Rabbi Yitzchak said: if a man says to you "I have labored and not found", do not believe him. And if he says "I have not labored but still have found", also do not believe him. If he says "I have labored and have found" you may believe him, but only in respect to torah study, not business, for in business all depends on the assistance of heaven. And even for study of torah this is only for penetrating to the meaning (sharpening the understanding); for remembering what one has learnt, all depends on the assistance of heaven. (6b)
(We discussed using this quote on Mi Yodeya's 404 page (page not found), but didn't actually do it. But when I saw it in today's daf I just had to share it here. :-) )
The next day he asked again and the man said: I am a jailor and I keep the men and women separate, placing my bed between them so they do not come to sin. If I see a Jewish girl that the gentile men are interested in I risk my life to save her. Once there was a betrothed girl they wanted, and I took red wine and spilled it on her garment and told them she was ritually impure.
R. Beroka further asked: why do you have no blue thread, and why do you wear black shoes? The man replied: so they will not know I am a Jew, so that when the gentiles make a harsh decree against the Jews I am able to go and tell the rabbis so they can pray to God that the decree be anulled. And, R. Beroka asked, yesterday why did you tell me to go away and come back today? Because, the man replied, I was on an errand to tell the rabbis about a decree.
While they were talking two men walked by and Eliyahu said: these two have a place in the world to come. R. Beroka asked them: what is your occupation? We are jesters, they said; when we see men depressed we cheer them up, and further, when we see two people quarrel we try hard to make peace between them. (22a)
1. Elsewhere we're told that almost everybody has a share in the world to come. Is Eliyahu saying "no, not so much", or is this particular market full of people who are especially undeserving, or what? (And what about R. Beroka?) (Asked on Mi Yodeya)
2. R. Beroka seems to think that one's place in the world to come is tied to one's occupation, but my understanding from other rabbinic writings is that it's more about personal traits (which transcend one's job). And, in these cases, it seems that the merit comes from how these people use their jobs to do good, rather than the jobs themselves. I wonder if this is meant to be a teaching moment, or if it's really about occupations as much as anything else.
3. What's wrong with black shoes? A note in Soncino implies that they are characteristic of gentile dress.
The g'mara has been discussing this for a few pages. During these fasts people would rend their garments (like in mourning) and fall on their faces in prayer. The g'mara discusses the efficacy of these practices.
R. Eleazar said: not everyone is answered through rending his garments or through falling on his face. Further, he said, in the messianic era not all will rise1 nor will all prostrate themselves; kings will rise and princes will prostrate. (R. Ze'ira objects, saying that princes will do both.) R. Nachman b. Yitzchak then declared: not all are destined to share in the light nor all in the gladness, as it is written: light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright. (The implication is that "the righteous" and "the upright" might be two different groups, though I presume they would overlap.) (14b-15a)
1 I'm not sure what he means by "rise" here; from context I don't think he's talking about resurrection of the dead, as that would seem to be a prerequisite for prostrating.
Raba, on the other hand, said: if you see a student to whom his studies are as hard as iron, it is because his teacher does not encourage him. The remedy? Let him seek many companions to intercede with the teacher. (8a)
The g'mara relates a story of Rabbi Akiva following stricter interpretations from both Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. The g'mara then challenges this: is it right to adopt the harder rule from each side? If you follow Hillel, follow Hillel for both strict and lenient rulings! And if you follow Shammai, follow Shammai! One who adopts the lenient positions of both is a bad man, while one who adopts the more stringent rulings of both, about him it is said: "but the fool walks in darkness" (Eccl. 2:14). The g'mara then clarifies that R. Akiva was uncertain of how one of them ruled, but that he was in fact following only one of these traditions. (So he was mistaken, not walking in darkness.) (14b)
(There's more to the story than this; the g'mara goes on to discuss other sources R. Akiva might have been following, so maybe it wasn't even Hillel or Shammai to begin with.)
The Smithsonian is big. Really big. Actually it's a bunch of museums. We knew all this, and knew that we'd barely scratch the surface, but knowing it and experiencing it are different. We knew that "museum fatigue" would be a challenge and we figured we'd just cope with it as it happened (instead of trying to carefully orchestrate things). Sometimes the answer was "um, want to see this possibly-interesting half-hour show in the planetarium/Imax theatre?".
The Air & Space Museum was a priority for both of us. On our first visit, after wandering around for an hour or so on our own, we were able to join a guided "highlights" tour. As with the British Museum, this is totally worth it in my book. Yes, we spent more time on the Wright brothers than I would have on my own, but we learned cool stuff that was worth learning. And because the tour was only about an hour and a half long, we could then explore more on our own. (And as you might have picked up, we came back for a second round another day.)
I've read a lot about the space program of the 60s and 70s, watched the documentaries, listened to the music ( :-) ), and was glued to the TV for parts of it. (Yeah, like many others, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up.) Even so, even having seen the pictures, I was a little blown away by how small the early capsules were. Standing next to a Mercury capsule was quite educational.
We also made two visits to the National Gallery (and still didn't see most of it). Part of it we dispensed with quickly -- there we were wandering through some rooms when each of us realized that the other doesn't care for impressionists either. Great; let's go see something else. :-)
Having Wikipedia on tap was valuable in the gallery. There were lots of religious paintings with random saints who -- as far as we knew -- weren't part of the scenes being depicted. Being able to look up who those guys were was handy, even if it didn't answer the question of why they were there. Saint Jerome (from, IIRC, the 4th century, but that doesn't stop him from being in all of Jesus's major events) was extremely common, like that guy who insists on getting into all the family photos.
They have a large painting -- seemed like about 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide, or thereabouts -- of Daniel in the lions' den. It made us wonder where such a painting was hung originally. If it were something about Jesus I could imagine it being over (or near) an altar or otherwise in a church, but Daniel and the lions? But would a painting that size have been practical in someone's home in the early 17th century? Where was this painting intended to be hung?
We went to the National Zoo on what turned out to be the hottest and most humid day we were there (oops, but we were expecting rain for the rest of our visit). Very disappointing -- the only big cats I saw were a lioness and two of her cubs (no tigers), the pandas were likewise not in evidence, and the ratio of paths we had to walk down to animals to be seen was high. I understand, of course, that the animals should be given nice enclosures with hiding places and I certainly want the animals to be treated well. I was just disappointed by the resulting experience for us. (On the other hand, the small mammals were quite nifty and some of the apes were interesting to watch -- yes indeedy, tool use is not a problem.)
We noticed that the Spy Museum and the Crime Museum were near each other and thought to do both in one trip. The former was rather disappointing and we didn't go to the latter. I was hoping for more about modern techniques, particularly electronic stuff. I felt like I didn't learn much about surveillance, identifying threats, and such that I didn't already know from watching Burn Notice and Person of Interest. Oh well.
Other places visited:
We are both comfortable with plenty of walking, yet we felt somewhat worn down at times. (Temperature and humidity in the upper 80s probably affected me; I've never been good with wet heat.) The Metro is certainly helpful, but there's still a lot of walking. We needed to be able to mix in some things to do while sitting down, but there didn't seem to be much of that. (We'd tried and failed to get an evening riverboat tour; in retrospect we should have tried for an afternoon one.)
By the way, yes we know lots of people in DC and I'm sorry we missed you all. We were a little gun-shy about trying to add "organize all the social stuff with all the people there" to our list.
There was a short (optional) lecture before the show, which I'm very glad we went to. Here we learned some of the historical background for the show; while most operas of the time were written for aristocrats and in Italian, this one was written for a for-profit theatre catering to "just plain folks". It's more accessible and less hoity-toity. I don't know what's original to the script and what was added by this performance, but this had more of the feel of (high-end) street theatre in some ways, including humorous wordplay and some physical comedy. It also has spoken dialogue, so it felt kind of like a modern musical.
The story (very briefly; click the link for more): Tamino is recruited by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from the evil sorceror Sarastro. She sends with him Papageno, a nutty bird-catcher who dresses as a bird and really only cares about wine, women, and song. (Tamino has nobler goals.) It turns out that Sarastro isn't so evil, and he kidnapped Pamina to save her from her (in his opinion) evil mother the queen. (At this point I expected it to turn out that Sarastro was the father, but no.) Tamino (who has fallen in love with Pamina) will be allowed to wed her if he passes certain mystical trials, and Papageno has to play too because he's there -- but ok, if Papageno behaves he'll also be allowed to wed Papagena, who seems a perfect fit for him, solving his "can't get women" problem. Trials happen (with bumps along the way) and there's a happy ending. (Oh, the flute? The queen gives it to Tamino as a magical aid and he uses it to get through some of the trials. Really, for something that makes the title of the show, it's kind of minor.)
Papageno provides a lot of comedic relief and the performer was very good. (It may be harder to do that kind of role well than that of a serious character like Tamino.) Sarastro was also very good as both actor and singer; he struggled a little with the lowest note, but Wikipedia tells me it's an F2, so I can understand that. (Deep bass.) Tamino and Pamina were well-done; I wasn't as impressed with the queen of the night and Papagena (both sopranos).
There were obvious adjustments in both the dialogue and the lyrics; the former is easy to do but the latter would seem to require a little more work. One of Papageno's songs included references to Twitter, and there was a bit of dialogue where somebody tells the three spirits (played by children) that they'll understand something better when they reach adolescence. (There were other changes too, but you get the idea.) I enjoyed these tweaks, though it made me wonder what is actually in the original script to begin with and whether it included hooks for this sort of thing.
The orchestral score was done well and mostly acted as support for what's going on on stage (as opposed to taking center stage itself, which I understand sometimes happens). The score did not strike me as overly complex; it was a good solid score, performed well.
The set design was rather abstract; backgrounds of colored lines and swirls at times, sometimes suggesting a setting (like "night" or "inside a temple") and other times not. There was one point where the background had animated circles/elliptoids moving around to no clear purpose and I found it a little distracting; I don't know what that was meant to be. There was also an opening number (before anybody was on stage) where they had animated lines moving around on a screen for several minutes, which left me wondering why. (It was only once the show proper started that I would realize that this was part of their overall design.) Lighting design (beyond this) was generally pretty good, though the follow-spot operators were sometimes a little off in tracking the leads. (The leads almost always had spots on them, even when the stage was brightly lit. I don't know if that's typical.)
A word about visual aids:
This was only my second (live performance of an) opera (excluding Gilbert
& Sullivan, if you count that), and
the first was a dismal failure because it was in Italian, we were sitting too
far back for me to read the supertitles, and having read the plot synopsis
in advance hadn't been enough to really follow it. So this time we splurged
on the second-best class of tickets (the price point for the best tripped
our "you've got to be kidding" alarms). I mean, it's the Kennedy Center;
it's likely to be good, and how often are we going to do this? Data point:
the second-best class of tickets, which put us four rows back in the first
balcony, allowed me to just barely read the supertitles about
three-quarters of the time. (So I definitely missed some jokes, including,
I later learned, a Twitter hashtag.) And this opera was in English, so I
had extra input. (Operatic sopranos and children are a loss; I can't
understand what they're singing regardless of language. The male leads
were better, and there was a good
So, it looks like it's only viable for me to go to an opera if we get seats
up close; I doubt I'll bother again.
There are lots of differences between the two tellings of the creation story -- chapter one is more "macro", the orders of some events are different, how Chava (Eve) gets created is very different, and more. Those weren't the focus. Here are some things I noticed (in no particular order and certainly not complete, as I wasn't taking notes).
In the first chapter Adam (who is "male and female", so both of them) is told to rule or dominate the earth. The verb here is radah; this is different from kingship (malakh). Radah seems to be a stern sort of rule (see here for more). In the second chapter, on the other hand, Adam is told to work (sometimes translated "tend") and keep (or "guard") the garden, which sounds way more custodial. The word translated "work" is 'avad (like in "avodah"), and the second word is the familiar shamor (like guarding Shabbat).
This might not be what our environmentalist visitor intended, but it seems to me that radah could be used to justify an attitude of "the world is here for us to use as we see fit". The language used in the second chapter, however, suggests an actual duty to the earth. Both approaches are supported in Genesis. (I've heard people make the chapter-2 argument, but I've not heard the chapter-1 one on the other side. Nor am I myself arguing that either is superior; I'm just observing.)
One of our high-school students made an observation that surprised many people in the room: she pointed out that the latter instructions apply to the garden. It doesn't say to work and guard the earth. So, she asked, did this apply only in Gan Eden, and once they were kicked out it's not in play any more? I wonder if there's rabbinic commentary on this, but I haven't looked yet. (Certainly sometimes the rabbis understand a specific directive to be more general; what I'd like to know is whether this is one such case.)
I noticed something I hadn't picked up on before in the second chapter: there is absolutely no utilitarian purpose in play. Adam and Chava have access to the Tree of Life; they don't need to do anything to the garden in order to be able to eat. So the command is a command for its own sake, not a "work and guard it so you can eat". Once they're expelled, on the other hand, they're told they'll have to work the land if they want to eat.
Overall, it was an interesting discussion. He was originally going to talk about his kibbutz and so I wasn't going to go (I've heard a lot of that already), so I'm glad he changed topics.
The g'mara does not explain why, if he makes the eiruv, they can't bring him his produce.
I do not know, and the g'mara here does not address, how this designation for guests works: does the host have to designate specific portions for specific guests, or can he make a blanket "guests are allowed to take leftovers home" declaration?
The implication that if you're merciful to others then God will be merciful to you is not clear from the cited passage, though we get this idea elsewhere. It's also not clear how Rav's causality runs: is it that they are unmerciful, thus won't receive mercy, thus must not be descendants of Avraham, or is it that they are not descendants of Avraham and therefore aren't merciful (and thus won't receive mercy)? I think it's the former, though the torah never actually says that "not Avraham = no mercy" -- just that "Avraham = mercy".
(I had to look up that last one. A caper-bush apparently grows very quickly.)