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)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shabbat 104 - Alphabet Lessons

A meditation on the Hebrew letters is sparked by a statement about the Ten Commandments.

It is a common rabbinic assumption that the words of the Ten Commandments were not just inscribed on the stone tablets, they were written all the way through, piercing the stone so it could be read on both sides. Two letters, though, the final "mem" and the "samech" are completely closed letters (like the English "O"). So how could they stand in the tablets?

By a miracle.

This leads to a lovely set of stories about each of the letters and some combinations. These come from children's tales. For example, the first two letters "aleph" and "bet" together make the phrase "aleph bina" which means "learn wisdom." "Gimmel" and "Daled" mean "gemol dallim" which means "show kindness to the poor."

If so, the shape of the letters also tell a story:

"Why is the foot of the "Gimmel" stretched toward the "Daled"? Because it is fitting for the benevolent to run after [reach out to] the poor. And why is the top of the "Daled" stretched out toward the "Gimmel"? Because he [the poor] must make himself available. And why is the face of the "Daled" turned away from the "Gimmel"? Because he must give [help] in secret, lest he be ashamed."

There is much more. How beautiful that even the shape of the letters can tech us lessons in kindness!

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