Having arrived home last night after a busy and wonderful trip in the States – with my final talk taking place in Lawrence where I met some incredible women and men – this morning I woke up particularly early so I could learn the daf, consider what idea I may wish to draw from it, study any relevant commentaries on that passage, write something which I hope is relevant and meaningful, and do so in time to wake up my girls, make them breakfast and lunch, and take them to school – afterwhich I then go to daven.
The first part of the morning began as intended, and having learnt Nazir 10a I was drawn to the cryptic words of the Mishna (Nazir 2:2) describing some unusual expressions (‘This cow said I am hereby a Nazir if I stand up’ or ‘This door said I am hereby a Nazir if I open’) which are interpreted by our Gemara to refer to the words that people say when certain events occur (‘If someone said “I am a Nazir if this cow stands up…”’ or ‘If someone said “I am a Nazir if this door opens”’).
At this point I was curious to understand how these interpretations aligned with the prohibition of acting in response to omens (see Vayikra 19:26, Devarim 18:10 and the classic discussion of this topic in Sanhedrin 65b-66a and Chullin 95b) versus the permission granted (see Yoreh Deah 179:2) to act in response to various ‘simanim’ (signs), and I began looking at various sefarim to find out whether this issue is mentioned vis-à-vis our Mishna.
But then I received a message from someone – a grandmother – informing me that her granddaughter had been hit and killed by a car last night while she was walking on a sidewalk in Jerusalem. I know the grandmother as I’ve previously taught one of her granddaughters, and just a few days ago I was talking to her daughter, also someone I know who I met in person for the first time at the event in Lawrence, the woman whose daughter was tragically killed last night. My body reacted like most by shaking with anguish for this family. Then, after exchanging the kinds of words which are totally insufficient for such news, the grandmother ended her message to me by saying: ‘Keep your beautiful girls safe’.
In the blink of an eye the Mishna, the Gemara, and the commentaries I was studying all faded into the background. I woke up my girls with a big hug, cooked them a warm breakfast, and made them a yummy lunch. And then, upon returning home, I came back to the daf – aching with the pain you feel when you hear of a great loss, and unable to continue from where I’d left off.
I am told that one of the things people appreciate in terms of my writing is that I share how I really feel. Given this, rather than trying to offer any great insight on the Mishna and Gemara, I’ve decided to share my morning and the role that today’s daf played in it in order to illustrate how we can begin the day one way, and how news and events can take us to different places.
For those who may be thinking whether such news should be taken as an omen? No – I don’t think so. But what I do believe is that certain events should be taken as a siman (sign) to do what we can to be safe, while nevertheless knowing that certain events are beyond our control.