The gift of the unplanned moment (Daf Yomi Pesachim 26)

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Two verses that come as one.

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the long-protracted discussion on gaining benefit from forbidden items. We are provided with a list of items that we cannot seek benefit from, including baking bread in an oven lit from prohibited materials, such as the peel of orla fruit, or straw or grain that come from a vineyard that is contaminated by diverse kinds of plantings. We are told that if the contaminated oven is new, it must be shattered and it is heart-breaking to see a new appliance so utterly destroyed.

All of this adds up to the Rabbis parsing what we know by now: intent matters in everything. Except of course, when it does not, and there are always complications. There is the benefit from unintended consequences when you jump on a subway car and discover that the train is an express and your heart sinks with the expectation that the car will whizz by your local stop. You watch the car speed past subway station after station, but then when it reaches your home stop, the doors open. You do not know why this happened, but the train crossed over to the local track and you have gained ten minutes in your commute home. Those ten minutes are precious, and you decide to benefit from them by doing something out of the ordinary with your found time. You walk into the fancy soap shop on the corner that you have been meaning to visit for ages and buy something special for yourself.

Rava repeated the position of Rabbi Yehuda who said that you are liable for taking advantage of the irregular subway schedule, which might have been the result of an error in how the trains were being moved through the system. Your ten minutes now carry the burden of liability and are not such a gift. Abaye repeats a story about a Rabbi who conducted large study halls outside the walls of the temple and at the same time was able to take advantage of protection from the sun. Abaye argues that the Rabbi is permitted to derive benefit from the temple walls, even though they are sacred, because he found the most efficacious spot to share his learnings.

Speaking of new appliances, have you ever renovated your kitchen? The contractors move in and take over your place, and they leave and enter, enter and leave, with the sense of ownership. All of a sudden, you feel like you are in the way – in your own home! – and are slightly upset that the workmen are stomping around and do not appear to respect your home. And then one day, they are gone, and you have your kitchen back and feel like the master of your space again.

The Talmud considers the renovation of the temple and the challenges with having workmen in what it calls the “Holy of Holies.” It must have taken a great deal of upkeep and care to maintain the temple and the priests (my ancestors!) were most likely as ill-equipped as most people in my family to attend to handywork. So, the artisans and craftsmen and ancient contractors would need access to the most sacred of spaces. We are told that they would be lowered into the temple in “containers” so that they could go about their work in the innermost chambers without enjoying “the appearance of the Holy of Holies.” This conjures images of brave window-washers who swing from platforms high in the air as they clean the windows of office towers and apartment buildings. They have views into all kinds of private lives and goings on and I can only imagine the stories they bring home to their families of what they have seen.

This is all a reminder to take a moment and appreciate the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of the world around us, even when we find ourselves in happenchance circumstances that we did not anticipate, or perhaps especially at those times. When you come across a street musician who is especially talented, take the moment no matter how rushed you feel inside to appreciate his gift. When your commute is shortened by a few minutes because the subway car skips all the local stops except your own, gift yourself those extra minutes and do something unexpected. Some of the best moments, the ones that provide stories that we repeat for years, are those that are unplanned and just happen.

As I write this, New York City is being plummeted by an intense snowstorm. There is something magical about how the city can become so quiet, as if suspended in time, when it is blanketed in snow. Everything comes to a standstill and you can taste your breath. It is the unexpected gift of silence.

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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