Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 1 Pt. 6

by Jhos Singer, SVARA Fellow

אָמְרוּ לוֹ אִם כֵּן אֵין לַדָּבָר סוֹף
[The Rabbis] said [to Rabbi Yehuda], “If so, there is no end to the matter.”

Rabbinic tennis is underway, and today the rabbis score a point against Rabbi Yehuda by slamming down the big Jewish Idea of “אֵין לַדָּבָר סוֹף”, literally meaning “isn’t/not to the matter an end”. Or to quote mis-quote one of the most transgressive, brilliant, narcissistic, unapologetic and outrageous Jewish Queers who ever lived—the one and only Gertrude Stein–“there is no there there”. That is to say, the logic being presented of “replace the replacement” has no natural end point. It’s like Pi, which is irrational and just keeps going and going and going and going. Therefore the rabbis are pushing back, hitting hard, and trying to squash this idea before it takes off. The incredible thing is that they left this move of theirs right out in the open for us to see!! Why would they do that? It’s an interesting bit of the culture!!

I love a nice, simple Hebrew noun once in a while, so the word I’m focusing on today is סוֹף / sof, meaning end or finish. It’s closely related to to סוּף / soof, which means reed, bullrush, to cut, to be cut off, to end. It can also shift into other aspects such as to diminish, to exterminate, to fail or be late in ripening, to be left on the tree beyond cutting time, to remain, to finish, to destroy. It is interesting to me how we hold end points. Some endings are celebratory moments of matriculation or hard earned transformation, others are grief filled losses such as death. How we end things is as important as how we started them. I wonder here if the Rabbis are trying to nip something in the bud by putting the brakes on this proposal, and if so, why.

The brilliance of the foundational Rabbinic centuries is found, in my estimation, in their ability to have both chutzpah and chesed, guts and kindness. They are like a cultural mop-up crew who come into a trashed spiritual landscape and start salvaging what might still have value. They carefully examine every chunk of debris before they put it in the “chuck it” or “keep it” pile. And this is where the genius really kicks in–they never quite get around to taking that trip to the dump, and the “chuck it” pile is still ours to draw from. As R. Mónica says, “They couldn’t have imagined that we would end up here in this beit midrash, but they made it inevitable and irresistible that we would.” So glad to be a part of this ever unfolding wisdom tradition!!

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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