January 14, 2021

Pesachim 54

We are taught in today’s daf (Pesachim 54b) that שבעה דברים מכוסים מבני אדם – ‘seven things are concealed from people’ and they are: יום המיתה (‘the day of death’), יום הנחמה (‘the day of consolation’, i.e. when we will be alleviated from the anxiety and stress that we are experiencing), עומק הדין (‘the depth of judgement’, meaning either the certainty in knowing whether truth was told and justice was achieved in a judgement in this world, or how our actions will be judged by God in the world to come), מה בלבו של חבירו (‘what is in the heart of a friend’), במה משתכר (‘which of our business ventures will be profitable’), מתי תחזור מלכות בית דוד (‘when the Davidic Monarchy will return’) and מתי תכלה מלכות חייבת (‘when the current exile will end’).
After I first learnt this passage, I understood it to mean that these seven things are insights and facts that are never revealed to people. However, I then learnt Rabbi Menachem Tzvi Taksin’s (1850-1918) ‘Orach Yesharim’ commentary on this passage, and was deeply moved by what he said. Here is a translation of his explanation about ‘the day of death’ and ‘the day of consolation’ (and attached is the full-text for those who are interested in reading further):
“It seems to me that the reason why the word מכוסין (‘concealed’ or ‘covered over’) is used here is because these are things that a person doesn’t constantly think about [even though there would be good reason for them to do so]. This is because if a person was always thinking about ‘the day of their death’, then they would not wish to build and plant in a world that is not theirs. Consequently, when God sought to populate His world, He placed the love of life in the heart of each one of us to the point that we rarely think about the day of our death and it is concealed from us as if we will live forever. And even though we all see with our own eyes that death occurs on a daily basis, and that even the healthy and strong can suddenly die, nevertheless we each imagine that the cup of death won’t come our way, and with this [confidence] we involve ourselves in activities in this world with boundless passion and energy.”
As should be clear, according to this explanation, the concept of מכוסין not only refers to insights and facts that are not revealed to us, but also, to insights and facts that we ‘cover over’ ourselves and that we avoid confronting so that we can remain focused on our task and mission in this world.
Similarly, Rabbi Taksin explains that the reason why ‘the day of consolation’, or what he translates as ‘the day of hope’ is concealed from us is because, “without the hope that we have to be comforted from our anguish, and without the constant belief that the next event will bring us clarity and salvation… then the burden that we carry in lives would be impossible to carry and we would simply lose our minds. Therefore, God made it part of our nature that the day of consolation is concealed from us and that the time when our salvation is reached is not known to us.”
While these interpretations are clearly very insightful, they seem particularly pertinent as we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Shvat today (which is a month that symbolizes growth), during – and after almost a full year of living through – a global pandemic in which each of us have carried and are carrying many worries and many concerns and about which there remains so much uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring.
But as Rabbi Taksin explains, while we all like to know everything, there are certain things that we are not told and that we choose not to recall on a regular basis, because if we did know the future, we would not respond to the present with the focus and energy that God wants and needs from us.
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