Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rabbi Yishmael: About It and Not It

In the beginning of morning services, we recite passages regarding the sacrificial order. We then proceed to a chapter of Mishnah (Eizehu Mekoman) and then the introductory passage to the Sifra/Toras Kohanim (Rabbi Yishmael). The Avudraham explains that we specifically study passages of Torah, Mishnah and Talmud (in the classical sense) in order to fulfill the dictates of the Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) to study each day some Torah, Mishnah and Talmud. (See also Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah to Berakhos 11a.)

The Avudraham suggests that one reason "Rabbi Yishmael" was chosen is because it is at the beginning of the Sifra, which is largely about sacrifices. Also, because Midrash is consider Talmud.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains these reasons in his commentary to the Siddur:

It was chosen because it appears at the beginning of the Sifra, the halachic commentary to Leviticus, which is the source of most of the laws of offerings. It also reminds us of the indissoluble connection between the Written Law (the Mosaic books) and the Oral Law (Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud). Rabbi Ishmael's principles show how the latter can be derived from the former.
What I find interesting is that the choice of passage for Talmud discusses methodology rather than a specific law or issue. It is actually very unrepresentative of Talmud in general, which is supposed to explain and explore the reasoning behind laws of the Mishnah.

However, we can certainly see from this selection of passages that learning "about it" -- studying the methodology of Torah transmission and derivation -- is an equal part of Talmud Torah and not something to be dismissed or overlooked.

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