Parshat Re'eh and Hadran--on Finishing Tractate Zevachim and the choices we make

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
August 11, 2018
Parshat Re’eh

Author's Note.  It is a mitzvah to celebrate the conclusion of the study of a volume of Talmud.  One teaches the final verses and then says the "Hadran" which is a long prayer, concluding with a special kaddish.  This past Shabbat I had the honor of concluding the book of Zevachim.  After teaching about Parshat Re'eh and this volume of Talmud, I offered the prayer.  I did translate some of it, but apparently I wasn't entirely clear what I was doing.  Thank you for helping me with this "siyyum", this celebratory completion of the tractate.  It was especially amazing, because we had a Simchat Shabbat and were already celebrating many happy occasions at CBI!  Thanks especially to Fred and Maureen and the CBI Sisterhood for sponsoring the incredible lunch we had this week.

Koren Edition Talmud # 34 - Zevachim Part 2 Full Color [Hardcover] Full Size

This week we open with some of the most famous words in the Torah.
רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃
See, this day I set before you blessing and curse:
אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I enjoin upon you this day;
וְהַקְּלָלָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְסַרְתֶּ֣ם מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לָלֶ֗כֶת אַחֲרֵ֛י אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יְדַעְתֶּֽם׃ (ס)
and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.

These words are incredibly important. They remind us that ultimately, we have choices in our lives. At every moment, from when we wake up until we fall asleep at night, we have choices. Although it seems straightforward, it is actually a very difficult lesson. From a young age, we choose not to take responsibility. We blame our parents, our friends, our genetics. Yet, the Torah teaches us that WE alone are the rulers of our destiny.

I could stand here and share with you quotes from every faith, from scienentific theories to relgiious arguments, yet in a way, this statement is one dependent upon faith. We can live our lives as if we have no control or we can choose to take the reigns. This does not mean we have control over everything.

All the way back in 1934, Reinhold Niehbuhr wrote what came to be known as the serenity prayer: ”God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

We need only look at the world and see that we do not have control over the entire universe, but there is one place where we have almost complete control--our minds. The almost is key. Many of us suffer from anxiety, depression, neuroses and other mental health diseases. We do not have complete control. Yet, the choices we make, the ways we take care of ourselves, can affect how we see the world.

Edison is first reported as saying "Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration" sometime around 1902, in the September 1932 edition of Harper's Monthly Magazine.

In Talmud Brachot 33b, we see a statement from Rabbi Hanina:

ואמר רבי חנינא הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים שנאמר ועתה ישראל מה ה׳ אלהיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה
Tangentially, the Gemara cites an additional statement by Rabbi Ḥanina concerning principles of faith. And Rabbi Ḥanina said: Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven. Man has free will to serve God or not, as it is stated: “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12). The Lord asks man to perform these matters because ultimately, the choice is in his hands.

And this is normally where I’d go into a long treatise on free will and predestination. I have read more medieval Jewish philosophy than is probably good for me. But I’m going to short circuit that conversation and go straight to my point.

We do have a choice in life about free will and predestination. We can believe that everything happens without our control--and then we might as well take a nap for the rest of our lives. Or we can believe that our choices have real consequences. We can believe we have the power to make changes in this life, in this world. The funny thing is that if we believe that, we CAN make real change. We can improve our own lives. We can improve the lvies of those around us. We can make a difference in our local community, our city community, our state community, our country, our world. In the coming weeks are primary elections. A few weeks later are the regular elections. You might think your vote doesn’t matter, but in so many places a few hundred or even a dozen votes, a single vote can make the difference. Don’t stay home. Vote right-wing, left-wing, middle-wing. As a rabbi, I believe that it is essential for us to vote according to our Jewish values--but how you interpret them is YOUR CHOICE! Vote as your conscience tells you, but vote! It might not seem as dramatic as the choice between good and evil that the Torah speaks of, but it is no less essential.

I want to take us back to another Talmudic source. On my blog this week, I wrote about my failure to actually cover every page of Talmud. Yet, today is the last day of the Tractate Zevachim. I would like to finish it with you this morning and then say a prayer for finishing it--even imperfectly. This was a tractate focused mainly on sacrifice, on understanding the details of the blood landing and splashing on the altar. How does the priest collect the blood? How is the animal slaughtered? When is the right time? What happens if you mess up in the process? Amidst those sacrificial issues, there were some pretty intense conversations--some of which resonate with me.

On daf 31, we saw that women are kosher kosher slaughterers. There is no reason not to have a female shochet!. On p 57, I saw Rabbi Akiva, a great scholar ask his student, Rabbi Tarforn, to answer a question. We can learn from everyone. We don’t have to have all the answers. On daf 100, I learned about aninut the stage of mourning after death and before burial. On 115, I read about Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, who while killed for their mistakes were also very close to Gd. Even amidst literally, fatal errors, we are not redeemable. We all have the capability of connection, of love, of repentance.

The Tractate closes:
מה לעופות שכן אין הזר כשר בהן תאמר בבמה קטנה שהזר כשר בה לא יהא זמן פסול בה ת"ל (ויקרא ז, יא) וזאת תורת זבח השלמים לעשות זמן במה קטנה כזמן במה גדולה:
The Gemara questions the inference: What is notable about bird offerings? They are notable in that a non-priest is not fit to sacrifice them. Shall you say the same with regard to offerings sacrificed on a small private altar, where a non-priest is fit? No, and consequently they should not be disqualified by time. Therefore, the verse states: “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings” (Leviticus 7:11), which equates all peace offerings, to render the halakha of time with regard to a small private altar identical to the halakha of time with regard to a great public altar. (

[Additional note: It is an honor to celebrate finishing this Tractate of Talmud with you.  Since we have a minyan or ten, I am able to say a special kaddish today, but first, the Hadran, pledging that we will get to study Talmud again together--especially this tractate again.  I pray we will have that opportunity again soon!]

הדרן עלך פרת חטאת וסליקא לה מסכת זבחים

הֲדַרַן עַלָךְ מַסֶּכֶת _____ וְהֲדַרַך עֲלָן, דַּעְתָּן עֲלָךְ מַסֶּכֶת _____ וְדַעְתָּךְ עֲלָן. לָא נִתֽנַשֵׁי מִינָךְ מַסֶּכֶת _____ וְלֹא תִּתֽנַשִׁי מִינַן, לָא בְּעָלְמָא הָדֵין וְלֹא בְּעָלְמָא דְאַָתֵי

We will return to you, Tractate ____ [fill in the name of the tractate], and you will return to us; our mind is on you, Tractate ____, and your mind is on us; we will not forget you, Tractate ____, and you will not forget us – not in this world and not in the next world.
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ אלוקינו ואלוקי אַבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁתְהֵא תּוֹרַתְךָ אוּמוּנִתֵנוּ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה ותְהֵא עִמָנוּ לעוֹלָם הַבָּא. חַנִינָא בַּר פַּפָּא, רַמִי בַּר פַּפָּא, נַחְמָן בַּר פַּפָּא, אַחַאי בַּר פַּפָּא, אַבָּא בַּר פַּפָּא, רַפֽרַם בַּר פַּפָּא, רָכִיש בַּר פַּפָּא, סוֹרְחָב בַּר פַּפָּא, אַדָא בַּר פַּפָּא, דָרוֹ בַּר פַּפָּא.
May it be Your will, our G-d, and the G-d of our fathers, that we should be loyal to Your Torah in this world, and it should be with us in the next world. Chaninah bar Pappa, Rami bar Pappa, Nachman bar Pappa, Achai bar Pappa, Aba bar Pappa, Rafram bar Pappa, Rachish bar Pappa, Sorchav bar Pappa, Ada bar Pappa, Daro bar Pappa.
הַעֲרֵב נָא ה' אֱלֹקינוּ, אֶת דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָתְךָ בְּפִינוּ וּבְפִיפִיּוֹת עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַחְנוּ כּוּלָנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵינוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, כּוּלָנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶךָ וְלוֹמְדֵי תּוֹרָתְךָ. מֵאֹיְבַי, תְּחַכְּמֵנִי מִצְו‍ֹתֶךָ: כִּי לְעוֹלָם הִיא-לִי. יְהִי-לִבִּי תָמִים בְּחֻקֶּיךָ-- לְמַעַן, לֹא אֵבוֹש לְעוֹלָם, לֹא-אֶשְׁכַּח פִּקּוּדֶיךָ: כִּי בָם, חִיִּיתָנִי. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' לַמֽדֵנִי חֻקֶּיךָ.
Please make it sweet, G-d our G-d, the words of Your Torah. In our mouths, and in the mouths of your nation the House of Israel. And it should be that we, all of us, our children and the children of your nation the House of Israel, that we should all know Your name and learn Your Torah. [Psalms 119:98] "Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me." [Psalms 119:80] "Let my heart be complete in Your statutes, in order that I may not be put to shame." [Psalms 119:93] "I will never forget Your precepts; for with them You have quickened me." [Psalms 119:12] "Blessed are You O G-d, teach me Your statutes."
מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אלוקינו ואלוקי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁשַּׂמְתָּ חֶלְקֵנוּ מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ, וְלֹא שַׂמְתָּ חֶלְקֵנוּ מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנוֹת. שֶׁאָנוּ מַשְׁכִּימִים וְהֵם מַשְׁכִּימִים אָנוּ מַשְׁכִּימִים לְדִבְרֵי תּוֹרָה וְהֵם מַשְׁכִּימִים לִדְבָרִים בְּטֵלִים. אָנוּ עֲמֵלִים וְהֵם עֲמֵלִים. אָנו עֲמֵלִים וּמְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר וְהֵם עֲמֵלִים וְאֵינָם מְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר. אָנוּ רָצִים וְהֵם רָצִים. אָנוּ רָצִים לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, וְהֵם רָצִים לִבְאֵר שַׁחַת. שֶׁנֱאמַר: וְאַתָּה אֱלֹקים, תּוֹרִדֵם לִבְאֵר שַׁחַת--אַנְשֵׁי דָמִים וּמִרְמָה, לֹא-יֶחֱצוּ יְמֵיהֶם; וַאֲנִי, אֶבְטַח-בָּךְ.
We give thanks before You, Lord, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, for you gave us a share among those who sit in the study hall, and not among those who sit on street corners. For we arise early, and they arise early; we arise for words of Torah, and they arise for words of emptiness. We work, and they work; we work and receive a reward, and they work and do not receive a reward. We run, and they run; we run towards eternal life, and they run to a pit of desolation. As it says: (Psalms 55:24) "And You, O Lord, bring them down into a pit of desolation, people of blood and deceit will not live out half of their days; and I, I will trust in You."
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אלקי, כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעֲזַרֽתַּנִי לְסַיֵים מַסֶּכֶת _____, כֵּן תּֽעַזְרֵנִי לְהַתְחִיל מְסֶכְתוֹת וּסֽפָרִים אַחֵרים וּלְסַיֵימָם, לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד, לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָתְךָ בְּאַהֲבָה, וּזְכוּת כֹֹּל הַתְנָאִים וְאָמוֹרָאִים וּתַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים יַעֲמוֹד לִי וּלְזַרְעִי שֶׁלֹא תָּמוּש הַתּוֹרָה מִפֽי וּמִפִי זַרְעִי עד עוֹלָם. וַיִתְקַיֵים בִּי: בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ, תַּנְחֶה אֹתָךְ, בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ; וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ, הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ. כִּי-בִי, יִרְבּוּ יָמֶיךָ; וְיוֹסִיפוּ לְּךָ, שְׁנוֹת חַיִּים אֹרֶךְ יָמִים, בִּימִינָהּ; בִּשְׂמֹאולָהּ, עֹשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד. 'ה' עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן; ה', יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם.
May it be your will, Lord my G-d, just as You have helped me to complete tractate _____, so too may you help me to start other tractates and books, and to complete them, to learn and to teach, to observe and to enact and to fulfill all the words of the teaching of your Torah with love. And may the merit of all of the Tannaim and Amoraim and Torah scholars be present for me and for my descendants, to ensure that the Torah does not depart from my mouth and from the mouths of my descendants for all eternity. And may the following be fulfilled for me: (Proverbs 6:22) "When you walk, it will lead you, when you lie down, it will watch over you. When you awake, it will speak with you." (Proverbs 9:11) "For through me your days will be multiplied, and the years of your life will be increased." (Proverbs 3:16) "Length of days is in her right hand; in her left, riches and honor." (Psalms 29:11) "G-d will give strength to his nation, G-d will bless his nation with peace."
יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא בְּעָלְמָא דִּי הוּא עָתִיד לְאִתְחַדְתָּא, וּלְאַחֲיָאה מֵתַיָּא, וּלְאַסָּקָא יַתְּהוֹן לְחַיֵּי עָלְמָא, וּלְמִבְנָא קַרְתָּא דִּי יְרוּשְלֵם, וּלְשַׁכְלְלָא הֵיכָלֵהּ בְּגַוָּהּ, וּלְמֶעֱקַר פּוּלְחָנָא נוּכְרָאָה מִן אַרְעָה, וּלְאָתָבָא פּוּלְחָנָא דִּי שְׁמַיָּא לְאַתְרָהּ, וְיַמְלִיך קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא בּמַלְכוּתֵה וִיקָרֵהּ בְּחַיֵּיכוֹן וּבְיוֹמֵיכוֹן וּבְחַיֵּי דְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא. יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח וְיִתְפָּאַר וְיִתְרוֹמַם וְיִתְנַשֵּׂא וְיִתְהַדָּר וְיִתְעַלֶּה וְיִתְהַלָּל שְׁמֵהּ דְּקֻדְשָׁא. בְּרִיךְ הוּא. לְעֵלָּא (בעשי"ת לְעֵלָּא לְעֵלָּא מִכָּל) מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא וְשִׁירָתָא תֻּשְׁבְּחָתָא וְנֶחֱמָתָא דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְמָא. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן. יְהֵא שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא מִן שְׁמַיָּא וְחַיִּים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם (בעשי"ת הַשָּׁלוֹם) בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן:
...May your great name be made holier and greater, in this world that he is destined to renew and to give life to the dead and raise them to eternal life, to build the city of Yerushalayim, and complete the Beis HaMikdosh in its midst. And to uproot idol worship from the Land, return the service of the Heaven to its place, and the Holy One Blessed Be He shall rule in his majesty and splendor in our lives, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen. May his great name be blessed, forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he- above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to study with you this morning.  Shabbat Shalom!

Koren Edition Talmud # 33 - Zevachim Part 1 Full Color [Hardcover] Full Size