Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bar Yochai

Thirty nine years ago like this year Lag B'omer was motzai shabbat.Where was I on that shabbat? Thats right I was in Meron for the Hilulla of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
I wasn't yet 21 years old and just married a couple of months. Risa and I decided along with two other couples to make the trip from Yerushalayim to Meron for Lag B'Omer. No one had a car. We packed everything we needed for 3 days and got on an Egged bus for the North. We arrived at Meron on Friday, set up our tents and got ready for Shabbat together with the hundeds already on Mt Meron near the Holy site where Rashbi is buried.

I will never forget that Shabbat. I dovened with the Sfinka Chassidim. At the end of Kabbalat Shabbat everyone got up to dance. About fifty men, hands linked at the waist and the small of the back formed a circle. Slowly at first we began the dance, a shuffle really. We were singing "pizmon Bar Yochai" Invoking the name of the Holy Tanna "Bar Yochai, nimshachta oshrecha, shemen sasson mechaveirecha"  "Bar Yochai you are annointed in gladness" Singing the refrain over and over, stamping one step back and two steps forward. This continued for more than half an hour, but I lost track of time and place. The strangest thing was here I was dressed in a short sleeved white shirt and kippa seruga in the middle of a throng of black coated chassidim wearing fur shtrrimels, but no one looked at me as if I didn't belong. It was as if we weren't in Israel 1972 but were connected to something above and beyond the present. It wasn't hard to imagine that there were Jews who almost 2,000 years before had come to this mountain in the Gallil to bury their Rebbe, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hadran Ma'asrot Yerushalmi

I once heard from my teacher and rabbi Rav Shlomo Aviner shlita, that a ben-torah must learn all of the written Torah and all of the oral Torah of the Tanna'im at least once in his lifetime. This would include Tanach,mishna, tosefta , midrash halacha and aggada and of course Gemarra Bavli and Yerushalmi.

I had the great zechut of finishing all of the Gemarra Bavli with my rav muvhak Rav Yechezkel Daum ztzl, twice in two cycles of  seven years each. Two years ago I started learning Gemarra Yerushalmi with the intention of  learning one daf every day. I soon discovered that I would have to devote an entire seder (4hrs) in order to finish a daf every day.There is no Rashi on the Yerushalmi and there are many girsaot often contradictory.Instead of the shakla vetaria (give and take discussion) of the Bavli, the Yerushalmi learns by tradition of rav letalmid with many maaseh rav as examples.In the end I did hattarat nedarim on my intention of doing .daf yomi, but I continue learning Yerushalmi one or two hours a day. So far I have finished Berachot,Peah, Demai, Kilayim,Trumot and most recently  Ma'asrot.

I made the siyyum of masechet Ma'asrot in honor of the Yohrtzeit of my father in law, Abe Rich Alav Hashalom. who passed away 11 years ago erev Pesach. Another word for a siyyum is hadran, from the Aramaic meaning to repeat. We give thanks that Hashem has helped us to learn this masechet, may he help us to repeat and learn other masechtot in the future. The subject of Ma'asrot is the mitzvah of tithes, taking 10% of all agricultural produce for the Cohanim and Leviim. The last Mishna in Ma'asrot deals with the obligation of taking ma'aserot from grains and seeds. There are three dinnim:
1-The five grains;wheat oats spelt rye and barley must be tithed d'oreita and even grain that sprouted from what was tithed must again be tithed.
2-Kitniot (legumes) must be tithed derabbanan, and what sprouts from it is exempt.
3- Zir'onei gina (garden seeds) which are not ordinarily for human consumption are exempt from tithes.
The Gemarra brings a maaseh that came before R' Yochanan. A woman was carrying a basket of asparagus, some seeds dropped on the ground which sprouted. The question was asked whether or not maaser must be taken from the sprouts. Rav Yochanan ruled that the sprouts are exempt from all tithes.
One of the the talmidim who was present, Rabi Hiyya Bar Vah said to Rabi Yochanan that it is clear from the Mishnah that asparagus seeds are considered zironei gina and of course the sprouts are exempt even though the vegetable itself must be tithed.Rabi Yochanan replied disparagingly, "You Babylonian! I gave you the oyster and you show me the pearl? Had I  not made the ruling you would not have been able to answer! Here we see the Yerushalmi typically learning the din from tradition and case law. We also see some of the tension between the Tannaim of Eretz Yisrael and those of Bavel.

                                                                     Hadran alach masechet Ma'asrot