This week’s daf continues to deal with honoring one’s parents.
This one hits home hard. Definitely written by a parent well-versed in eliciting guilt.
Since the previous source imagined God dwelling among human beings, these sources continue to discuss the ramifications of God actually living on earth. The first ramification is that God is everywhere—one cannot hide from God. Sinning in secret is akin to making the theological statement that God is not in a certain place. I should note that there are sources that contradict this and seem to say that sinning in secret is preferable to sinning in public.
The second two statements deal with the proper posture and clothing to acknowledge that God is only slightly above one’s head. This last statement is one of the sources used to prove that Jews must keep their heads covered.
My wife (and mother, and pretty much every other woman I know) would not be too pleased with the rule from this source.
But in the end, R. Joshua does rule that if the woman is divorced then the son owes them equal honor. If they’re both hollering for water, then all one can do is put the water on the floor screech at them as one does to chickens!
The fact that God demands that children honor their parents is proof that God is not interested only in God’s own honor.
Today’s section contains the famous stories of Dama ben Natina, the non-Jew who honored his parents better than anyone in history.
Interestingly, the greatest example of honoring one’s parents is brought from a non-Jew, the famous Dama ben Netinah (rhymes with an old favorite, Funky Cold Medina). Dama did not wake up his Dad, even though this would have profited him 600,000 gold dinars. I have told me children that if someone comes by to our house and offers a deal that will make me the equivalent of millions of dollars, I’m okay with being woken up.
This is a slightly different version of the story. Here the sages need a precious stone for the High Priest’s breastplate. And at the end Dama ben Natinah receives his reward—a red heifer is born into his herd. But being such a generous guy, he only (!) asks for the 600,000 dinars he lost when not waking up his father.
In yesterday’s section we learned about Dama ben Natinah and the remarkable way he honored his sleeping father. Dama ben Natinah was a gentile, and therefore not obligated by the Torah to observe this commandment. This brings the Talmud to discuss people who perform the commandments despite not being obligated to do so.
According to R. Hanina, a person who fulfills a commandment even out of obligation is greater than one who fulfills it not out of obligation. This, I think, is somewhat counterintuitive. Most of us think that when we do something because we want to, we are in some way better than those who fulfill it because they have to. That is, I think, R. Hanina’s point. Fulfilling commandments out of a sense of obligation shows a commitment not just to the particular deed, but to its source.
R. Joseph is blind. There is a tannaitic dispute over whether blind people are obligated in commandments. R. Judah holds they are exempt and the other sages hold that they are not. So at first, R. Joseph wishes the halakhah would follow R. Judah so that he could be fulfilling the commandments even though he’s not obligated. But then when he hears R. Hanina’s statement, he wants the halakhah to follow the sages who make blind people obligated.
I do love the image of the R. Joseph making a holiday for the rabbis. I can picture a big spread on the table with lots of food.
This is the first description of how someone honors one’s mother. Interestingly, while fathers are always described as sleeping, mothers are usually portrayed as somewhat disturbed. Honoring one’s father means not waking him up, honoring one’s mother means tolerating her embarrassing behavior.
This tradition is found more elaborated in the Yerushalmi, and it is basically impossible to understand the Bavli without the Yerushalmi. There we read:
There is one who feeds his father fatted birds and inherits Gehenom and one who ties his father to a mill and inherits heaven.
How is it that one can feed his father fatted birds and inherit Gehenom? There once was a man who fed his father fatted birds. Once, his father said to him, “Son, where did you get this?” He said back, “Old man, eat and shut up like a dog.” It turns out that while he feeds his father fatted birds, he still inherits Gehenom.
How is it that one can tie his father to a mill and still inherit heaven? There once was a man who was a wheat-grinder. A command came from the king to the grinder. The son said to his father, “Father, grind in my place so that if they come to disgrace or beat (one of us) better they should disgrace or beat me and not you.” [The king would first take those who were not working]. It turns out that he ties his father to the mill, and still inherits heaven.
We should note that it in all of these sources the parallel in the Yerushalmi is usually easier to understand. It seems that the Bavli inherited its sources in some sort of truncated form.