March 18, 2022

Yevamot 10

Purim Sameach! Yesterday’s daf (Yevamot 9a) contained an insult said by Rebbi about his student Levi – כמדומה לי שאין לו מוח בקדקדו, ‘it seems that he has no brain in his head’ – because Rebbi felt that Levi should have invested more effort in his Talmudic reasoning, and in today’s daf (Yevamot 10a) we find that the Gemara invests effort to try and understand what, precisely, was Rebbi’s gripe against his student.
Yet while we can debate the appropriateness and efficacy of such words being said by a teacher to their student, the reason I wish to mention this insult is to highlight how it has been inverted in the writings of those like the Ba’al HaTanya (R’ Shnuer Zalman of Liadi, 1745-1812) who explains in Chapter 17 of the Tanya that love of God, though it often ‘does not glow openly like flaming coals’, is something felt by all those שיש לו מוח בקדקדו – with a brain in their head.
What this means is that rather than using these words as an insult, he took them, inverted them, and used them as a complement. He harnessed words that were used to highlight what someone lacked, and used them to highlight what others have. He turned a negative and flipped it to be used as a positive.
Today is Purim whose theme is וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא (Esther 9:1), ie. the turning of the negative into the positive. And as we know, there are unfortunately times when people say things that are negative either about Jews in general, or about us as individuals. But the message we can learn from this interpretation of today’s daf is that we can flip the negative into the positive, we can receive an insult and turn it into a blessing, we can take a threat and turn it into a victory, and we can be threatened with danger and turn it into a triumph.
Wishing you all Purim Sameach!
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