Winter and the Future Moon
Tuesday gratefuls: Kate removing my sutures. Shelly for a quick and relatively painless shot of Lupron. Ali Baba for great gyros, hummus. Those who built the mountain roads. Those who built and maintain the mountain power lines. Golden Solar for installing our solar panels.
Fourth day of Daf Yomi. Only seven years, 5 months and 26 days to go. I’ve always liked long books, long movies, long tv series. Daf Yomi has a similar resonance though its length puts it in a class all by itself. Well, wait. Not quite. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the great Chinese classic novel, is well over 2,000 pages, too. It’s not, however, as dense and clever as the Talmud. It took a long while to read, but not years. Months.
Reading the Talmud, as a first-timer, is a challenging and intriguing experience. It swerves from topic to topic, sometimes in apparently unrelated ways, but seems to come back to a particular issue.
Let me give you an example. The major question since the first page has been when to recite the Shema: Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (longer, but this is the essential verse.) The affirmation of monotheism is bedrock for Jewish faith and practice.
Reciting the Shema during the night, when to do it, has taken up the first four Talmudic pages. The questions are many. When is it night? When is it midnight? When is it morning? How do we know the three (or, maybe four) watches of the night? In a time before precise clocks these were urgent questions if reciting these prayers was critically important. And, their recitation was critically important.
In the discussion about how we know when it’s midnight, one rabbi answers that David got up at midnight to pray and study Torah. How did he know it was midnight? He hung his lyre by his bed and when the north wind blew on the lyre its sounds marked midnight. On the question.
But then the question becomes one of David’s piety. Raised, I suppose, by the fact that he got up at midnight to pray and study. Several paragraphs go back and forth on the question of his piety, then we return to the central issue, how do know when to recite the night time Shema?
This may sound dry, even Jesuitical (eh, Bill?), but it’s actually lively, full of stories and a certain kind of logic chopping that I’m familiar with from philosophy. In short, I’m liking it.
Better than a Lupron shot in the butt. Which I also got yesterday.
But wait. I can hear one of the Rabbi’s say, the Lupron shot was to save your life, how is reading the Talmud better than saving your life? Because its significance goes beyond life to matters of the soul.
This is tricky for me since my belief system shuttles away from particular traditions, but I recognize the questions and love the playfulness with which they are addressed. Reading Talmud for me, like reading Torah or the New Testament is a lesson in metaphor, analogy, not in prescriptions. More on this later, too.