Twenty Days of Shabbat: Reflections on Perek Aleph

I regard Daf Yomi as others regard their horoscopes, as both a predictor and a reflection of whatever is happening in my life on that particular day. Take the first chapter of Masekhet Shabbat, which I started learning while on pregnancy bedrest after an amniocentisis. I was stuck there lying on the couch, legs propped up on three pillows, holding up my heavy Gemara over my head as I learned about transferring objects in and out of houses on Shabbat (2a-8b). I found myself eyeing the door longingly, wishing that I could go out of the apartment even once, even empty-handed. “Every person should sit in his place and not go out on the seventh day” (Exodus 17:29), the Torah instructs, but for me, every day felt like Shabbat. The only advantage of being supine under coercion for seven days was that I finally read Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL, just in time for her to win the Booker a second time for the sequel…

            A few days after my bedrest concluded, my 17-month-old son learned how to open our apartment door and let himself out. I discovered this one day when I was taking out his dirty diaper (which, if left in Reshut HaRabim, might not actually be considered part of Reshut HaRabim since surely everyone would walk around it, as per 7a). I left him playing in the kitchen and found him three minutes later in the building stairwell, holding on to the banister and saying, “down! down!” as he made his way down half a flight of stairs. Since when could he reach the doorknob? Terrifying! Anyway, Matan seemed to think that letting himself in and out was an exciting new game. He would take his new favorite toy—the ten-shekel flashlight that came as a “free gift” with the big toy car we bought him, which he never rides because he’s too busy playing with his flashlight—and carry it in and out of the house, practicing his “in” and “out.” Since he would pick up the flashlight while inside and put it down while outside, he was doing both Akira (uprooting) and Hanacha (depositing), so presumably such an activity would indeed constitute M’lacha on Shabbat.

            It just so happens that it was this same week that Daniel’s mother bought us a toaster oven, an appliance that we have never owned. (I put everything in the oven, even the pita I toast for lunch every morning. It never occurred to me to do otherwise.) The new toaster was a simple model, but it still took me a few trial-and-error rubbery pitas before I figured out how to make toast properly. Hint: You don’t stick the bread to the wall of the oven. Not that I tried that method, but apparently it’s how they did it in Talmudic times (3b). If you stick the bread to the side of the oven on Shabbat, can you take it down (a rabbinic prohibition) so as to avoid the Biblical prohibition of cooking the bread? If you need to think about this one for too long, you might as well go eat a pile of salt, as Rav Nahman quite rudely told Rava (4a). Matan did in fact eat a pile of salt recently, now that I think about it. He loves playing with our salt shaker. One day I went to the bathroom and returned to find him doing just this.

            Needless to say, I go to the bathroom quite frequently these days, seeing as I have two babies (yes, twins!) sitting on top of my bladder, Godwilling due around Purim. I also find that my waist gets thicker with each passing day. Thank goodness I don’t try to wear belts anymore; if I did, I’d have to loosen the belt each time I sat down to a meal, as was the custom in Bavel. We learn that in Israel, a meal was considered to have officially started once everyone washed their hands; but in Bavel, a meal began when all the guests loosened their belts before eating (9b). Sometimes, when I wake up nauseous, the prospect of eating seems so repulsive that I put off breakfast for a few hours. I wouldn’t want to eat as soon as I wake up; only circus acrobats do that (10a). Nor would I eat two hours after awakening, which is what robbers do. Rich people eat after three hours; workers after four; and Torah scholars after five hours. There is no mention in the Talmud of when pregnant ladies ought to eat, so I’m still experimenting with various schedules. Matan, of course, gets breakfast right before Gan; and if I give a piece of bread to any of his friends, I make sure to tell their mothers that I am doing so (10b).

            Breakfast is not the only time that Matan and I spend in the kitchen together. The kitchen is in fact one of his favorite places to play. He loves opening and closing the cabinets, pulling out the various bowls and bottles and spatulas, and banging everything together while shouting “A-boom” (his favorite word). My goal is to try to get him to play with metal rather than glass vessels. According to the rabbis, glass vessels contract Tumah because they are made of sand, and therefore they are regarded as similar in status to clay vessels, which are made from the earth (15b). Metal vessles contract Tumah whether they are flat (like the spatula Matan loves bashing) or whether they contain a receptacle (like his favorite soup ladle) (16a). If they break, they are automatically purified – which may be why Matan is so intent on smashing all our cookware. Perhaps he’s just trying to purify our kitchen!

            As you’ve probably gathered from this post, Matan is an active child who likes keeping busy, even on Shabbat. He bashes dishes on Shabbat too  – no concept of שביתת כלים for him, thank you very much. Every time we leave the house, he insists on turning on the light in our apartment stairwell. He knows the words “light” and “on,” and will scream “On, light! On, light!” until I finally let him press the button. One Shabbat I decided to teach him about muktza. “Muktza, muktza,” I told him, hurrying down the stairs and trying to distract him. I wanted him to know that the light switch is as muktza as the oil of the olive press owners and the mats they use to press the oil (19b). But to my consternation, on Sunday morning he started pointing to the light switch and saying “muktza,” as if this were a new word for light. And so creation had to begin all over again on Sunday, as Matan and I spoke light into being.

        Hadran Alach Perek Aleph, and Shabbat shalom.

6 thoughts on “Twenty Days of Shabbat: Reflections on Perek Aleph

  1. C says:

    I loved this post (and not just because I also have a first son named Matan followed by twins). I think I learned more talmud from it than from any shiur in the last 4 years. B'sha'ah tovah!


  2. Tamar Orvell says:

    Brilliant. Mazal tov on your growing family. Thrilled you're back on your blog. Missed the pauses;-) At Alma, in Tel Aviv, the Daf Yomi group Kobi Oz launched just celebrated our second siyum in 1.5 years of daily learning. We take our time, and so, today for example, we reached Brachot 5a. Thanks for transmitting your learning by translating insights, discoveries into imaginative teachings here (and surely elsewhere).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.