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May 16, 2006

do as much as you can or try to be perfect?

We learned in daf yomi last night an interesting dilemma. We are concluding Tractate Pesachim, but are learning an earlier section, as we adjusted the schedule to learn the 10th perek before Pessach and then went back to complete what we skipped.

The Gemarah discussed whether the bones of the Korban pessach need to be burned the next day (really two days later because of the chag). The premise is that the Torah says not to leave over any meat. Any meat left over must be burned. No bones are allowed to be broken. The Gemarah's concern is regarding the bone marrow. The marrow has the status of meat and therefore must be eaten. however there is no way to access the marrow without breaking the bones, yet you are not allowed to break bones of the korban. A dilemma.

The Torah seemingly is giving a commandment that is impossible to fulfill. Eat all the meat, but you can't! By default, we are given a mitzva that we cannot completely do, and we are given a negative commandment that we have to transgress!

This obviously turned into a big discussion and debate during the shiur. What does God want from us? Are we meant to try to do things perfectly the way we are commanded to and complete things 100%? Are we meant just to try as hard as we can? Are we meant to just do as much as we can (even if it means not trying too hard)?

I know Rabbi Tarfon says in Pirkei Avot (2:19) that the task is not incumbent upon you to complete, but you are not free to desist from it. To me that means you have to try as hard as you can to do something properly and to complete something to the best of your abilities, even if you go into it knowing that you have no chance of doing 100%. You cannot do it halfheartedly, figuring you will accomplish whatever you accomplish and at least you tried. That is not good enough for a Jew. We have to try our best and put forth our best efforts.

27 comments:

  1. µ good lesson, some undertakings look so huge we're afraid to even start considering working on them.
    But if we know that the trying alone ahs inherent value than the fence to try is lower.

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  2. While I believe that meat and marrow should have a different status for a variety of reasons let's assume for this post that they have the same status.

    Could you not say that while the bone is intact and you have no access to the meat (marrow) there is no obligation because you are not allowed to break a bone. However, if a bone breaks, for example, rosating at direct flame in high heat may cause a bone to crack, when the meat (marrow) is exposed you then and only then have the obligation to access the available portion.

    Also, what about brains and other organ meats (which is basically what marrow is)?

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  3. mmmm mmm mmmmm!!!

    boy am I getting hungry. all this talk about marech and brains and organs - hey pass that last hot dog please!

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  4. hmmmmm....hot dogs.

    as a follow up to my previous thought, I think that my logic has a judaic basis stemming from yom kippur where it is a mitzvah to eat on yom kippur for health reasons. This shows that do as much as you can or be perfect are not by defanition opposing ideas. Depending on the circumstances what would normally be permissable or not permissable may be revearsed.

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  5. actually, Dan, the gemorah tonight discussed if the bone cracked on its own from the fire...
    I also suggested the differences you suggested, meat/marrow, what you can get to and what you cannot, etc.. but the gemorah says there is no difference..
    BTW, the gemorah tonight also discussed brain. It said there is a way to get to the brain without crackign the skull - i.e. through the nose or back/top of the mouth...

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  6. As someone who has a background in software, as you know, there is no such thing as a perfect program. So too in life, especially as a Jew, we can never acheive perfection, only strive towards it. It's never giving up the notion of Tikun Olam even though we know we're against all oods.

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  7. dreams - very true - that was my point. even though we know we cannot do it 100% success, we still must try, rather than go into the deal knowing we will not succeed, therefore only giving a halfhearted effort..

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  8. that's a great lesson, if you don't know about success. But here by the korban, you are gauranteed failure. you are told up front that there is a contradiction in halacha. Your lesson doesn't apply here. Here there is no maybe. There is a definite failure. I agree in a case of doubt or unknown, one must try the hardest one can to ensure as much fulfillment as possible. but here is different.

    I like the lesson, just not feling it here.

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  9. shaya - good point. So what would you say? Can a person just leave over meat, not being careful to finish everything, since anyway he has to leave some (marrow) over?
    I guess he still has to make sure to finish all the meat and for the marrow he might have the status of "annus"

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  10. I have 2 simple comments: 1 - I am sure if we were still doing korban pesach today we would have a clear and definite answer. Since we aren't, we generally focus our abilities on more "relavant" mitzvos, such as technology vs. shabbos and yom tov sheni shel goliut, as it relates to people with 15 houses.. (mmm... 15 houses). Not to belittle the learning, but are we asking l'meisa or for the sake of learning? The gemara does answer "teiku" at times. Hard to answer that these days... 2- all this talk about brains reminds me of the time i disected a pig in Bio. By the time I managed to get the skull open, the brain was pretty much squashed to a pile of mush. Those skulls are tough cookies, let me tell you....

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  11. As long as we are on the topic, from the orthodox perspective, why were korban's (in general not just pesach) stopped? And I am hoping to have a more detailed answer then the destruction of the temple....why did sacrifice not revert back to the way it was pre-temple?

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  12. dan g - I do not know. I would guess that once they declared it prohibited there was no going back.. maybe one of the other readers can answer your question. anybody?

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  13. team driver -
    1.the point is to take the lesson and apply it to mitzvas we do and to anything we do..
    2. gross

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  14. The gemora brings a passuk "el hamenucha vel hanachala" and states that after the menuchah, referring to the bais hamikdosh, there is no heter anymore for bamos, private altars.

    Dan will not be satisfied with this, like we debated before

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  15. danny - the gemorah/rabbis paskened that after the 2nd temple destruction the kedusha remained in it's place. this prohibited "bamos" being built willy-nilly. why - don't know, but that's the p'sak. amybe the rabbis saw the carefulness to the laws of tahara going downhill and wanted to prevent huge errors regarding the halachos of korbanus. maybe not.

    rafi - I do not have an answer to your stirah in the halacha. it isn't the first time - not for my lack of an answer, nor for a stirah in halacha. maybe - just maybe - it goes back to a previous discussion of subjectiity in halacha. where here, the 2 halachos were paskuned seperatley and then put together later, and the stirah was shrugged off.

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  16. I am not religious, but do believe these teachings have meaning insofar as they are applied to life and the challenges that come up in it. As you said, "the point is to take the lesson and apply it to mitzvas we do and to anything we do." (I don't know that "to mitzvas we do" is not redundant, but to each his own). The lesson brought to mind my attitude to my job's current workload and its complications, which make me want to throw up my hands and deliberately and in a sulky, premeditated way retreat from my usual high standards. Maybe the point of this is indeed when life throws the big challenges that we're sure we can't excel at, that we give it our very best shot anyway instead of taking the attitude of wimps or losers about it. That is the challenge in front of me at my job, and we'll see if I meet it or not. Aaaargh.

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  17. aneinu - thanks.
    Shaya - maybe, but they usually don't just shrug things off.. also, the issur is in the Torah, not rabbinic, so it is not 2 separate added issurim being joined at a later time..

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  18. square - good application..

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  19. raf - the issur is not rabbinic, but it's translation and application is. regardless, it was a stab at a possible reason. I don't have a good answer. I don't want to be the party pooper for all those who liked your lesson and have advanced it, but I just didn't feel that in the face of a "definite failure", how it applied. BUT, to those who do, Kol Hakavod.

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  20. I understand the problem when you are facnig a definite failure.. it is more difficult in such circumstances, though I still believe you should give your 100% to the amount you can do..... When things are not so definite though..

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  21. You are correct, I am not satisfied. I recognize the logic of the answer insofar as when you need an answer and you find an answer and you can create a rule to back up the answer you then have a logical loop that satisfies some.However, I think I am not satisfied with the answer because of 1st,the amount of space the torah devotes to the topic. 2nd,I am again frustrated by how easily the rules were done away with by following the progression of logic that the rabbis created laws, like limiting korbans to the temple, and then when the temple is gone they do away with it altogether. Meanwhile in all the pages and pages and pages the torahevotes to the topic it makes no mention of the temple or limiting korbans to the temple or any part of the slippery slope that the rabbis set this rule of korban down.
    I guess this is one example of how the rules changed to fit the needs of the orthodox rabbis.

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  22. dan - I got confused somewhere in there reading your comment.. I lost the line..

    Anyway, I am not sure what you mean by fitting their needs. What needs did they have that abolishing sacrifices altogether fit them?

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  23. Rafi,

    in every religion, kingdom, political structure through the world's history consolidation of power revolves around a solitary point. Constantinople (named after constatine) for the early christians and then the vatican. Tibet and the dali lama for the budhhists which china is tryin to shift to china and their appointed lama. Washington dc and the capital bldg the mayan tribe and their great temple etc. The early jews built the temple of soloman which created a central location and solidified the culture of the jews. However it was the ability of jews to offer sacrifices on their own wherever and whenever that limited the power of the kings and sanhedrin. When the jews were forced to attend the temple for all sacrifices it centralized and solidified power and flow of money to the temple, the leviites, the rabbis and jerusalem the capital. Similar to the pilgramage the muslims make to mecca for the haj. So there was a clear practical reason to create the rule that jews could only make sacrifices in the temple.
    I guess it depends on whether you envision the early jews as humans with the same politics and cause and effect as humans today, or do you see those early jews as purely spiritual beings who could do no wrong and whose every rule and regulation were pure of heart and transcribed by god through them.

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  24. Dan - I understand what you mean now. I do not have any answer that will be satisfactory to you right now. The Orthodox response, I assume, would be to deny that the idea of the Temple was centralized power for the Rabbis/Kings, rather was a central place of worship to Hashem and was not to be abused by the Rabbis/kings, who sometimes might have..

    Maybe somebody else can provide a better answer to the specific issue..

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