Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Power of the Word -Berachot 19b-20a

Often when I teach Gemara my students quibble with the many Halakhic complexities that our rabbis derive from even one word of the Torah text. For example, on the bottom of yesterday's daf and the top of today's our sages derive that while someone who is going to bring קרבן פסח or to perform ברית מילה on his son cannot be מטמא if he hears that a close relative dies, he can and should be מטמא for a מת מצוה, an unidentified deceased person who has no one to bury him. The topic of מת מצוה and the importance of כבוד הבריות, human dignity, is a fascinating one which I hope to revisit in future postings.

This halakha is derived from the following verse:

ז לְאָבִיו וּלְאִמּוֹ, לְאָחִיו וּלְאַחֹתוֹ--לֹא-יִטַּמָּא לָהֶם, בְּמֹתָם: כִּי נֵזֶר אֱלֹקיו, עַל-רֹאשׁו

He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because his consecration unto God is upon his head.

How do they derive this? From the seemingly extra word וּלְאַחֹתוֹ. The Gemara deduces that since we already know one can't become impure for a brother, the extra word sister must teach us that while for a relative one cannot become impure, one is obligated to make himself impure for the מת מצוה.

These are the types of דרשות that drive many of my students crazy. All this from an extra word? What difference does this word make? Today when I inadvertently made a mistake with one extra word in a Lookjed Listserve posting, I discovered how powerful an extra word can be.

I was commenting about this blog and the move by many to utilize social media for the Daf Yomi using the hashtag #DafChat and #DafYomi. I wrote:

In addition to the various Daf Yomi resources listed, many of us have been working to create a Daf Yomi community online through various social media and Web 2.0 tools. The progressive vision of Rav Meir Schapiro that Jews worldwide should all be on "the same page" and the power of Twitter to allow real-time global discussion seems like a natural shiduch.

I have blogged about using the hashtag #DafChat (#DafYomi is also a natural one) to facilitate this discussion. You can read my blog post here: http://techrav.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-siyumhashas-140edu-and-importance.html

One great example of this is the new twitter account Tweet The Daf, http://twitter.com/TweetTheDaf, devoted to sending 3-5 to tweets daily about the Daf.

I have also created a new blog devoted to discussion of the Daf. You can access it here: http://dafchat.blogspot.com/ I welcome your comments, constructive feedback, and guest blog posts so that this can truly become a world-wide Daf Chat.

Here's hoping that we can continue to live-tweet the Daf Yomi for the next 7 and 1/2 years (assuming Twitter is still around then).

Note the word "also" that I have placed in bold and italics. I meant to give three examples about using social media for the Daf Yomi: my TechRav blog post, a great twitter account called TweetTheDaf, and this new DafChat blog. I did NOT mean to imply that I created the TweetTheDaf Twitter account. I have not. I merely wanted to publicize this great resource and, since the name of the creator of TweetTheDaf is not listed on the account, I did not think it was appropriate to share it on a public forum.

However, from some emails that I have received in response to my posting, I appear to have caused a misunderstanding by adding the extra word also. This word implied to some that I was saying that in addition to the blog post and new blog, I had also created this TweetTheDaf Twitter account, which is NOT true. (One of the reasons for this post is so I can publicly correct this misunderstanding.)

This has been a humbling lesson for me about the power of the word. Every extra word, especially in a written format has a meaning and one must be VERY careful when composing responses. When speaking one has the benefit of verbal and visual cues like inflexion and body language. All of this is not possible in a written forum. Every word counts so choose your words CAREFULLY. This is especially important when writing on social media whether in blogs, Twitter, or Facebook, since one potentially could be writing for a very large audience.

If this is true for human beings then kal vechomer the same is true for the divinely written words of the Torah. Hashem carefully chose each word in the Torah for a reason. It is only logical that our sages should seek to derive lessons and halakhot from every single word of the Torah.

I would like to publicly thank the creator of TweetTheDaf for the valuable service he has done להגדיל תורה ולהדירה and apologize for any misunderstanding that I might poorly chosen words in my Lookjed posting might have caused.

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