Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Post Shavuos thoughts and comments

Shavuos was grand, thanks for asking. As in previous years, all sorts of magical, mystical heights were reached via the eating of blintzes and the annual neglecting of the actual biblical components of the holiday, ie, the barley harvest. Plus, I was completely mevatel the first day of the holiday in deference to the relatively recent custom of staying up all night pretending to learn.  So, all in all great stuff.

Additionally, I encountered the following mysteries and their amazing answers:

Why is the gematria of Ruth's name = 606?

Amazing answer: "The gematria of Ruth is 606. If we add that to the seven mitzvot she already kept as a Bas Noach we get 613, the number of mitzvot she kept after conversion."

Awesome. Only wait....

Problem: If the gematria of Ruth was something else, don't you think the Rabbis would have found a way to make it work anyway? By adding the number of commandments, let's say, or the number of days it took the Jews to get to Sinai after the Exodus? Gematrias are notoriously slippery.

Problem: Ruth didn't keep 613 mitzvos after conversion. Many of them are only applicable to men, or to kohanim, or to land-owners. Ruth was none of those things.

Problem: The math is so exactly suited to the occasion it almost suggests that the author of the story chose the character's name for the purpose of the gematria. (I don't know if Jews played numerology games back when Ruth was written. If not, this problem is obviated)

Why do we eat dairy on Shavuous?

Amazing answer: We eat dairy on Shavuot because Moshe was on the mountain for 40 days, and 40 is the gematria of milk."

Awesome. Only wait....

Problem: So what? Why should the length of his sojourn on Sinai have any bearing on the contents of our holiday menu?

Problem: Does it follow from this that the Sages sat around the wisdom table, planning out new customs when someone said, "Ok, we need something spiffy for Shavuot. Who has ideas?"

I hope I don't sound like a Shavuos grinch. 

In fact, to help defeat the notion that I dislike shavuos, when what I really dislike are dumb people and their dumb approaches to "spirituality," let me share with you the wise words of Rav Zeira in which he pithily captures the true significance of Megilas Ruth. He says:

This Megillah does not teach us any laws of purity or impurity, nor does it teach us any laws of what is permitted or forbidden, so why was it written? To tell us how great is the reward of those who perform acts of kindness

Unfortunately, Rav Zeria is better remembered for being murdered and resurrected by Rabba on one famous Purim. If there was any justice this teaching would have priority instead.

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