What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Berachot 58 – Civilization: Unique and Interdependent

The page ends with a fascinating section on Astronomy/Astrology including the disturbing appearance of a comet passing through the constellation of Orion. (Back in 1997 there was some concern when the Hale-Bopp Comet made this pass, which some saw as a sign of the messianic redemption. (The other Talmudic mention of a comet is in Horayot 10 and has been linked to Halley’s Comet.)

But another subject interests me:
Our Rabbis taught: If one sees a crowd of Israelites, he says, “Blessed is He who discerneth secrets, for the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other.”

Lovely appreciation of the uniqueness of every individual (ok, every Israelite – but still). However Ben Zoma make a further observation. Upon seeing a crowd of Israelites on the steps of the Temple Mount, he says:

"Blessed is He that discerneth secrets, and blessed is He who has created all these to serve me."

Ouch! But wait: Ben Zoma goes on to describe that when Adam wanted a loaf of bread he had to plant, grow, harvest and shift the wheat, make the flour, knead and bake the dough into bread. But Ben Zoma wakes up and finds the bread already made for him!

It’s an important point about the virtues of the Modern World as opposed to some idealized “back to the land” past. Civilization depends on interdependence. 

This point we made for me in the book “The Rational Optimist” by Matt Ridley. It is nice to dream about the power of independent living, but it leaves little time for much beyond providing for basic necessities. Civilization depends on trade.

Ben Zoma acknowledges and appreciates how we all depend on one another. But that dependence can lead to exploitation. But the Rabbis recognize each person’s individuality. And since each person is an individual you cannot exploit him or her for your needs. Trade is mutually beneficial. The two principles together make for a strong sense of community and human progress.

Thank you for serving me!

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