flights of talmud

What happens when I learn gemara? Things like this happen.

I started Masechet Berachoth, I'm only just finishing the first daf, a week and a half later. (Right now my schedule hasn't seen fit to introduce a hevruta, but my hopes are high.) All of a sudden it hits me: What's going on here? Someone asked a question about time, (When do we say the evening Shema?) and all of a sudden everyone is talking about food. It's the time when the Kohanim can eat from terumah, no wait, it's the time a pauper enters his home to eat the evening meal, no wait, it's the time that everyone eats on friday evening. There's a whole machloket and everyone seems to take for granted that they are speaking in code about time when in fact they're all talking about eating.

What gives? Then it hit me. The Maor Eynayim says that the Shechinah brings down the livelihood in our food. (the מן) My Rav taught me a while ago that the whole concept of time is limited to the sephirah of Malchuth. More things click: על כל מוצא פי ה' יחיה האדם (on everything that comes from the mouth of God does man subside) מלכות פה - Malchuth is the proverbial mouth of God. (Why? because all the revellation of all of creation comes down through Malchuth, speech is the metaphor of revealing hidden 'thoughts' so Malchuth is the mouth through which God reveals his hidden thoughts into 'audible' speech.) The compilers of the Talmud and the Mishnah all take for granted this intrinsic connection between food and time. They both share the same heavenly source. It's obvious. Ok, now I can go on to the next page.

That's me learning Gemara.

Days later its reverberating inside me. (for reasons obvious to those who know me) Why the connection between food and time? Why are these two things so central to the whole world that we live in? This world. עולם הזה? A baby gestates in the womb of its mother, it is nourished from the placenta, it gets what she eats, when she eats it. It lives according to her motions, the everpresent beating of her heart ticks off time in waves of sound it feels with its whole body. If it weren't for these things, the baby would be oblivious to time altogether. The baby doesn't even really think about food, not until it's released into the world, and then it has to return to its mother for nourishment, at regular intervals. Time. Food. Mother. Intimately related symbols.

(It's easy to see how early cults worshipped some combination of mother-food-time ie. earth-bounty-harvest)

What can we learn from it all, what does this metaphor have to bring to our predicament in this world? Have we been born, are we waiting to be? Both are true, but when I learn Gemara, this is where my mind takes off and flies everytime---what am I missing when I take it at face value?


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