June 21, 2020

Shabbat 46

As previously mentioned, Mishna Shabbat (3:6, see Shabbat 44a) records a debate whether an unlit lamp is mukzeh on Shabbat. According to the Sages any lamp may not be handed on Shabbat, while Rabbi Shimon takes the view that only a lit lamp is considered mukzeh. At the same time yesterdays daf (Shabbat 45b) suggested that even Rabbi Shimon would agree that a candalabra may not be moved on Shabbat.

With this background we can now understand the confusion generated by the testimony found in today’s daf (Shabbat 46a) where we are informed by Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi that Rebbi (i.e. Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi) once travelled to Deiospera ‘and gave a ruling with regard to a candelabra as Rabbi Shimon had done with regard to a lamp’.

In general, testimony involving such an important rabbinic personality as Rebbi is afforded significant halachic weight, but in this case Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi’s testimony is unclear. As the Gemara asks: ‘Does this mean that Rebbi ruled permissibly about moving a candelabra just as Rabbi Shimon did about a lamp? Or perhaps he forbade moving a candelabra but, like Rabbi Shimon, permitted moving a lamp?’. Unfortunately, by the time this discussion took place in the study halls of the Talmudic sages many years had passed since the original episode, both Rebbi and Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi had by this point passed away, and no further testimony was offered to shed light on this episode. Thus the Gemara concludes this particular discussion with the word ‘Teyku’ as if to say we will never quite know what happened and as such this must remain an unanswerable question.

Today is Yom HaShoah VeHaGevurah. It is a day of pause and reflection and a day when we invest time listening to the testimony of those who came before us. Yet for so many of us, notwithstanding the testimony that has been recorded and passed on to us, our understanding of the actions, lives and personalities of our ancestors is also highly incomplete. Some of us know where our family came from but perhaps not all their names. Others may know their names but not quite what happened to them. And others may know much about the deaths of their relatives, but little about their personalities and the values that mattered most to them. But unlike Rebbi and Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi – both of whom died natural deaths – time alone is not the reason why so much of our personal and national family history is incomplete. Instead, it was due to the viciousness of the Nazi’s who snatched and murdered our people that meant that they were unable to pass on their whole story to the next generation. Simply put, to live in the generations after the Holocaust is to live with many unanswerable questions and with many ‘Teyku’s.

Still, something remarkable happens each time the Gemara invokes the word ‘Teyku’ which is that the conversation continues – or as we say in yiddish, we ‘go veiter’ – notwithstanding these unanswered questions, and in a similar vein there is something truly remarkable about our people that notwithstanding the many painful holes in our history, in our individual hearts, and in the collective heart of our people, we ‘go veiter’ and we too continue.

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