ITS Text #!. Agaddah from Taanit Bavli 20a-b presented by Dauer

Discussion in 'Interfaith Text Study' started by dauer, Nov 10, 2006.

  1. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Hey folks. :)

    Welcome to the first ever interfaith text study er... text study! :D I'll be presenting a selection from the Talmud. The material in the Talmud can be divided into two kinds; halachah (legal material) and aggadah (non-legal material.) Of course, there can be overlap as will become clear when examining this text.

    We'll be working primarily from a translation that R. David Ingber made using a method I was taught by him at Elat Chayyim, which he learned at a progressive Orthodox yeshiva. We will essentially be taking modern methods of literary analysis and applying it to the story, trying to stick closely to the text as we go line by line.

    For those of you who might want the actual pages of gemara, you'll find them here:

    http://www.dafyomi.org/index.php?mas...&daf=20a&go=Go

    and also

    http://www.dafyomi.org/index.php?mas...&daf=20b&go=Go

    The text that we'll primarily be working with follows:

    1. The Rabbis learned: A person should always be soft life a reed ant not hard like a cedar

    2. A story: R' Eliezer son of Shimon came from the tower of Gador from the house of his teacher
    3. he was riding on a donkey and traveling on the bank of the river
    4. and he was very happy
    5. and his mind was haughty (D'aato Gasa) because he learned much Torah

    6. an exceedingly ugly man (person) chanced upon him
    7. He said to him, "Peace onto you my teacher"
    8 He did not respond
    9. He said to him, "empty one, how ugly is 'that' man
    10. perhaps all the people in your city are as ugly as you
    11. He said to him, "I don't know (yo'dea) but why don't you go and tell the Craftsman who made me how ugly His handiwork is!!
    12. As soon as he knew (ya'daa) about himself that he sinned, he went down from the donkey and prostrated before him
    13. he said, I have afflicted you, forgive me
    14. He said to him, I will not forgive you until you go to the Craftsman who made me and tell him "How ugly is this vessel that you made"

    15. He traveled after him until he reached his city
    16. the people of his city came out to greet him
    17. and they said to him, "Peace onto you my teacher my teacher my master my master"
    18. He said to them, "to whom are you calling teacher teacher"
    19. They said to him, "to the one who is traveling after you"
    20. he said to them, "If this is a teacher, there shouldn't be many like him in Israel."
    21. They said to him, "on account of what?"
    22. He said to them, "such and such he did to me."
    23. They said to him, "nevertheless forgive him because he is a great man in Torah."
    24. He said to them, "for your sake, I will forgive him
    25. providing he doesn't make a custom out of doing this."

    26. Immediately R' Eliezer son of Shimon entered and expounded
    27. A person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar
    28. Therefore the reed merited to have the writing pen come from it to write the Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzot.

    Over the weekend I'm hoping some braver members of the board will be willing to take a look and consider some of the following questions, even make their own notes, as preparation for the line by line analysis, although it is in no way a requirement for participation in the conversation.

    Currently there line breaks as well as scene breaks in the text, while in the original text there are none. Are the scene breaks in the right place? If you could give each scene a name, what would you give it? At one point the dialogue becomes hard to follow, with the "he" and the "he" becoming more difficult to identify. Who does each "he" refer to? Could it work the other way? How does the story relate to the saying in the first line? Is this story being critical of certain types of behavior or thinking? If so, what kinds? How do the postures of the characters change in the story, and does this relate to the development of the story? How does the modified saying at the end of the story relate to the story? What other questions can you come up with, and how do you answer them?

    So for those of you who are interested in doing so, feel free to consider some or all of those questions. Then, when we get to those parts of the story in our line by line analysis you will be more prepared to discuss. see you Monday. :)


    Dauer
     
  2. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Monday. :)

    So what I think I'm going to do is present a line or a few lines, depending, and then leave space for discussion, and then the next day I'll assess whether it's a good point to introduce the next line or wait another day. So the first line is before the story actually begins, and it's a teaching that a person should be soft like a reed, not hard like a cedar. As R. David divided the text in his translation, this is one line and separate from the first scene. Do you think that's accurate? Would you divide it differently? The original text has no line breaks. How would you interpret this saying? In what way is a reed soft that a cedar is hard? Is there anything else that comes up for you when you read that line?

    Dauer
     
  3. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Hi Dauer, Thank you for getting this going!

    It is a somewhat confusing story. I'm confused in the last part about the he following him. Does this mean the ugly man following the man on the donkey? If so, then is the ugly man the teacher/master?

    I'll think about it some more too. :)

    luna
     
  4. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Hey Luna. :) Thanks for posting.

    I don't really want to get ahead in the story. I think if we parse it one line or so at a time, sticking to discussion on what's already been covered, that when we get to point X, or whatever point in the story is particularly confusing, it'll make much more sense, and one line is also more digestable given the format. I agree that it is confusing. One of the issues that comes up in this story, which I mentioned briefly to get people at least thinking about what's to come as we progress, is the confusion about who each line is talking about, and that's not unique to this story. It's just the way the gemara sometimes talks. As we examine it line by line, in the format I'm trying to present, I think the confusion will become less and less. I know that when I first approached this text I was also a little confused, and it took a closer read to really get what was being presented. I promise that if you stick with this story, unless you are very astute, there will be some surprises that only become apparent with close examination. (and apologies to all of the very astute people for not surprising you ahead of time, but please offer input when appropriate if you think you see something nobody's mentioned when we get there.)


    This also speaks to my hope for the ITS, which is that texts which would otherwise be inaccessible to most of us, either because they are outside of our general reach or scope or interest, or their style and language is unfamiliar, can be made more accessible through their presentation by forum members. I know that the ITS is more work than most of what's on the forum, and if it takes off the content (I hope) will vary wildly, but I think that for those who are willing to invest and take part in it, it's a wonderful opportunity to learn about each other and each other's texts, as well as to learn the different ways in which we all approach text, and the different reasons why.

    Dauer
     
  5. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    A reed bends with pressure, then stands back up none the worse for wear when the pressure is off, but a cedar that does not give can be overcome by pressure and either broken, or uprooted, hence die. In other words, the ability to adapt can be more advantageous than the ability to resist or stand fast?
     
  6. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Thank you Dauer, you've piqued my interest. :) So, I should go back to the first line and read it in isolation of the rest?

    luna
     
  7. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    1. The Rabbis learned: A person should always be soft life a reed ant not hard like a cedar

    I like Q's interpretation. Perhaps another (thinking ahead about the story) is that a person should be soft in their dealings with others. To be gentle with others rather hard and judgemental.

    luna
     
  8. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Luna,

    in response to your question, yes, first post in isolation, then as we progress we'll keep building until we have the whole thing in front of us.

    Q and Luna,

    Thank you both for jumping in head-first, as it were, into this new project. :)

    Personally, I like both reads, and as we move on I think it may seem possible for either to fit. Q, I really liked the way you phrased that. I was thinking more along the lines you were in approaching it, but didn't take the analogy quite so far, however, I think that when it's extended to that degree it proves itself to be a fairly useful metaphor. And Luna, I'm glad you were able to bring up a possible read that I myself would have missed, which is one of the reasons that I think texts study works so well in groups.


    Dauer
     
  9. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Forgive me. I didn't have the actual text in front of me when I was posting before, so this is a very late and very brief additional note about the first line. The word for person (or man) being used in the hebrew is adam. There are two words in Hebrew that mean man; "eesh" and "adam." But the more common way to speak about a person is eesh. This is something that's not so important now, but will come up later.

    Dauer
     
  10. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    Interesting. In this case "Adam" is used, and called ugly? Indeed there must be a reason...I look forward to finding out what that reason is.
     
  11. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Alright, this next line is where, imo, it starts to get a little more interesting. First line of the story and all. So we have R' Eliezer son of Shimon coming from the tower of Gador, from the house of his teacher.

    One of the things that comes through in agaddah at times is word play, and this line is an excellent example. I'm hoping that any dialogue this provokes will continue as we add more pieces to the puzzle.

    The first important piece in this line is the name of the first main character. Eliezer son of Shimon. His first name, Eliezer can be rendered as "God is my help." Shimon can be translated as "Listening." In Hebrew when you get the word ben, or in aramaic when you get the word bar, the word doesn't always mean literally "son." Sometimes it refers to certain qualities that a person has, either by referring directly to that quality or to a well-known person who held those qualities.

    So Eliezer son of Shimon becomes "God is my help" and he's a guy who's supposed to be "Listening" all of which could be entirely coincidental. We'll find out.

    It says he comes from the tower of gador, from the house of his teacher. The root of gador spells geder, which means a fence or partition. It's something that separates things off. And we have R. Eliezer in a tower, in a high place, that's separated off. He was with his teacher which means that he's been studying which, I want to clarify, in Judaism the act of study is also a form of worship. It's not entirely unlike he's gone to a monastery where he can focus on himself without the community around to distract him. So to recap:

    "God is help" who's called "listening" is on his way from a tower where he was separated off, where he had been learning with his teacher.

    So why, given what we've covered so far, might this, the first main character in the story, be called "God is help" and why might the idea of listening by connected to him? How is the story portraying this individual so far? What might it be suggesting about him that he was at the tower of Gador? Is there anything else that comes up for you based just on what we've covered so far?

    Dauer
     
  12. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    He has potential, and the listener, historically is one who can offer assistance, usually by way of advice, or simply by listening. However, the character is so full of himself, he does not hear what is said, until it is forcefully brought to his attention, that he misses what is in front of him. He missed an opportunity.

    We all make the same mistake, of thinking we are the s h i t, when in reality we aren't.

    Is that right?
     
  13. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Q,

    I don't want to be in the position to say that one read is entirely correct, and another is entirely incorrect. I think that as we examine the text, using this methodology, it will allow the text to essentially speak for itself. If I can give a little background... In Judaism, this particular type of literature came to be subject to interpretations that were getting very far from the actual words of the text, (beautiful reads in their own right, but not so necessary in order to understand what was being said) and so this methodology is an attempt to rectify that by showing that the text can be understood by simply sticking with it.

    There has always also been an idea that everyone doesn't have to have the same exact ideas about the text, and that one of the benefits of learning with other people is multiple voices, multiple eyes. So while I have my own ideas about what things mean, I think it only enriches the dialogue to get other perspectives. I can't see everything, and I think that as we go along the text itself will be the best teller of what it means. I'm going to hold off replying to the rest of what you said until other people have had a chance to have a go for exactly that reason. I don't want anyone to hold back something that could have been useful and informative because I've shared my own thoughts about what the text's getting at and they feel my understanding trumps theirs.

    Dauer
     
  14. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards, Dauer!

    Thanks for this study tool, and for the first text to study.

    What this says to me goes along with what I have learned from other sources, folklore and wisdom sayings: "It is easier to learn when one listens, and it is easier to listen when one is not talking (or otherwise distracted)." Of course, this is a paraphrase, but the wisdom I would hope still comes through. For instance, I know I enjoy the sound of myself speaking... :D ...but I would like to believe I know when it is time to "shut up" and listen. I do not learn when I am speaking, I learn when I am listening and reflecting, ideally in an environment where I am not otherwise disturbed.

    My two cents. Thanks again, I know you have put a lot of effort into getting this up and running, I am happy that it finally is! :)
     
  15. pohaikawahine

    pohaikawahine Elder Member

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    This quote is suppose to come from the Tao Te Ching:

    "A man is born gentle and weak.
    At his death he is hard and stiff.
    Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
    At their death they are withered and dry.
    Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
    The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
    Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
    A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
    The hard and strong will fall.
    The soft and weak will overcome."

    Just looking at the line "The Rabbis learned: A person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar" seems to say to us that we must remain flexible and soft to understand the Torah. Also a reed is hollow and is able to float and I know that in the culture of the Moari in the making of the reed rafts or vessels, it takes 144 bundles to carry 12 men. This could be linked to the idea that there are 144,000 chosen ones. Just reflecting on the first line right now. I'm interested to see where this goes. He Hawai'i au, poh
     
  16. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    Poh,

    Glad you decided to participate. :) I like that quote. I think a lot of parallels can be found in different traditions for the whole idea of being flexible, as opposed to being too unbending. You touched on something important in the remainder of your post, but I don't want to address it because it won't be important until quite a bit later. So I want to shelve it for now. But you made a very important observation that, later on down the line, you'll see will become significant.

    juantoo,

    Welcome to the ITS. :)

    I think that's also a very important statement, and that it's the implicit reason for the rabbi's name. Of course explicitly it is, well, a name. I'm not so sure if we could say the name is being used in a positive way or if it's more of an ironic way, but I think that that as we add more pieces over the next few days it'll become a little clearer how R. Eliezer is being portrayed. But I really think you hit the nail on the head when you said, "I do not learn when I am speaking, I learn when I am listening and reflecting..."

    Q,

    Sorry to leave you hanging.

    I think that's important. There's a question of whether or not this could also contain an element of foreshadowing. There's a really old idea within Jewish culture that one's name is significant. It's not uniquely Jewish. I believe it comes from the Middle East although if I am mistaken it may have been more widespread. The saying we have, "I have you at a disadvantage" when we know someone else's name and they don't know ours comes from this line of thinking. So I think it's really important to question whether this is saying something about the individual's potential.

    The rest of what you said is also very important and I think it's going to become much more visible as we move forward more. But I want to try and hold off on addressing it until it's been added.


    One question that I don't think anybody's addressed is, why the name "God is my help?" Truthfully, with what we have so far I don't think we can say too much about either part of the name, but as we move on I think we'll see what the text may be suggesting by the use of both of them.

    Dauer

    Edit:

    And here's a link to the first post, which contains the text in English and links to the actual pages of gemara.

    http://www.comparative-religion.com/forum/79008-post1.html
     
  17. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    2. A story: R' Eliezer son of Shimon came from the tower of Gador from the house of his teacher

    From dauer's explanation:
    God is my help, son of listening, coming from a high recluse where he was studying/worshipping with his teacher.

    'God is my help' to me implies humility and faith (trust). I like Juan's input about listening. I think that really listening to each other in a non-judgmental way is the very first basic thing we need to love each other. In fact, taking a spin off the Prayer of St. Francis I'd say "grant that I may not so much seek to be heard, as to listen."

    Having read the story just once (and not really getting it), I'll throw out the idea that maybe the name is 1. how the character thinks of himself (intellectually), 2. What he actually needs to learn (experientially) and 3. what he becomes in the end.

    luna

    Prayer of St. Francis

    Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury, pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    and where there is sadness, joy.
    O, Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek
    to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love;
    for it is in giving that we receive;
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
     
  18. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    do we know whether this happened before or after r. eliezer was in the cave for 13 years buried in sand up to his neck? because if it was after, the guy had a lucky escape.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  19. pohaikawahine

    pohaikawahine Elder Member

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    luna - your reference to "son of listening" really linked today with a quote I received in the e-mail (I get these daily) "The Wonder Of Silence
    When the soul goes deep into silence, easiness emerges. The deeper I go into silence, the greater will be my power of tolerance. It is in very deep, extreme silence that the soul becomes elevated. It is in deep, deep silence that God can come in front of the soul." and

    bb - your question opens up another door of possibilities .... I didn't know about eliezer being buried in sand up to his neck in a cave for 13 years, but I believe this will be an important link to where dauer is taking us with this text .... I have thoughts on this but it will not be in context right now ....

    dauer - I really love this way of going through the text line-by-line because it takes us deeper and deeper into the inner meanings of the text or at least the possibilities of seeing within .... side note: I subscribed to the Torah word by word, I am in awe of the depth of each letter as their are unveiled .... if only I could read this text in Hebrew .... aloha nui, poh
     
  20. dauer

    dauer New Member

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    bb,

    Glad to see you're joining us. :) In the few times I've gone over the text, I haven't seen any textual clues to suggest whether it is before or after and given the length of this story and the other one, I think that pursuing that question might be too time consuming for this venue, given the amount of additional material. It may be a good idea just the same to keep in mind that for the popular mind, R. Eliezer might naturally have been connected to that story. Then again I think it's probably hard to say which of the two stories was the most popular then, if either was more well known. And it is definitely this one in which he takes a leading role, if you will.

    Now is probably a good time to clarify that for the purpose of this method, questions regarding historicity are nonessential because the primary focus is on the text itself, on its style and language, and regardless whether these are true stories, stories influenced by history, or just stories, what seems apparent is that they were written in their current form with intention. My personal opinion is neither at one extreme or the other.

    poh, I'm glad you're enjoying things. And we're only on line 2. :)

    Luna,

    I really like that, and I think it's very true, and true to this story, and it's also different from the direction I was going to take it, which will come into play a bit later, and again goes to show the importance of having more eyes on the text. I think you summed it up well when you said



    I want to add a bit more material now. I think this'll start to flesh out what's going on with R. Eliezer at the start. It says,

    "he was riding on a donkey and traveling on the bank of the river and he was very happy"

    The first thing I want to mention is this word travelling, mitayel, simply because there will be repetition. So when we see it again we'll be able to ask why. To my eyes, the text seems like this text is giving a lot of additional material here that is not necessary to progress the story, and so we're pursuing why it's there. So then, there might be something behind some of these words that made it important to include them, but also, there might not. And it's always possible, with any of the reads that I'm making into the meanings of the words being used, that it's coincidence, but I think that generally what I'm pointing out fits too well to be coincidental. However, I could be wrong, And the next word I'm going to try and show how it might be alluding to something, I'm not entirely sure myself if it does.

    The word donkey here is chamor. Now the word itself with the exact lettering can mean weighty or important, and I think that might fit, but the root of the word can also mean wine. What we find following is that he was very happy, which is an understatement really. The way the text puts it, it's like saying he was very happy. Very happy lacks the umph. So a possible read that I see is that he's leaving this place where he's been isolated doing all of this study/worship, and now that he's leaving and returning to the world, he's a little drunk from it. It got him really high, and he hasn't connected back down yet.

    The other thing I think is important to observe is his posture, and what does that say? He's not on the ground. He's atop a chamor. The other important point I think, here, is that he's on the "bank of the river" he's on the edge of something, rather.

    So points to consider: given the amount of information we know now, do you think it's safe to say that chamor could refer to getting lost in spiritual ecstacy? If not, or even if so, what type of an edge is R. Eliezer on? Is he being setup as a reed or as a cedar? Does this line tell us anything more about "listening" or "God is my help"? What is his posture saying? How do you picture the scene right now? Is there anything else that comes up for you?

    Dauer
     

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