Today’s section deals with readings for the month of Av.
On Rosh Hodesh Av that falls on Shabbat we do not read the regular haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh. Rather, we read a haftarah from Isaiah.
Today we do not follow this custom. Rather we follow a custom mentioned in a midrashic source to read special haftarot from the 17th of Tammuz all the way through Rosh Hashanah. The first three are haftarot where we read of punishment and for the next seven we read messages of consolation.
The “burden” upon God mentioned in the verse from Isaiah is interpreted as the trouble of determining what punishment Israel is deserving of.
This section contains various customs as to what we read in the Torah and for the haftarah on Tisha B’av. Today we follow the custom mentioned by Abaye.
The “ma’amadot” refers to the gathering of people in towns when the local priests are serving in the Temple. The priests were divided into 24 groups each serving a week at a time in the Temple. Each group of priests has a parallel “ma’amad.” While the priests were in the Temple serving at the altar, the parallel ma’amad would gather in the home town and read the Torah, every day a different portion of the story of creation. These institutions are described in much greater detail in Tractate Taanit.
There are several central ideas to this section. First of all, there is a connection between the observance of God’s laws, specifically the offering of the sacrifices in the Temple, and the existence of the world. Second, God tells Abraham to offer a sacrifice in order to know that God will never destroy the word again, as he did in the generation of the flood and in the generation of the dispersal. This aids in connecting the idea that the existence of the world, the wellbeing of humanity, is ensured by the sacrifices which uphold God’s covenant.
Abraham foresees the destruction of the Temple and already asks God what is to be done once the Temple is destroyed. God responds that studying the portions of the Torah that deal with the sacrifices is as effective as offering them as well. Both atone for Israel thereby protecting the world from God’s destruction.
All of this explains that the ma’amad reads the account of the creation while the priests are offering the sacrifices because it is the sacrifices that uphold creation.
The final section of this daf discusses reading the curses and blessings on fast days. The Talmudic discussion focuses on the rule in the mishnah that we do not interrupt when reading the curses. They are read continuously.
There are two reasons given as to why one should not interrupt reading the curses. The first is that we should not reject discipline from God. One who stops in the middle of reading the curses looks as if he is rejecting his chastisement. [Thank you sir, may I have another].
Resh Lakish brings up another problem. If one stops while reading the curses he will recite a blessing over a curse.
To avoid reciting a blessing directly over a verse with a curse in it, he should begin reading before the section with the curses begins and end his reading after the curses have already been completed and another non-curse verse has been recited.
Abaye limits the rule against interrupting the reading of the curses to those curses found in Leviticus. These were stated in the plural and Moses said them in the name of God. But the curses in Deuteronomy were in the singular and Moses says them in his own name. This seems to mitigate their violence, allowing us to interrupt their reading.
Today our custom is to read both sets of curses without interruption.
In the Babylonian cycle of reading, we read the curses in Leviticus right before Shavuot and the curses in Deuteronomy right before Rosh Hashanah. This, according to R. Shimon b. Elazar was initiated by Ezra. [I should note that this is chronologically problematic for in the land of Israel they had a three and a half year cycle of Torah reading. This meant that different readings would shift from year to year.]
Abaye says that we do this as if to symbolically state that the curses should end with the new year. At first it seems as if Abaye’s statement makes sense only in connection with Rosh Hashanah. However, the Talmud notes that Shavuot is also called a “new year” for a mishnah in Rosh Hashanah says that this is the new year for the trees. Actually, it’s more of a judgment day for the trees. On Shavuot we bring the first fruits and therefore God judges the world on that day in terms of the next year’s crop of fruits.
When Rehoboam son of Solomon became king the people asked for the burdensome taxes imposed by Solomon to be reduced. At first Rehoboam asked for advice from the elders and they advised him to listen to the people’s request. He then asked for advice from his friends, who told him to increase the taxes. He heeded their advice, causing a rebellion and the splitting of the kingdom into two. [See I Kings 12:1-17]. From here R. Shimon b. Elazar concludes that it is better to listen to the advice of the elders, even when they give advice that seems to be deconstructive—don’t collect any more taxes.
This section has nothing to do with the previous one. It is here because it is taught by the same tanna, R. Shimon b. Elazar.
Get ready to learn the last daf of Tractate Megillah! This daf is short so you’ll have a breather before we begin Ketubot next week.
There are two different opinions here as to how we read through the Torah. According to R. Meir there is no overlap in reading. We begin the new portion on Shabbat, and wherever that portion ends, we continue on at Shabbat Minhah, and then proceed on Monday and Thursday. Thus we never repeat the same reading. Today we follow R. Judah who says that the Shabbat Minhah begins a new cycle. That reading is repeated on Monday and Thursday. They also begin the Shabbat reading at the same place as was left off the previous Shabbat.