Penny Cagan

Walk around fate (Daf Yomi 40)

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“Go around, go around, and do not approach the vineyard.”

We have a conundrum brothers and sisters. Do we soak or not soak our matza or entirely walk around the issue as I feel the Rabbis did today? I know nothing about baking or flour or producing unleavened bread. The matza that I last bought came in a blue and orange box from Manischewitz and I trust that it was produced according to whatever is required. But the text today tells us that it is impossible to produce refined matza, especially ones produced from barley, without soaking the grain, as “this is the only way to remove the chaff.” However, soaking grains could allow them to expand and perhaps, leaven. So, what are we to do with such a dilemma?

This being the Talmud, the answer to our problem takes a bit of a circuitous path and to be honest, it is path without any type of real conclusion. Rav Pappa tells us that there is a difference between flour that belongs to non-Jews who reside in villages and those that reside in cities. The former is considered “ritually pure” while they later are “impure.” We are told that it is assumed city grains are soaked before they are ground into flour, and as a result “become susceptible to ritual impurity.”

The question concerning soaking the flour, however, is never truly answered. We are simply told that “it can be inferred from this that it is possible to prepare refined flour without soaking the grain.” But why the difference in how it is prepared according to location? Instead of actually answering the question, Rava says that the distinction is between ordinary and refined flour and that ordinary flour is “invariably susceptible to ritual impurity due to the soaking.” Shmuel is quoted as saying that the Torah requires refined flour for “meal-offerings.” But wait, what about matza and why city flour inherently inferior?

Among all the debate about soaking the flour Rava steps in and says that it’s a mitza to do so. He quotes the following from Exodus: “And you shall guard the matzot.” We learned a few days ago that there is a duty to guard one’s dough from the time it is soaked through to kneading and baking. If eyes are constantly on the dough, then the potential for leavening is reduced. It is further reduced if one pours vinegar into the flour concoction. Our Talmudic baking lesson for the day tells us that “vinegar prevents flour from becoming leavened after the flour is diluted in water.”

Ulla says that our baking lesson is missing the point and the entire vinegar solution is unnecessary. He likens this to a visit to a vineyard by a Nazirite who has taken a vow not to drink. His advice is to “avoid scenarios that might lead to a prohibition” and says, “go around, go around, and do not approach the vineyard.” In other words, keep an eye on one’s dough and avoid anything that would cause it to leaven in the first place.

That is probably the best advice we have gotten from Ulla since he insulted Yalta back in the first Tractate. Go around temptation wherever you find it. Go around and around and be a sage and do not tempt fate.

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone! Good riddance to 2020. We had no choice but to walk straight through the weeks and days and hours of this year rather than tiptoeing around it. But we made it through to the other side, and the next year has got to be better.

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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