Kindness (19a-19b)

Today’s daf continues our discussion from yesterday. The dead may or may not be oblivious, and they may or may not care, but our actions ought to err on the side that they are not (oblivious) and that they do (care). But perhaps even more to the point is that if we ought not be oblivious of the impact of our own actions on the dead, then how much more so the impact of our actions on the living. In part this is what today’s daf is about …

We read that certain prohibitions are suspended out of respect for a mourner. An example provided is that of a mourner who takes the “tamei” (impure) road rather than the “tahor” (pure) road. The others should accompany him on the “tamei” road even though it is prohibited, out of respect for the mourner. There is further extensive discussion about roads, traveling, coffins, and avoiding the impurity of the dead.

Rav’s earlier stringent teaching about these matters is thus challenged with others arguing that “The value of human dignity is so great that it supersedes even a negative commandment of the Torah”.  The Gemara further asks how this could be so? And then we read “Let us rather have said there is no value to wisdom or understanding or counsel when weighed against the honor of Hashem”.

Honoring the other is the same as honoring the One.

So I read this to mean that all of the conversation and debate cannot stand up if it justifies hurting another person or depriving her of her dignity. In other words, the Rabbis themselves “relax[ed] their legislation for the sake of human dignity”. For further elaboration on this and the source for this interpretation from Rashi, check out footnote 25 in ArtScroll 19-b3.]

I further conclude that we ought not get sidetracked by some of the rhetorical style of the Gemara; as our reading weaves us in and out of different aspects of an argument and several seemingly irrelevant comments, we have evidence here of underlying concern for others, even when they trespass or make mistakes. I like that.

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