“And you shall have no assurance of your life.”
There is a quiet moment of despair in today’s Daf Yomi text, which is a reminder that that the Rabbis were not all living comfortable lives. The discussion starts with an analysis of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s mule, who died of a wound. We are told that the mule’s blood is ritually pure, because it is “free of the impurity of an unslaughtered animal carcass.” The analysis includes a discussion of how much blood of this mule would be required to rule it impure, with the theory put forward that it would be more than a quarter log.
The Rabbis seem a little cranky as they debate the matter. Rabbi Simon ignored Rabbi Eliezer’s request to opine. We are told that Rabbi Eliezer asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi the same question, who reiterated that the measure of a quarter log is the demarcation between pure and impure.
We find Rav Beivai in another scene teaching about the state of purity of the blood of Rabbi HaNasi’s mule. Rabbi Yitzḥak bar Kahana questioned the Rav and asked if the quarter-log teaching was correct, of if the measurement was irrelevant because the blood of a carcass is never ritually impure. In a surprising gesture Rav Beivai kicked Rabbi Kahana.
Behind the kick, which reverberated through the text because of how aggressive it seemed, is the sad situation of Rav Beivai’s finances. The Rav said he kicked the Rabbi because his “mind was unsettled, and not because he did anything wrong.” He explains his irregular conduct by quoting from Deuteronomy (28:66): “And your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall fear night and day and shall have no assurance of your life.”
We are told that the quote suggests three economic scenarios. “And your life shall hang in doubt before you” suggests someone who has wheat stored for a year, but no longer. “And you shall fear night and day” suggests someone who has wheat for the day only. “And you shall have no assurance of your life” suggests the direst of circumstances of one who cannot afford to buy wheat in advance to secure even one future meal.
Rabbi Beivai confessed that he is “in the harshest state” and as result said that he “did have the presence of mind to respond appropriately to Rabbi Yitzḥak bar Kahana’s question.” The suggestion is that he may not be thinking clearly because he is literally hungry.
Today’s Daf Yomi analyzes a different hunger than the one that plagued poor Rav Beivai. We are provided with a litany of “worthy traits” that allows one to live a righteous life free from the hunger that permeates one’s soul after not living up to their potential. This continues the theme of maintaining the proper appearance in one’s actions from the previous day.
One of the most important traits is humility, which we are told leads one to be “fearful of sin” and as a result “careful to avoid temptation.” This leads one to impose upon themself a moral code that is “beyond the letter of the law.” It is ultimately about doing the right thing in one’s life and at everyone’s core, is the knowledge of what that means; there is pain when one transgresses and fails to live up to their personal expectations for a good life. We are told that when one goes beyond the letter of the law and does the right thing, he is added to the list of the righteous who will be resurrected from the dead upon the arrival of the Prophet Elijah.
Elijah did not come this year on Passover, and I am doubtful, I will live to ever see him emerge through an open door at the end of seder. But Elijah’s spirit – the spirit of hope and redemption – lives within each of us. It is why we keep opening the door for him each year. There is always the hope that if we keep striving to do better, we will contribute in our own way to a better world.
Most of us want to do the right thing but we are human and often do not quite live up to our internal standards. That is the hunger within.