more ten years, and is a graduate of the HaSha'ar Program for Jewish Educators, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School, and gave a popular daf yomi class in Brooklyn for more than eight years.
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