Sometimes the Daf Yomi seems relevant to the news of the day. Now is a time when the whole tractate of the Talmud the students of the Daf Yomi have just begun seems relevant to the worst collective news of the lifetime of most of us. With prayer, faith, fight and unity we can still hope for and envision the light at the end of the tunnel for as many innocent people as possible as our soldiers cope with the darkness on the inside of the subterranean tunnels under Gaza.
We just began the first of the three Baba tractates in the Talmud: Baba Kama (the first), Baba Metziah (the second), and Baba Batra (the last), but also the beginning of the whole seder of Nezikin (which deals with damages). It seems that nothing has damaged the sense of security of the Jewish people in general and the Israeli people in particular as the day when more Jews were murdered than on any single day since the Holocaust, Hy”dl
Baba Kama literally means the first gate, when the doors of our study halls swing open and analysis is begun on how to cope with damages. The damages and the murders that began on October 7, with the breaches of the “impregnable” gates and the walls of the Israeli border with Gaza seemed unimaginable given the faith so many people had in the ability of the Israeli military to implement the will of God by developing and using the most sophisticated of security systems to prevent surprise attacks that would devastate not merely an isolated community but a whole region of communities, and threaten the whole country.
The Alshich haKadosh (1508-1593) likened the four categories of damages to the four major galuyot (exiles) where attempts were made to annihilate the Jewish people, which seemed more than concerning, to say the least, at the time, as now, God forbid, except for a significant difference in our time. The four categories of damages are shor (ox), bor (pit), ma’aveh (spoliation, which is subject to various interpretations) and ha’he’ever (fire).
Nebuchadnezzar, the warrior king, has been likened to an ox, whose intent was to cause damage and mayhem, not merely to satisfy personal desires, akin to Hamas. A bor is likened to the Persians, in the days of Ahashverosh and Queen Esther, when the Jews were initially lured into the trap of participating in events inconsistent with traditional Jewish values, as is often the case in our times, without criticizing any particular groups. A spoliator has been likened to the Greeks. Spoliation has been described in various ways, but one is uncovering what is hidden, akin to the Greeks, who sought to undermine Jewish spirituality, which of course cannot be seen. Hamas was and remains out for the Jews, officially because of their religion but actually because of the hatred they were instilled with from early childhood, not because of what the Jews had acquired or built (the people of Hamas didn’t revolt when under the rule of Arab countries, and they had only themselves to blame for their governance of unoccupied Gaza since the Jews evacuated it in 2005). Ominously, the Greeks broke through 13 pirtzos (breaches) in the soreg, in the fence, around the Beit Hamikdash, certainly conjuring up images of what happened on October 7. Finally, fire, which calls to mind the Romans, who mindlessly and ruthlessly killed so many, all too many by fire, as most notably Rabbi Chaninah Ben Teradion, which recalls what happened to too many Jews on October 7 (Rabbi Chaninah’s wife was decapitated, more shades of October 7; and his daughter was violated, still more shades of October 7), not to mention the Romans having famously taken Jews as helpless slaves as depicted in some of their coins and in their Arch of Titus. Many of these Jewish slaves would have been hostages, in the spirit of Hamas, had there been a community left to claim them. Now, we have a country with the means to negotiate for their release, and to fight for them and to fight for the many more Jews who were not captured or killed.
The rulers of these countries all tried to destroy the Jewish people, one way or another, and they all wreaked havoc, but eventually they have all been swept into the dustbins of history; their civilizations became marginalized and relatively irrelevant (although some of their successors geographically have created new cultures which in some cases can continue to wreak havoc, to put it mildly) while the Jewish people have maintained their original religion and culture, notwithstanding the modifications that some have made culturally, religiously and politically.
It is our challenge now to overcome the breaches and the damages and the kidnappers and the blood shedders and the blood libelers of our times, especially now that the Jewish people are united as perhaps never before. The Western Wall of the Temple became the Wailing Wall, then the Western Wall again, and we hope with the coming of the Moshiach one of four walls. The wall to Gaza will hopefully never be breached again. Ideally, there will never be a need for such a wall again. And above all, beyond every wall, we can sing with added fervor and meaningfulness, the sentence in the Hallel prayer that we chant on Simchat Torah and every other major Jewish holiday, “Zeh haShaar l’Hashem, tzadikim yavo-u bo. This is the gate of God, the righteous shall enter through it.
This article was inspired by a shiur with uncanny relevance to contemporary events even though it was recorded by Rabbi Shalom Rosner in a previous cycle of the Daf Yomi 7½ or 15 years ago, but without the references to Hamas and October 7.
Rabbi Reichel, a New York attorney, author, and editor, previously led parts of the High Holiday auxiliary services at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York City, and parts of the primary services in Massachusetts, in Brooklyn, and in a Manhattan nursing home, all decades ago.