Friday, May 1, 2009

I've been AWOL for several weeks. As I try to resume my reading and writing, I was very much struck by the stories of R' Zeira, and came to think that this was a sage that I would have liked to know.

He could hear a (possibly fatuous) aggadic midrash on a verse and respond that exactly the opposite interpretation was equally plausible. (text 496)

He combined great humility and great intensity -- when he made aliya from Babylonia, he crossed the river at the flood rather than await a fordable shallows, lest he commit some sin in the interim that would deprive him of the merit needed to make aliya. (text 502)

Upon making aliya, he consciously obliterated from his mind the Torah of Babylonia and re-educated himself in the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. (text 504). Was this because he thought the latter inherently superior? If so, wouldn't he have opted for the latter even while still in Babylonia? Perhaps it was rather that he perceived that a system or approach to Torah must depend to some extent on the circumstances, and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael was somehow more appropriate to living in that place. Still, the commitment to a re-programming is impressive. (Something of a piece with this is his willingness to reverse his position, as shown in text 495 on running to hear the sermon on Shabbat.)

Another incident showing his impressive ability and willingness to reverse course, and the nimbleness of his mind, as well as his humility and intensity, is the story (text 506) that he first said he wished his parents were still alive so that he could honor them, and that he then expressed relief that they were no longer alive, because he was convinced that he could not honor them as much as he should.

I'm inclined to think that he was too dismissive of aggada and too trusting in the solidity of halacha (texts 496-497), but there's something to be said for the groundedness that comes when decisions have to be put into actual practice. Still, this was an intriguing guy.

1 comment:

Howard said...

Welcome back. Perhaps sometimes a mind can be to nimble.