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)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Shabbat 89 - Isaac the Jewish Stereotype Hero!

More of these wonderful midrashim about G-d giving the Torah to the Israelites through Moses - including a fun scene of Moses arguing with the angels - who had been arguing with G-d that the Torah should remain in Heaven rather than be wasted on humans. Oh, and a guest appearance of Satan, who horrified at the Torah's disappearance from Heaven and goes searching for it - only to have Moses outwit him.

Come on, you know you love this.

But I'll share this Midrash in some detail - because it is too much fun. It is based on an interpretation (via R. Samuel b. Nahmani who recounts in the name of R. Jonathan) of the verse:

"For Thou art our Father; for Abraham knoweth us not, and Israel doth not acknowledge us"; (Isaiah 63:16)

The story is told that when the Israelites sinned through the Golden calf, G-d goes looking for someone to plead their defense. G-d goes to Abraham, who after all defended Sodom and Gomorra, and complains: ‘Thy children have sinned against Me.’ Abraham responds, ‘Let them be wiped out for the sanctification of Thy Name.’

Thanks, Abe.

Then G-d goes to Jacob (Israel) with the same statement. After all, Jacob had some rebellious children! But Jacob answers 'Let them be wiped out for the sanctification of Thy Name.’

Knew we could count on you, Jake!

So, G-d goes to Isaac and says: ‘Thy children have sinned against me.’

At first Isaac responds like an insulted spouse: when they are good they are your children. Now when they sin it's suddenly 'thy children'?

But then Isaac continues - with math!

"How many are the years of man? Seventy. Subtract twenty, for which Thou dost not punish,"

Sorry for the interruption, but that needs explanation - according to Num. 14:29, at the incident of the spies, G-d did not punish the Israelite children under 20 years old.

Ok, back to our story:

"Subtract twenty, for which Thou dost not punish, [and] there remain fifty. Subtract twenty-five which comprise the nights, (they don't sin while they are sleeping!) [and] there remain twenty-five. Subtract twelve and a half of prayer, eating, and Nature's calls (!), [and] there remain twelve and a half."

"If Thou wilt bear all, ‘tis well; if not, half be upon me and half upon Thee."

Nice way to share the burden.

And just in case that doesn't work, Isaac has his trump card:

"And shouldst Thou say, they must all be upon me, lo! I offered myself up before Thee [as a sacrifice]!’ "

I love this - redemption through argumentation, math, and Jewish guilt! Comedy's Jewish stereotype, in our Patriarch!

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