January 7, 2022

Megillah 26

We generally assume that once an item has been sanctified for sacred purposes, it is then considered to be sacred. However, as I shall soon explain such a statement is imprecise, and beyond this, in order to show respect to the most sacred of items, our Sages – as explained in today’s daf (Megillah 26b) – drew clear distinctions between the most sacred (Kedusha) of items (eg. a Sefer Torah), those items used to serve or beautify the most sacred (otherwise known as Tashmishei D’Kedusha, such as a Torah mantle), and those items used to serve or protect Tashmishei D’Kedusha (otherwise known as Tashmish D’Tashmishei Kedusha). Furthermore, paralleling this hierarchy are those items that have been used for a mitzvah (eg. a lulav or shofar) which are called Tashmishei Mitzvah, and those items used to serve or protect Tashmishei Mitzvah, which are called Tashmish D’Tashmishei Mitzvah.
In terms of our daf we are taught that each category has a different rule concerning how we treat those items and especially what we do when the item is no longer usable, with the general principle seemingly being that the form of ‘usage’ of any given item is the measure for whichever category such an item is placed. But as we shall see, based on an insight of Rava, this is not quite the case.
Rava raises the question of whether the bimah upon which a Torah is placed for reading is a Tashmish D’Tashmishei Kedusha – with the corollary of this being that a bimah could be used for non-sacred purposes. As the commentaries explain, this conclusion was reached by Rava because there is generally a cloth or cover that sits between the Torah scroll and the wood of the bimah.
However, Rava then explains that since the Torah is sometimes placed directly on the bimah, a bimah is, in fact, in the category of Tashmishei D’Kedusha and may not be used for non-sacred purposes.
But on reflection it is unclear why this is so, because whether or not there is a cloth or cover separating the Torah scroll and the bimah, the bimah is nevertheless doing its job of supporting the Torah scroll. Given this, why should the presence of a thin separation between the Torah scroll and the bimah ‘demote’ the status of the bimah, or its absence ‘elevate’ its status?
The answer, it seems, is that it is not the form of ‘usage’ of any given item vis-à-vis Kedusha that is the measure for whichever category such an item is placed, but instead, the measure of ‘closeness’ of any given item to Kedusha.
This, I believe, is an important distinction, and it is – in fact – the unwritten approach of numerous programs that have sought to bring unaffiliated Jews closer to Judaism. As Rabbi Aaron Adler relates while reflecting on Rav Soloveitchik’s approach towards educating non-religious Jews, ‘The Rav homiletically interpreted the verse in Shemot 29:37, כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בַּמִּזְבֵּחַ יִקְדָּשׁ, as meaning that our job as educators is to get the students to come in contact with something holy. The persuasive power of Torah will then take over.’ (Seventy Conversations in Transit p. 77)
Ultimately, sacredness comes from contact and closeness with the sacred, and while today’s daf teaches us how this is applied vis-à-vis a bimah, it also applies to each and every one of us.
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