What is your Hoover Dam story? (Daf Yomi Pesachim 73)

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“What has he improved.”

I have a confession to make. I have a terrible sense of direction and in the days before Google Maps and GPS, I often got lost. Even after living in New York City for twenty years, I would look for the World Trade Center above me in order to orient myself. When the World Trade Center disappeared from the sky in 2001 after the horrific act of terrorism, I was lost until I found new landmarks. And still, even today after living in this city for so many years, I need landmarks to orientate me when I emerge from the underground subway or I will inevitably head in the wrong direction.

I promise you – I have a very severe case of bad direction-itis. There was a road trip many years ago where I was the designated navigator and couldn’t figure out the right end of the map and ended up in the wrong state. This was not a small matter out west where a wrong turn meant hours of additional road time. I was with a friend who became very grumpy with me for my less than adequate map-reading skills.

But there was also a certain serendipity to ending up in the wrong town and finding an out-of-the way roadside restaurant that had the best chocolate cake I ever had. And there were very patient people in the next booth who took the time to draw out in great detail how we could double back to our intended location. And we got to see the Hoover Dam on the way! We made the best of it because ultimately, once we headed down that long narrow western highway, there was no turning back.

Today, the Daf Yomi continues the discussion from the last few days on mistakes that are made when Shabbat and Passover collide on the calendar. We previously learned that if one slaughters a Paschal lamb on Shabbat for someone who cannot eat it or if the animal is blemished and unsuitable, he is liable even it if it was an honest mistake. He performed a prohibited act by overriding Shabbat.

We are told, however, that some good can come from a mistake, just like how my holding a map upside down resulted in the perfect slice of chocolate cake. We are asked what has been improved through the wayward slaughter if it is for someone who can no longer accept it, or for a purpose that has changed, or if it involves a blemished animal. The Gemara tells us that in fact, it is possible to benefit from the mistake and that once the offering makes its way to the front of the alter, it is not turned away.

We are told that if an animal is sacrificed that has an unknown hidden condition that will cause it to die within twelve months, the fate of the animal has been improved because it was saved from a state of impurity that would occur if it died from natural causes. We are told that the proper slaughter of the animal prevents it from becoming impure and infecting others.

If the owner of an animal selected for an offering dies, or if he finds another way to assuage his guilt or complete an obligation, the animal is turned out to pasture and then sold off once it develops a disqualifying blemish. The money from the sale can be used to finance a communal burnt-offering and provides some benefit to the community.

Taking a wrong turn does not mean that plans need to be scrapped, a vacation ruined, or in today’s Daf Yomi reading, the rejection of a sacrifice at the altar. There are lessons to be learned in every road we follow and as most people know who have lived any length of time, life is all about left turns. We can plan and plan and plan, but the point we end up at is often not the one we circled on our maps.

The trip I am remembering occurred in the 1980s. My friend and I were headed to a point in Colorado. These two New Yorkers somehow ended up at the Hoover Dam. We were way out of our way and my friend was angry with my poor navigation skills. But we got to see the Hoover Dam!

My question to all of you – and especially in light of the left turn that our lives have taken during lockdown – is what is your Hoover Dam story?


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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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