Cosmological Koans for Katrina



From the News Center at UC Santa Cruz:  “In his new book, Cosmological Koans: A Journey to the Heart of Physical Reality”, physicist Anthony Aguirre explores deep questions about the nature of reality, using an approach inspired by Zen koans to take the reader on a thought-provoking tour of the cosmos and the core ideas of modern physics.

In Zen Buddhism, koans are short parables or questions meant to confront the practitioner with the inadequacy of conventional concepts and habits of thought. Similarly, Aguirre’s “cosmological koans” confront the reader with the unexpected nature of the world as described by physics and the mind-boggling ways in which it differs from our subjective experience or intuitive understanding of things.

‘I wanted to convey that sense of mystery and wonder that comes from seeing reality in a new way,’ said Aguirre, a professor of physics and holder of the Faggin Family Presidential Chair for the Physics of Information at UC Santa Cruz.

The book covers a wide range of topics, woven together with a fictional story line that recounts a journey from Italy to Japan. Multiple universes, the nature of time, the meaning of quantum theory, and entropy and information are among the subjects explored in short chapters that manage to convey mind-bending ideas in a way that is accessible and entertaining.

The topics include some of the most challenging open questions in cosmology and physics, as well as concepts that have long been settled science yet remain disturbingly counterintuitive. With respect to the enduring mystery of time, for example, Einstein showed that there is no universal ‘now’—in other words, different observers can have different perceptions of whether two events are simultaneous.”


Let’s explore the concept of time a bit further.  In Chapter 28, p. 210, Professor Aguirre writes that you don’t see the world as it is now, whether that “now” is cosmic or not.  The world you see around you is the world as it was in the past.  Viewing the leaf falling from a tree 50 meters away, you see the tree as it was 167 nanoseconds ago.

What does “now” mean?  In other words how do we define the present as distinct from the past or the future?  It’s a timeless question borne of metaphysics as much as physics.  As soon as you stop to identify that now is now, the moment has already passed into the past.  Perhaps the closest we can come is envisioning a pause button as the label for a given “time t” that occurs as an event in a particular space at a specific time.  But as we know, within our physical framework, there is no pause button.  The arrow of time is always moving forward.  The instant we reflect on the present it becomes the past, and the future is the next moment in time.

So if identifying the present is nearly a fleeting impossibility, would we have the audacity to imagine a perfect moment in time?  Art Garfunkel believes we can, and who am I to disagree?

In chapter 30, p. 226, Professor Aguirre turns his attention to the thorny question of Theodicy, or why a designer would create a world of beauty such as ours while allowing for unimaginable levels of pervasive suffering.   This leads the good professor to contemplate the multiverse, and that the universe we inhabit is one among many – merely the one that is most inhabitable to us.  That thinking is in line with Leibniz, who imagined this to be the “best” universe not just in terms of good outweighing evil, but also as the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.

Chapter 31, The Floating Gardens, prompted me to get even more whimsical than usual. From a biblical standpoint, and the Old Testament in particular, the most significant “uni-verse” is the first verse.  (Might we consider this a Cosmological “Cohen” as opposed to a “Koan”?)  It reads:  בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ


בְּרֵאשִׁית – in the beginning.   The beginning of what?  Time would seem to be the essence.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים – God created.  The apparent conflict between “God” in the plural, and “created” in the singular.

אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ – The heavens and the earth.  Note the singularity of the earth and the multiplicity of the heavens, not to mention “the two aces”.

So by now you may be wondering, who is Katrina?  In chapter 50, p. 355, Professor Aguirre takes note of the host of dichotomies he has assailed us with:  Us and Them.  Self and Other.  East and West.  Katrina is a young woman in the service industry I encounter in her role as a barista at Starbucks in the morning and as a waitress at Martell’s Tiki Bar in the evening, a dichotomy in its own right.  She took an interest in what I was reading one morning – it was Cosmological Koans – which led to a conversation about East/West and the Yoga which got shoved down to the bottom of my bucket list.

Starbucks of course asks for your first name if you order anything but regular coffee.  Originally I gave my name as Len, but for some reason the baristas kept hearing “Glen”.  I got tired of correcting them, and so Glen I became for the purposes of my morning routine.  When Katrina waited on Miriam and me and at Martell’s, my “real” name came to the surface.  “If you’re Len, be Len” she said.  Sounds like a cosmological koan to me.

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Blog Yomi – Moed Katan #6

We begins today’s Daf at the top of דף ז עמוד א, with discussion about a topic that most of us are familiar with mostly through idioms, such as making mountains out of molehills. Moles really do make molehills underground, and are part of the hidden ecology constituting our environmental infrastructure that we take for granted.

This discussion becomes relevant to our Daf because doing work involving trapping certain rodents such as the “אִשׁוּת” and עַכְבָּרִים during Chol HaMoed and the שמיטה year would be permissible because left unchecked these creatures would cause irretrievable loss by decimating the field. The definition of עַכְבָּרִים is straightforward as mice, because that word is still in the modern Hebrew lexicon. But what is “אִשׁוּת”? On the previous Daf, ArtScroll translates it as a “mole”. But do a Google search mole in modern day Hebrew, and you’ll come up with חפרפרת or השומה.

To translate this we rely on a derivation from Rashi in the 9th verse of Chapter 58 of Tehilim which reads: כְּמ֣וֹ שַׁ֖בְּלוּל תֶּ֣מֶס יַֽהֲלֹ֑ךְ נֵ֥פֶל אֵ֜֗שֶׁת בַּל־חָ֥זוּ שָֽׁמֶשׁ, and translates to: Like a snail, which continuously melts, a mole [and a] stillbirth, which did not see the sun. As noted in the commentary to Ein Yaakov in our Gemara, the word אֵ֜֗שֶׁת in Tehilim is equivalent to the word אִשׁוּת here, which Rashi identifies as טלפ״א, meaning “mole” in Old French. Incidentally, Rashi who was born in and lived his entire life (1040-1105) in Troyes, France, was widely recognized in all circles and is commemorated with a stamp. If you’re captivated by Rashi’s use of Old French, there is a repository of these words in Moshe Catane’s אוצר לעזי רש”י available on the Internet.

So we have another example here of טרחה יתרה, or strenuous work (setting traps) that is permitted on the days of Chol HaMoed or during the Shmita year to counteract what would otherwise be a דבר האבוד or irreparable harm to one’s field (through infestation by rodents). In our case in the Daf, the Gemara describes that allowed to run wild, these rodents will leave the grain field and destroy the trees in an adjacent orchard. I am no rodentologist, by any means, but I imagine that during extended periods when humans allow normal food sources in fields to be inactive such as week-long holidays or certainly the Shmita year, that rodents will do what rodents do in order to survive which can be disruptive to the integrity of the field. We saw hints of that in reports of infestations that occurred during COVID-19 when humans went into hibernation and pests had a field day.

In essence, what the Gemara is describing is part of the balance that is permissible in managing the interaction between man, animal, and soil over extended periods of time. Some of that involves a knowledge of effective trapping as it relates to agriculture, and the Gemara goes into it in some detail. All this serves as a backdrop to today’s video.

As you will see and hear, the remainder of today’s Daf concentrates on two themes:

  1. Repairing or demolishing walls during Chol HaMoed that would otherwise present a danger to the public if allowed to protrude or crumble into open spaces.
  2. Signs and symptoms of leprosy (צרעת) that surface during Chol HaMoed, and the role of the כהן in deciding whether the leper goes into quarantine. Empathy and discretion are discussed here with regard to enabling the individual to come out of quarantine, and the parallels to lockdowns or self-imposed quarantines during the pandemic are not lost on us.
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Blog Yomi – Moed Katan #5

We continue, on דף ו עמוד א in מועד קטן, to explore grave matters. There is a chart here that you can download from Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof regarding the status of the area between two stones marked with lime and whether the area is טמא (tamei, or ritually unclean) or טהור (tahor, or ritually clean). If there is lime between the stones, the area is טמא whether or not the space between the two stones has been plowed. If the area between the stones has been plowed, and there is no lime between them, then the area is טהור. If the area between the stones has not been plowed, and there is no lime between them, if there is excess lime it is טמא and if there is no excess lime it is טהור. The Steinsaltz Talmud Daf page for today has a nice photo of lime marking the stones.

As the notes to the chart cited above explain:

The Gemara uses the word “Merudad” which means that some of the lime has spilled down the sides of the stones and now covers part of the area between the stones, making it look as though the entire area is a marker for Tum’ah. The Rishonim argue about why the area between the two stones is Tamei when there is a spillover of lime, unless that area is plowed over:
(a) רשׁי and the רא״בד explain that “Choresh” means that the area between the stones was plowed over. Since the lime does not cover *all* of the ground between the stones, we may assume that the lime which spilled over fell from the stones as a result of the plowing, and the only place which is Tamei is the area directly beneath the stones.
(b) תוספות text reads “Cheres,” meaning that a darker-colored cement (potsherd cement, as opposed to lime) between the two stones indicates that the area between them is *not* Tamei, and we may assume that the person spilled an excess of lime down the sides of the stones so that it would fuse with the rest of the cement and form a strong covering for the entire area, but *not* so that it would indicate the presence of a grave in that area.
(c) רמ״בם, whose text also reads “Cheres,” explains that potsherd cement between the stones is a sign that the abundant lime was spilled on the stones in order to strengthen a structure that was originally built upon the two stones, and not to indicate any grave. רמ״בם implies that in the presence of potsherds, the *entire* area — even the area beneath the stones — is Tahor, since the lime covered neither the stones alone nor the entire area between the stones, but rather the stones and some of the area between them.

The Gemara then discusses כִּלְאַיִם (kilayim or diverse plants mixed together), and the role of inspectors who ascertain that the laws pertaining to planting practices are being observed. (There is helpful discussion about this at, and if you enjoy a good play on words, this thought-provoking article by Jeremy Wexler titled Kilayim Pie.)

וְיוֹצְאִין אַף עַל הַכִּלְאַיִם

וְאַכִּלְאַיִם בְּחוּלּוֹ שֶׁל מוֹעֵד נָפְקִינַן? וּרְמִינְהוּ: בְּאֶחָד בַּאֲדָר מַשְׁמִיעִין עַל הַשְּׁקָלִים וְעַל הַכִּלְאַיִם

בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ קוֹרִין אֶת הַמְּגִילָּה בַּכְּרַכִּים, וְיוֹצְאִין לְקַוֵּוץ אֶת הַדְּרָכִים, וּלְתַקֵּן הָרְחוֹבוֹת, וְלָמוֹד הַמִּקְוָאוֹת. וְעוֹשִׂין כל צוֹרְכֵי רַבִּים, וּמְצַיְּנִין אֶת הַקְּבָרוֹת, וְיוֹצְאִין עַל הַכִּלְאַיִם

It is taught in the mishna: And inspectors even go out on the intermediate days of a Festival to uproot the shoots of prohibited diverse kinds [kilayim] that grew in the fields during the rainy season.

The Gemara asks: Do they go out to uproot diverse kinds during the intermediate days of a Festival? The Gemara raises a contradiction from another mishna (Shekalim 1:1), which states: On the first of Adar the court issues a proclamation concerning the collection of the shekels, i.e., the yearly half-shekel contribution to the Temple treasury made by each adult male for the purpose of buying communal offerings. And the court also issues a proclamation with regard to the obligation to uproot diverse kinds from the fields.

On the fifteenth of Adar the Megilla, the Scroll of Esther, is read in the walled cities, and they go out to clear thorns from the roads, to repair the city streets, and to measure the ritual baths to ascertain that they have the requisite quantity of water. And they tend to all other public needs, and they mark graves with lime, and they go out to uproot the shoots of diverse kinds. If they already went out in Adar to uproot the diverse kinds, why would they go out again on Chol HaMoed Pesach?

The answer depends on what kind of fields are growing which kinds of plants/vegetables as to the need to inspect them and on what schedule; and the reason we pick Chol HaMoed for the בּית דין to direct the inspection is that cheap labor is available! The discussion that ensues revolves around the fiscal responsibility of בּית דין in expending funds to hire kilayim inspectors, whether the owner or the Court is responsible for paying workers to uproot kilayim, the potential secondary benefit to the owner of the field who planted kilayim in having the Court till his soil in the process of toiling over kilayim (and having his animals fed with the strewn material), and the conclusion of the Gemara that בּית דין can exert its ultimate authority by confiscating the field. This sends a message to other field owners not to try and double dip by cheating on kilayim as well as enjoying the secondary benefits above.

For a change of pace, I’ll let R’ Eli Stefansky’s visual aids help you review these concepts and take you the rest of the way beginning at the 14:30 mark here:

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Blog Yomi – Moed Katan #4

We left off the previous Daf with the concept that one is allowed to deepen a trench from 5 טפחים (a unit of measurement apx. equal to 3 inches) to 6 טפחים, or to clean a pre-existing canal of debris that might impede its flow on Chol HaMoed, as well as to engage in various public works such as fixing streets, making sure that the Mikvah is filled, and generally anything that is considered צרכי צבּור including putting up grave markers for the dead, for which all would be grateful.

We’ll get to the Dead shortly, but first some unfinished business about irrigating living things. At the 1:40 mark of today’s YouTube video, Rabbi Stern puts up a chart that he adapted from Rabbi Eli Stefansky. It facilitates following the flow of the Gemara, which is essentially a tale of three בּרייתאs, and how they interact.

The Mishna stated, regarding what work is permissible on Chol HaMoed: וּמְתַקְּנִין אֶת

קִילְקוּלֵי הַמַּיִם שֶׁבִּרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים – Repairing damaged cisterns in the public domain, and specifically cleaning out dirt or sediment (during Chol Hamoed): חֲטִיטָה — אִין, חֲפִירָה — לָא – cleaning out an existing cistern is permitted, but digging a new one is not. Now we get into a series of discussions about private versus public clearing out or digging of pits and repairing of cracks in roads, and whether the work is being done of necessity or of enhancement. Basically we have to figure out who can dig it, and when.

If you get lost in the Daf here, you are not alone. There is a “Reader’s Digest” version (the Daf Yomi Digest), that is helpful at this juncture by way of a brief review: Community needs may be met during Chol Hamoed, since it is a time when people are free of their own obligations and they can help the community. If they did not help, the community would lose those benefits. This is considered a דבר האבוד, a loss of principal. For example, fixing roads, irrigation canals, mikvah, grave marking, or transfer of property announcements are permitted, so people can object and avoid legal battles later. It is a need of society to have laws, rules and a system of justice.

I’ll Zoom ahead here and cite the Gemara at the bottom דף ה עמוד א:

אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: כל הַשָּׁם אוֹרְחוֹתָיו — זוֹכֶה וְרוֹאֶה בִּישׁוּעָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְשָׂם דֶּרֶךְ״, אַל תִּקְרֵי ״וְשָׂם״, אֶלָּא: ״וְשָׁם דֶּרֶךְ״ — ״אַרְאֶנּוּ בְּיֵשַׁע אֱלֹהִים״

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Whoever appraises his ways in this world and contemplates how to act in the most appropriate way possible merits seeing the salvation of the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it is stated: “And to him who orders his way.” Do not read it as vesum, who orders; rather, read it as veshum, and appraises. With this reading, the verse indicates that one who appraises his ways, him will I show the salvation of G-d. Evidently the whole is greater than the veshum of its parts.

The discussion about שָׁם versus שָׂם reminds me of a פסוק in the Shira in פרשׁת בּשׁלח:

וַיִּצְעַ֣ק אֶל־יְהֹוָ֗ה וַיּוֹרֵ֤הוּ יְהֹוָה֙ עֵ֔ץ וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ֙ אֶל־הַמַּ֔יִם וַֽיִּמְתְּק֖וּ הַמָּ֑יִם שָׁ֣ם שָׂ֥ם ל֛וֹ חֹ֥ק וּמִשְׁפָּ֖ט וְשָׁ֥ם נִסָּֽהוּ׃

“So he cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet. There He made for them a fixed rule, and there He put them to the test.”

Ah, the salvation of G-d after being put to the test. Discuss amongst yourselves …

I’ll finish up with citations from notes in the Schottenstein Ein Yaakov commentary on Moed Katan:

The Gemara states that if a grave is known to exist within a field but its precise location within the field is unknown, the entire area in doubt must be marked off, to prevent travelers from becoming טָמֵא (tamei) through אוֹהֶל (ohel) by passing over the lost grave. If, however, the field in question was subsequently plowed over, no marker is required, because the plow is assumed to have ground up any bones present to less than the size necessary to impart tumas ohel. The Gemara questioned the ruling of the ברייתא, asking that perhaps the trees are located only on the perimeter of the field, whereas the grave is located in its interior portion. The Gemara answered that the ברייתא refers to where the entire field, both its perimeter and interior portions is planted with trees.

Finishing with a flourish, the notes above continue: “The end of the aforementioned Baraisa cites a Tanna who maintains that the presence of trees within a marked-off field is insufficient evidence to assume that the grave was subsequently plowed over. R’Yehuda says: The field is presumed to contain an intact grave unless there is an elder or a Torah student in that place who can testify that it was plowed. Another person is not trusted to testify about this, because not everyone is an expect in this matter. The Gemara derives a less from R’Yehuda’s statement: Abaye said: Learn from this that when there is a young Torah scholar in a city, all of the city’s matters are incumbent upon him.” On which Rashi comments that because he is knowledgeable in הלכה, it is his responsibility to be informed of all issues that affect the residents’ lives.

Perhaps this lends deeper meaning to recitation of the phrase on Shabbos:

וכל מי שעוסקים בצרכי ציבור באמונה הקדוש ברוך הוא ישלם שכרם – And all those who occupy themselves with the needs of the community in good faith will be rewarded by G-d.

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Blog Yomi – Moed Katan #3

We ended the previous Daf with discussion about what is permitted to be done in advance of the שׁמיטה year. Why should what is done in advance of that year (תוספת שׁמיטה) have any bearing on the year itself? Because it can enhance what the field produces in the שׁמיטה year, and the intent of the law itself is for that year to be fallow or quiescent. A key component of the discussion is whether what is being done is to preserve what has already been planted, as opposed to actions that might be considered תוספת שׁמיטה.

We pick up the discussion at five lines from the bottom on דף ג עמוד ב, with a debate on the proscriptions of the key פסוק in question, which ends with ״בֶּחָרִישׁ וּבַקָּצִיר תִּשְׁבֹּת״.

We’re going to Zoom ahead to the 15 minute mark of the video, corresponding to 19 lines from the top of דף ד עמוד א. The Gemara quotes the Mishnah as stating: “אֲבָל לֹא מִמֵּי הַגְּשָׁמִים וּמִמֵּי הַקִּילוֹן”. For reference, here is the context of the entire quote: מַשְׁקִין בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין בַּמּוֹעֵד וּבַשְּׁבִיעִית, בֵּין מִמַּעְיָין שֶׁיָּצָא בַּתְּחִילָּה, בֵּין מִמַּעְיָין שֶׁלֹּא יָצָא בַּתְּחִילָּה. אֲבָל אֵין מַשְׁקִין לֹא מִמֵּי הַגְּשָׁמִים, וְלֹא מִמֵּי הַקִּילוֹן.

Which translates as: “One may water an irrigated field during Chol Hamoed and during שמיטה whether from a newly emergent spring or from a spring that has been flowing for some time. However one may not water an irrigated field, neither from a pool of rainwater nor from the water of a well.”

The Gemara here asks: It is understandable that the water of a well should be forbidden for use in watering, because there is excessive exertion involved in the task (טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא). But with regard to a pool of rainwater, what exertion is there in watering from it?

The Gemara presents two answers. One is precautionary – that once trench water were allowed, people may come to use well water. The other answer is one of practicality – that when rains come and the canal deepens, inevitably one is going to have to use an implement such as a bucket to reach the water which too low to flow naturally from the trench to reach the seeds, and that would be classified as טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא.

The Gemara adds here that those such as Rav Ashi who follow the opinion of Rav Zeira (who in turn cites רַבָּה בַּר יִרְמְיָה in the name of Shmuel) would agree that water which is constantly streaming from ponds containing rainwater (such as in בבל which has a saturated climate) never presents an issue of טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא, and one can therefore irrigate from them during Chol Hamoed:

דְּאָמַר רַבִּי זֵירָא אָמַר רַבָּה בַּר יִרְמְיָה אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל: נְהָרוֹת הַמּוֹשְׁכִין מַיִם מִן הָאֲגַמִּים מוּתָּר לְהַשְׁקוֹת מֵהֶן בְּחוּלּוֹ שֶׁל מוֹעֵד.

Rashi now comments on the next topic in the Gemara, which is a bi-level field sharing a common water source: בריכה שנטפה משדה בית השלחין זו מותר להשקות ממנה בית השלחין אחר. בית השלחין שהיה גבוה והיה מעיין נובע מצדו ובצד אחד היה בית השלחין נמוך ובין אלו בית השלחין היה בצד השלחין הנמוך בריכה קטנה וכשמשקים בית השלחין הגבוה מן המעיין נוטף טיפין מן בית השלחין הגבוה לבריכה הנמוכה מותר להשקות אותו בית השלחין הנמוך מאותה בריכה אע”ג דבריכה עבידא דפסקא הואיל ומטפטף בו מבית השלחין הגבוה מים שבאו לו מחמת המעיין

As one might have anticipated, the determining factor here is the ongoing accessibility or reliability of the water supply as to whether or not it is considered טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא. If one side or one level has water streaming into it naturally at all times then it is not טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא to irrigate; if that is not the case, then it is.

The Gemara continues, תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: מַדְלִין לִירָקוֹת כְּדֵי לְאוֹכְלָן, וְאִם בִּשְׁבִיל לְיַיפּוֹתָן — אָסוּר. What is the meaning of the word “מַדְלִין”? Rashi explains this as follows:

מדלין לירקות – משמע שהוא דולה מים ומשקה לירקות כדי לאוכלן בחולו של מועד

ואם בשביל ליפותן – שיגדלו הירקות אסור דהרווחה היא

It is understood, regarding irrigating the vegetable patch, that one can draw water for the sake of keeping vegetables moist that had been planted in order to be able to eat them on Chol HaMoed, but not in order to further enhance their growth or appearance.

Here the Gemara is expounding on a second fundamental principle of Chol HaMoed: Despite the fact that טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא is not permitted with regard to דבר האבוד, when it comes to צריך המועד כדי לאכילה (necessities in order to be able to eat on Chol HaMoed) then even טִירְחָא יְתֵירָא involving pouring water is permitted.

The discussion then proceeds to discussion about digging ditches, and the distinction between digging new ones (not permitted) versus clearing out pre-existing ditches that have become clogged (permitted). This is followed by consideration of hoeing, which creates a bank of dirt and whether making the ground more fertile violates the principle of not enhancing the soil during the שמיטה year.

Let’s finish with a thought from The Transformative Daf by Rabbi Daniel Friedman regarding appearances involving hoeing. Hoeing, or its more contemporary form of tilling the soil, involves digging up the earth and turning it over in its place in order to aerate it to help seeds grow better. This is certainly considered the type of work that would be forbidden on Chol HaMoed or during שמיטה.

Imagine for a moment, however, that someone was new to farming and was told to begin by hoeing. He goes up and down the field digging holes and putting the dirt back in. At the end of the day he looks out at the field and thinks, “What did I accomplish today? I simply dug up the earth and put it back!” He then decides that he is wasting his time and resolves to quit. That would be short-sighted, as the hoeing is important in terms of preparing the earth for future planting.

As quoted by Rabbi Friedman, R’ Yisroel Salanter used to say: “One must strive, not achieve”. That means you receive your Heavenly reward on account of the effort that you invest, no necessarily on the consequences. Your task is to work the fields of this world. As long as you put forth your very best efforts, Hashem will reward you, regardless of the apparent outcome.

Second, when you till the soil, the earth is being aerated even though the human eye may not be able to discern it. In life, even when you ponder a situation in great detail, it can sometimes feel like something’s missing. Your toil can seem to be pointless or fruitless and just not worth the effort. But, in the words of the immortal coach Jim Valvano …

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Blog Yomi – Moed Katan #2

We ended the previous Daf in Moed Katan toward the bottom of דף ב עמוד ב with a discussion about plowing a field during the שׁמיטה (Shmita) year. The concept of שׁמיטה, or letting the land lie fallow during the last year of each 7 year cycle, is first mentioned in the Torah in Parshas משפטים, where it states (פרק כג פסוקים י-יא):

וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְרַ֣ע אֶת־אַרְצֶ֑ךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃

Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield;

וְהַשְּׁבִיעִ֞ת תִּשְׁמְטֶ֣נָּה וּנְטַשְׁתָּ֗הּ וְאָֽכְלוּ֙ אֶבְיֹנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְיִתְרָ֕ם תֹּאכַ֖ל חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה כֵּֽן־תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְכַרְמְךָ֖ לְזֵיתֶֽךָ׃

And in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves.

שׁמיטה is discussed in detail in Seder Zeraim, the section of the Gemara pertaining heavily to the agricultural laws of Israel. In the 11th century, Rambam (Maimonides) further elaborated on the laws in Mishneh Torah, including a section that addresses שׁמיטה from both an agrarian and economic perspective.

During the year of שׁמיטה, agricultural lands are to lie fallow; private land holdings become open to the commons; food storage and perennial harvests are to be freely redistributed and accessible to all; and debts are to be forgiven. Because the laws of שׁמיטה were interpreted to pertain exclusively to the Land of Israel, they were not a major Jewish focus during the 2,000 years in which few Jews lived in Israel. As Jews began returning to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th century, שׁמיטה created some significant hurdles and questions. Rabbinic authorities had to balance interpreting the ancient laws of the land with modern European economic and agricultural systems and practices to which Jews in the diaspora had become accustomed.

These laws are timely because our current Jewish year 5782, which began on Sept. 7, 2021 is a שׁמיטה year. It has taken on renewed emphasis owing to the growing movement of thinkers and activists using it as a focal point to address global environmental problems and economic instability of the 21st century. A phenomenal and very extensive discussion of this is contained in the article, Shmita Revolution: The Reclamation and Reinvention of the Sabbatical Year, authored by David Krantz.

With that backdrop, let’s drop in to today’s Daf.

We posed the question as to how the Mishnah could say that irrigating one’s field would be permitted during שׁמיטה, or the sabbatical or 7th year (מַשְׁקִין בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין בַּמּוֹעֵד וּבַשְּׁבִיעִית). The first answer given by אַבַּיֵי was that this reflects the viewpoint of רֶבִּי that irrigation is permitted בּזמן הזה מדרבּנן. The Gemara now gives a second answer, as we transition into דף ג עמוד א, and that answer is rooted in the distinction between an אב מלאכה (primary work) and a תולדות מלאכה (secondary work). Rava explains that the Mishnah follows the viewpoint that only the former was prohibited during שׁמיטה. Since irrigation is considered to be only a תולדה, it would be permitted: תּוֹלָדוֹת לָא אָסַר רַחֲמָנָא. דִּכְתִיב: ״וּבַשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁבִיעִית שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ שָׂדְךָ לֹא תִזְרָע וְגוֹ׳״.

And the Gemara further qualifies this by telling us that not all תולדות are permitted: לְמֵימְרָא דְּאַהָנֵי תּוֹלָדוֹת מִיחַיַּיב, אַאַחְרָנְיָיתָא לָא מִיחַיַּיב. For example, זְרִיעָה וּבְצִירָה (pruning/sowing and picking grapes) would not be permitted, whereas irrigation would be permitted. At this point, the 6:30 mark of the video, Rabbi Stern notes that the Gemara is going to take us to “Farm-A-Soot-ical” School, listing various aspects of work that would and would not be permitted during the שׁמיטה year. After going through a litany of farming practices and actions, the Gemara will conclude that all of these מלאכות, with the exceptions of sowing, pruning, grape picking, and reaping, are prohibited only מדרבּנן (by rabbinic law), and the verse that is cited as source from the Torah is a mere support, and not a bona fide source (מִדְּרַבָּנַן, וּקְרָא אַסְמַכְתָּא בְּעָלְמָא).

For the next section of the Daf, you’ll need to reference two contiguous פּסוקים in the parsha of בּֽהַר:

בַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהֹוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃

אֵ֣ת סְפִ֤יחַ קְצִֽירְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִקְצ֔וֹר וְאֶת־עִנְּבֵ֥י נְזִירֶ֖ךָ לֹ֣א תִבְצֹ֑ר שְׁנַ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן יִהְיֶ֥ה לָאָֽרֶץ׃

The Gemara relates what we learn from those two פּסוקים relative to the overarching principle of כלל ופּרט וכלל – when a general law is stated first, followed by a more specific law, which in turn is followed by a more general law. Does this apply to the sequence here, as Rashi explains:

כל מקום שנאמר כלל בעשה ופרט בלא תעשה – כגון הכא דכתיב (ויקרא כ״ה:ד׳) ובשנה השביעית שבת שבתון יהיה לארץ כלל היינו עשה שדך לא תזרע וכרמך לא תזמור פרט היינו לא תעשה:

The bottom line will be that the only actions for which one will get מלקות (lashes) are the four that are mentioned specifically in the Torah: זְמִירָה, זְרִיעָה ,בְצִירָה ,קְצִירָה – but חרישׁה (plowing) is not mentioned and is therefore not included as an action which will elicit מלקות if done in the שׁמיטה year.

The next stretch of the Daf will address what can be done in the months preceding the שׁמיטה year. Here is the translation as provided by Sefaria:

The mishna (see Shevi’it 2:1) additionally states: And until when may one plow a white field, i.e., a grain field, on the eve of the Sabbatical Year? One may plow until the residual moisture in the fields from the rain ceases and so long as people continue to plow their fields in order to plant cucumbers and gourds, which are planted at the end of the winter.

Rabbi Shimon says: If it is so that no set time was established, then the Torah has given an individual measure of time into the hands of each and every individual. One may plow until a self-determined time, as he can always claim that he is plowing in order to plant during the sixth year. Rather, a fixed time must be established: In a white field one may plow until Passover, in an orchard one may plow until Shavuot, and Beit Hillel say: Until Passover.

And Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of bar Kappara: Rabban Gamliel and his court discussed and then voted about the prohibitions of these two periods, i.e., from Passover or Shavuot until Rosh HaShana, and nullified them, thereby permitting plowing until Rosh HaShana, the actual beginning of the Sabbatical Year.

For the balance of the discussion, Rabbi Stern will take you the rest of the way.

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Arcadia Earth Exhibit

As part 2 of our Kayla afternoon yesterday we visited the Arcadia Earth Exhibit in downtown NYC, billed as the first immersive augmented reality journey through planet earth.

Arcadia reflects the genre of immersive exhibits that have become very popular of late, not quite on the scale of the Van Gogh experience in Arizona which embedded more video, but more like the Portopia experience in Ohio which was an installation from contemporary artists designed to raise the level of consciousness about our current lives. Etty Yaniv, a Brooklyn-based artist, is representative of the talent that contributed to Aracadia.

With that background, here is a visual tour of our walking tour through Aracadia.

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The Lion King

What a beautiful way to spend the afternoon, a “Kayla Day” in Manhattan. Making up for our inability to visit with her in Israel last year, we wanted a special day of her choosing – which turned out to be spearheaded by a Broadway play, with a brilliant performance of The Lion King.

And though this song made only a token appearance shortly after intermission, how could I not put it in?

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Blog Yomi – Moed Katan #1

On the heels of the סעודה for מסכת מגילה, there is no rest for the weary. The Daf waits for no man, and hence we jump right into מסכת מועד קטן, with ArtScroll’s Schottenstein edition of the Gemara, Ein Yaakov, and The Transformative Daf in hand.

Rabbi Stern welcomes us to the next installment of the Daf by noting that מועד קטן or small festival is equivalent to what we call חול המועד or the secular, weekday, or intermediate component of our festivals or holidays. That implies that there are ways in which חול המועד is similar to Yom Tov, but ways in which it is dissimilar as well. As Rabbi Stern notes, that is derived from the Torah, ספר דברים פרשת ראה פרק טז פסוק ח:

שֵׁ֥שֶׁת יָמִ֖ים תֹּאכַ֣ל מַצּ֑וֹת וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י עֲצֶ֙רֶת֙ לַיהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מְלָאכָֽה׃

Six days you should eat matzos, and on the 7th day it should be a restriction for assembly to Hashem your G-d, do not engage in work.

Rashi cites the basis for this work stoppage as derived from a היקש the Gemara makes in חגיגה דף יח עמוד א:

אֵין הַכָּתוּב מְדַבֵּר אֶלָּא בְּחוּלּוֹ שֶׁל מוֹעֵד לְלַמֶּדְךָ שֶׁאָסוּר בַּעֲשִׂיַּית מְלָאכָה – the פסוק is speaking about Chol Hamoed to teach you that engaging in work is forbidden on those days. And the Gemara elaborates, iust like the 7th day of Pesach is kodesh and we can’t do work, so too is the 7th day kodesh and work is not permitted:

תַּנְיָא אִידַּךְ שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצּוֹת וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עֲצֶרֶת לַה׳ מָה שְׁבִיעִי עָצוּר אַף שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עֲצוּרִין אִי מָה שְׁבִיעִי עָצוּר בְּכל מְלָאכָה אַף שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עֲצוּרִין בְּכל מְלָאכָה

But, Rabbi Stern adds, the 7th day has a more stringent set of restrictions placed on work than the other six days, which is why it says הַשְּׁבִיעִי – “the” 7th day, to differentiate it from the other six days. But there is a huge debate among the Rishonim whether the restriction from work on Chol Hamoed is מדאורייתא (from the Torah) or מדרבנן (from the Rabbis). The Rambam in Hilchos Yom Tom sets the stage further for deciding which מלאכות are permitted and which are not permitted.

The overarching principle in what is considered מלאכה by the חכמים, or the operative word, is טרחה – which means toil or hard work. The התר or permissible exception fo doing work is if it involves a דבר האבוד, or irreparable loss of principal – but not if it involves טרחה. By way of further introduction, the Gemara will be giving many examples of what is considered work based on farming practices, since they were living in an agarian society. Orthodox Jews in modern societies must rely on contemporary Rabbis to draw parallels to what type of work is permitted on Chol Hamoed.

The first Mishnah of the first Perek in מַשְׁקִין בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין begins eponymously:

מַשְׁקִין בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין בַּמּוֹעֵד וּבַשְּׁבִיעִית, בֵּין מִמַּעְיָין שֶׁיָּצָא בַּתְּחִילָּה, בֵּין מִמַּעְיָין שֶׁלֹּא יָצָא בַּתְּחִילָּה.

“One may irrigate a field that requires irrigation on the intermediate days of a Festival as well as during the Sabbatical Year, both from a newly emerged spring (fountain) that began to flow only during the Festival, and from a spring that did not just emerge and that has been flowing for some time.”

This distinction is made because there are two types of fields, as the Gemara will elaborate, one that is naturally irrigated by rainfall (בֵּית הַבַּעַל) and one that man must irrigate (בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין).

אֲבָל אֵין מַשְׁקִין לֹא מִמֵּי הַגְּשָׁמִים, וְלֹא מִמֵּי הַקִּילוֹן.

“However, one may not irrigate a field with rainwater collected in a cistern, a procedure that requires excessive exertion, or with water drawn with a shadoof [kilon], a lever used to raise water with a bucket from deep down in a well.”

וְאֵין עוֹשִׂין עוּגִיּוֹת לַגְּפָנִים – “And one may not construct circular ditches around the bases of grapevines on Chol Hamoed.” (Bear in mind that either digging around the vineyard, or pouring water with a bucket [מַעְיָין], is considered טרחה, and therefore would not be permitted on Chol Hamoed even when refraining from doing so would result in monetary loss [דבר האבוד]) .

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר: אֵין עוֹשִׂין אֶת הָאַמָּה בַּתְּחִילָּה בַּמּוֹעֵד וּבִשְׁבִיעִית, וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים: עוֹשִׂין

אֶת הָאַמָּה בַּתְּחִילָּה בַּשְּׁבִיעִית, וּמְתַקְּנִין אֶת הַמְקוּלְקָלוֹת בַּמּוֹעֵד.

“Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says: One may not construct a new water channel during the intermediate days of a Festival or during the Sabbatical Year. And the Chachamim say: One may construct a new water channel during the Sabbatical Year and one may repair damaged water channels during the intermediate days of a Festival.”

וּמְתַקְּנִין אֶת קִלְקוּלֵי הַמַּיִם שֶׁבִּרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים, וְחוֹטְטִין אוֹתָן, וּמְתַקְּנִין אֶת הַדְּרָכִים וְאֶת הָרְחוֹבוֹת וְאֶת מִקְווֹת הַמַּיִם, וְעוֹשִׂין כל צוֹרְכֵי הָרַבִּים, וּמְצַיְּינִין אֶת הַקְּבָרוֹת, וְיוֹצְאִין אַף עַל הַכִּלְאַיִם.

“In addition to performing labor on one’s own property in order to avoid financial loss, it is also permitted to perform labor on the intermediate days of a Festival for the public welfare: One may repair damaged water cisterns that are in the public domain, and clean them out by removing the dirt and sediment that accumulated there; one may repair roads, streets, and ritual baths; and one may tend to all other public needs. So too, one may mark graves to inform the public of their ritual impurity, and inspectors may even go out to uproot the shoots of prohibited diverse kinds [kilayim] that grew in the fields during the rainy season.”

The Gemara proceeds to explain that the חידוש in the Mishnah is with regard to the בֵּית הַבַּעַל. Since it does not require irrigation, there is no דבר האבוד involved if you don’t irrigate (since it will receive natural irrigation, and the land will not go to waste). Therefore, since there is no דבר האבוד, then טרחה as when using a bucket is not permitted.

The Gemara now gets into an extended discussion about various מלאכות, and what one is guilty of if engaging in these elements of work on Shabbos. These range from pruning to pulling out weeds to seeding. The discussion winds its way back to work on Chol Hamoed, and then finishes up the Daf with consideration about irrigation during the שמיטה year.

A peek inside at The Transformative Daf by Rabbi Daniel Friedman shows that its first two entries in Mo’ed Katan are on the subject of שלום בית (peace within the household), based on the derivation of the term “בֵּית הַבַּעַל” in our Gemara. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something that Rabbi Stern shared with me during the סעודה for מסכת מגילה on Thursday night. It is a video clip, embedded in this story at, as related by Rabbi Yisroel Besser, titled “When Does Your Shalom Bayis End?, regarding events that transpired last weekend. The print version of the video clip reads as follows:

Last week, a chashuve Rav in the tri-state area was helping a couple that was struggling with their shalom bayis. He felt that there was hope for their relationship and suggested that the husband discuss his situation with a gadul b’yisrael- Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky, the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva, shlita. The Rav called to make an appointment on behalf of the couple, and secured a time for this past Sunday at 5:00 PM in Philadelphia.

At 5 PM, the Rosh Yeshiva warmly welcomed the husband into his home and then asked him for a favor, “I have to visit someone in the hospital. If possible, can we conduct our conversation in the car rather than at home?” The visitor said it would be no problem- he was happy to drive the Rosh Yeshiva.

They had their conversation in the car, and when they reached the hospital, Rav Shmuel said, “I have to go in and visit somebody. If you don’t mind waiting, we can continue the conversation when I get back.” An hour later, Rav Shmuel returned and said, “I apologize that it took me so long. I was saying good-bye to my wife and now that my chiyuv shalom bayis is ending, yours is  beginning. Let’s talk about you.”

Indeed, Rebbetzin Tamah (Temi) Kamenetsky passed away that night, as announced by early the following morning. In a final moment of שלום בית later that morning, Rav Shmuel said goodbye at her graveside along with an estimated 300 attendees to a Rebbetzin who impacted not only his life, but the lives of an entire generation.

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Blog Yomi – Megillah #31 – The Conclusion

Here we are, down the home stretch, on the final Daf of Megillah. It is a special evening for Miriam and me, as we travelled to Brooklyn to join with Ruthi and Leizer to participate in the סיום (siyum). We know that Wikipedia isn’t always the most accurate source of information, but in this case they nailed it in terms of a celebratory event marking the completion of the Tractate with ours, as you know by now, having been Megillah. It really is a big Gedillah (though you won’t find that word in Wikipedia).

Learning the Daf here provides one with a new-found respect for the seemingly Bohemian actions of הגבאה/גלילה – the lifting and rolling of the Torah scroll that marks the end of the reading of its portion. There is more going on here than meets the eye of the uninitiated:

אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁפַטְיָה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: הַגּוֹלֵל סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה — צָרִיךְ שֶׁיַּעֲמִידֶנּוּ עַל הַתֶּפֶר.

Rabbi Shefatya said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: When one furls a Torah scroll, he needs to position it so that it closes on the seam between two sheets of parchment. Once closed, the seam should be between the two rolls of the scroll, so that if it is mishandled or overly tightened, it will come apart along the seam and not be torn across the writing.

וְאָמַר רַבִּי שְׁפַטְיָה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: הַגּוֹלֵל סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה — גּוֹלְלוֹ מִבַּחוּץ, וְאֵין גּוֹלְלוֹ מִבִּפְנִים.

And Rabbi Shefatya said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: When one rolls a Torah scroll from one section to another, he should roll it from the outside, i.e., he should position the scroll so the two rollers are parallel to him and then roll the scroll by rotating the roller farthest away from him by rotating it toward himself, and he should not roll it from the inside, by rotating the roller nearest to him away from himself. If one does this and loses control, the scroll could roll away from him onto the floor.

וּכְשֶׁהוּא מְהַדְּקוֹ — מְהַדְּקוֹ מִבִּפְנִים, וְאֵינוֹ מְהַדְּקוֹ מִבַּחוּץ.

And when one tightens the scroll, after he has found the new section, he should tighten it from the inside, by rotating the roller nearest to him, and not from the outside, by rotating the roller furthest away from him, in order not to extend his arms over the text of the Torah and obscure the view of the community, for it is a mitzva for them to be able to see the text.

וְאָמַר רַבִּי שְׁפַטְיָה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: עֲשָׂרָה שֶׁקָּרְאוּ בַּתּוֹרָה, הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁבָּהֶם גּוֹלֵל סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה. הַגּוֹלְלוֹ נוֹטֵל שְׂכַר כּוּלָּן, דְּאָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: עֲשָׂרָה שֶׁקָּרְאוּ בַּתּוֹרָה, הַגּוֹלֵל סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה קִיבֵּל שְׂכַר כּוּלָּן. שְׂכַר כּוּלָּן סָלְקָא דַּעְתָּךְ? אֶלָּא אֵימָא: קִיבֵּל שָׂכָר כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן.

And Rabbi Shefatya said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: If ten people read from the Torah, the greatest among them should furl the Torah scroll, for this is the most distinguished honor. And the one who furls it takes the reward of all of them, as Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: If ten people read from the Torah, the one who furls it receives the reward of all of them. The Gemara asks: Can it enter your mind to say that he actually receives the reward of all of them? Why should all the others forfeit their reward? Rather, say instead: He receives a reward equivalent to that of all of them.

וְאָמַר רַבִּי שְׁפַטְיָה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: כל הַקּוֹרֵא בְּלֹא נְעִימָה וְשׁוֹנֶה בְּלֹא זִמְרָה, עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר: ״וְגַם אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם חוּקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים וְגוֹ׳״.

And Rabbi Shefatya said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Concerning anyone who reads from the Torah without a melody or studies the Mishnah without a song, the verse states: “So too I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live” (Ezekiel 20:25), as one who studies Torah through song demonstrates that he is fond of his learning. Furthermore, the tune helps him remember what he has learned.

As תוספות notes regarding the phrase וְשׁוֹנֶה בְּלֹא זִמְרָה (studying the Mishnah without a song): שהיו רגילין לשנות המשניות בזמרה לפי שהיו שונין אותן על פה וע”י כך היו נזכרים יותר – That they were in the habit of learning the Mishnayos to the tune of a song because they learned it by heart, and the tune would improve their recall.

Rabbi Stern now shared, at the 11:35 mark of the video, from ערכין, that says that each Mishnah had its own tune! This really an eye opener, and explains why at times the Tana’im will say that the Mishna shouldn’t read the way it is written – because the recorded text may have been a version that rhymed better. While that was all well and good for the sake of recalling the words in the song, it may not have been the exact version of the original text. (See the reference below, bottom left section in תפארת ישראל headed by בועז, introduced by “ולולא” which means that a big חדוש is coming.)

With that we come to the end of מסכת מגילה and say:

הדרן עלך מסכת מגילה והדרך עלן דעתן עלך מסכת מגילה ודעתך עלן לא נתנשי מינך מסכת מגילה ולא תתנשי מינן לא בעלמא הדין ולא בעלמא דאתי

We will return to you, Tractate Megillah, and you will return to us; our mind is on you, Tractate Megillah, and your mind is on us; we will not forget you, Tractate Megillah and you will not forget us – not in this world and not in the world to come.

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Blog Yomi – Megillah #30

Now that we have learned the Laws of קריאת התורה, the question remains as to what is read on each occasion and why that portion is selected. In other words, the parshas hashavua is a predictably sequential week after week on Shabbos, but why were the other readings selected for their respective days? We enter this discussion with the Mishnah on דף ל עמוד ב.

בַּפֶּסַח קוֹרִין בְּפָרָשַׁת מוֹעֲדוֹת שֶׁל תּוֹרַת כֹּהֲנִים. בָּעֲצֶרֶת — ״שִׁבְעָה שָׁבוּעוֹת״. בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה — ״בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ״. בְּיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים — ״אַחֲרֵי מוֹת״. בְּיוֹם טוֹב הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל חַג קוֹרִין בְּפָרָשַׁת מוֹעֲדוֹת שֶׁבְּתוֹרַת כֹּהֲנִים, וּבִשְׁאָר כל יְמוֹת הַחַג בְּקרְבְּנוֹת הַחַג.

בַּחֲנוּכָּה — בַּנְּשִׂיאִים. בַּפּוּרִים — ״וַיָּבֹא עֲמָלֵק״. בְּרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים — ״וּבְרָאשֵׁי חדְשֵׁיכֶם״. בְּמַעֲמָדוֹת — בְּמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית. בְּתַעֲנִיּוֹת —

בְּרָכוֹת וּקְלָלוֹת. אֵין מַפְסִיקִין בִּקְלָלוֹת, אֶלָּא אֶחָד קוֹרֵא אֶת כּוּלָּן.

בְּשֵׁנִי וּבַחֲמִישִׁי, בַּשַּׁבָּת בַּמִּנְחָה — קוֹרִין כְּסִדְרָן, וְאֵין עוֹלִים לָהֶם מִן הַחֶשְׁבּוֹן.

שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶת מוֹעֲדֵי ה׳ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל״, מִצְוָתָן שֶׁיְּהוּ קוֹרִין כל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד בִּזְמַנּוֹ.

Now that we have identified what each of the Torah readings are, the Gemara elaborates on which מפטיר is read on the respective ימים טובים. At the 11:05 mark of the video, Rabbi Stern points out the Gemara that states: וּלְמָחָר ״כּל הַבְּכוֹר״, וּמַפְטִירִין ״עוֹד הַיּוֹם״, and Rashi’s comment: עוד היום – לפי שמפלתו של סנחריב בליל פסח היה, explaining why we read that haftorah on the 8th day of Pesach. This was indeed a miraculous event, on a par with יציאת מצרים itself. Rabbi Stern notes that סנחריב (transliterated as Sennacherib) was a powerful Assyrian King, who decided to lay siege to ירושלים on Pesach, but G-d deployed angelic forces that wiped out the Assyrian army and סנחריב awoke to a scene immortalized in Gemara Sanhedrin, and more recently in the early 1800s by the famous English poet Lord Bryon in The Destruction of Sennacherib:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

   Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

   For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

   And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

   And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

   And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

You can learn more about the מפלתו של סנחריב to which Rashi refers through a nice article by Nissan Mindel at on the end of סנחריב and the bravery of חזקיהו המלך.

Further on, the Gemara cites that with regard to Yom Kippur, בַמִּנְחָה קוֹרִין בָּעֲרָיוֹת וּמַפְטִירִין בְּיוֹנָה. Rabbi Stern poses the following excellent question at the 17:20 mark: Why do we read the Torah at Mincha time on Yom Kippur? Torah reading at Mincha is typically reserved for Shabbos, and doesn’t occur on Yom Tov. He references the discussion about this by Rav Akiva Eiger, noting that it is either because Yom Kippur is considered to be the quintessential Shabbos (שבת שבתון), or because it is a תענית, and on Fast Days we read the Torah during Mincha.

What would be the practical difference in Halacha? It is with regard to the answer to this question: Can someone who is not fasting on Yom Kippur into the afternoon (with a medical dispensation) be called to the Torah for an Aliyah on Yom Kippur at Mincha? If we’re reading the Torah because it is שבת שבתון, the answer is yes. If we’re reading because it is a תענית, the answer is no.

I’ll finish with a nice thought from The Transformative Daf, entry #31 by Rabbi Daniel Friedman, who quotes this stretch of the Gemara:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: כל מָקוֹם שֶׁאַתָּה מוֹצֵא גְּבוּרָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אַתָּה מוֹצֵא עִנְוְותָנוּתוֹ. דָּבָר זֶה כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה, וְשָׁנוּי בַּנְּבִיאִים, וּמְשׁוּלָּשׁ בַּכְּתוּבִים.

כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה: ״כִּי ה׳ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הוּא אֱלֹהֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַאֲדוֹנֵי הָאֲדוֹנִים״, וּכְתִיב בָּתְרֵיהּ: ״עוֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה״. שָׁנוּי בַּנְּבִיאִים: ״כֹה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁוֹכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ וְגוֹ׳״, וּכְתִיב בָּתְרֵיהּ: ״וְאֶת דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל רוּחַ״, מְשׁוּלָּשׁ בַּכְּתוּבִים, דִּכְתִיב: ״סוֹלּוּ לָרוֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת בְּיָהּ שְׁמוֹ״, וּכְתִיב בָּתְרֵיהּ: ״אֲבִי יְתוֹמִים וְדַיַּין אַלְמָנוֹת״.

Rabbi Yocḥanan said: Wherever you find a reference to the might of the Holy One, Blessed be He, you also find a reference to His humility. Evidence of this is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings (כְּתוּבִים).

It is written in the Torah: “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords” (Deuteronomy 10:17), and it is written immediately afterward: “He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow” (Deuteronomy 10:18), displaying his humility in caring for even the weakest parts of society. It is repeated in the Prophets: “For thus says the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity, Whose name is sacred” (Isaiah 57:15), and it is written immediately afterward: “In the high and holy place I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). It is stated a third time in the Writings, as it is written: “Extol Him Who rides upon the clouds, Whose name is the Lord” (Psalms 68:5), and it is written immediately afterward: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of widows” (Psalms 68:6)

Rabbi Friedman asks: “Who is powerful? What defines greatness? We think of greatness in terms of control – the more material and physical resources one controls, the more powerful one is. We also think of greatness and power in terms of knowledge – the more intelligence a person exhibits, the more powerful an individual is. That’s not the Torah’s conception of power. How do you recognize power and greatness? In he who is humble. The tough character who needs to push his weight around and bully others is not great. Nor is the person who needs to brandish his knowledge to prove his superiority. Greatness, says the Gemara, is to be found in the ability to protect and care. The Talmud equates this power to protect with humility … True greatness is the ability to ‘lower’ oneself and engage with every individual regardless of his age, level of learning, observance, and financial or social status.”

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