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Avodah Zarah, Daf Het, Part 2
Reading for Monday, August 7
Avodah Zarah 8-2
The Talmud begins to explain the holidays mentioned in the mishnah.
גמ׳ אמר רב חנן בר רבא קלנדא ח’ ימים אחר תקופה סטרנורא ח’ ימים לפני תקופה וסימנך (תהלים קלט, ה) אחור וקדם צרתני וגו’.
GEMARA. R. Hanan b. Rava said: Kalenda is kept on the eight days following the [winter] equinox. Saturnalia on the eight days preceding the equinox. As a mnemonic take the verse, “You hedge me behind and before” (Psalms 139:5).
Hanan b. Rava identifies when these two Roman holidays fall, and provides a mnemonic for remembering which is before and which is after the equinox. Note that the mnemonic makes sense only if you remember the Mishnah. The odd thing about the Mishnah is that it lists the second holiday first.
ת”ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח’ ימים בתענית [ובתפלה] כיון שראה תקופת טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים הוא קבעם לשם שמים והם קבעום לשם עבודת כוכבים.
Our rabbis taught: When the first Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, “Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion. This then is the death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!” So he began keeping an eight days fast. When he saw the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, “This is the way of the world,” and he went out and made an eight day festival. In the following year he appointed both as festivals. He established them for the sake of Heaven, but they established them for the sake of idolatry.
This is an etymological story of the origins of Kalenda and Saturnalia. Some scholars also point to this story as the origin of why we light candles on Hannukah. Holidays around the winter solstice are often associated with fire, as a way of noting the beginning of the days getting longer, or to at least bring light to the darkest days of the year (in the northern hemisphere). There is also a sense here of cultural expropriation—your holidays were originally our holiday (in a sense) and you corrupted them. While there is of course a negative side to this phenomenon, the supremacist ideology it espouses, it also seems to me quite natural.
בשלמא למ”ד בתשרי נברא העולם יומי זוטי חזא יומי אריכי אכתי לא חזא אלא למ”ד בניסן נברא העולם הא חזא ליה יומי זוטי ויומי אריכי?
דהוי זוטי כולי האי לא חזא
This makes sense according to the one who holds that the world was created in Tishrei, for he had seen short days, but he had not yet seen longer days; but according to the one who holds that the world was created in Nisan, Adam must have seen the long days as well as the short ones!
Still, he had not yet seen the very short days.
There is a dispute in rabbinic literature over when the world was created—Tishrei or Nisan. If the world was created in Tishrei, then Adam had never seen a long day, so we can understand why he was afraid. But if it was created in Nisan, then he’d already seen short days which grew longer and then began to grow shorter. Couldn’t he have figured out what was going on?
The (somewhat weak) answer is that he had not yet seen such short days.
ת”ר יום שנברא בו אדם הראשון כיון ששקעה עליו חמה אמר אוי לי שבשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי ויחזור עולם לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים היה יושב בתענית ובוכה כל הלילה וחוה בוכה כנגדו כיון שעלה עמוד השחר אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא עמד והקריב שור שקרניו קודמין לפרסותיו שנאמר (תהלים סט, לב) “ותיטב לה’ משור פר מקרין מפריס”
Our rabbis taught: On the day that the world was created, the first Adam, when he saw the setting of the sun he said, “Woe is me, it is because I have sinned that the world around me is becoming dark; the universe will now become again void and without form. This then is the death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!” So he sat up all night fasting and weeping and Eve was weeping opposite him. When however dawn broke, he said, “This is the way of the world!” He then arose and offered up a bull whose horns were developed before its hooves, as it is said, “And it [my thanksgiving] shall please the Lord better than a bull that is horned and has hooves” (Psalms 69:32).
Poor Adam, always getting afraid of the dark! This story seems to explain a curious verse from Psalms. Why would the verse say “a bull that has horns and hooves”? Don’t most bulls have them? Is there any reason to note that the bull has these features? The midrash reads this as a bull whose horns were created before its hooves. Now there can only have been one such bull in all of history—the first bull. And who else could have sacrificed the first bull—Adam. So Adam must be saying this verse. And why would Adam offer thanksgiving—because the sun went away and the came back again. It’s actually quite a remarkable piece of exegetical thinking.
ואמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל שור שהקריב אדם הראשון קרן אחת היתה [לו] במצחו שנאמר “ותיטב לה’ משור פר מקרין מפריס”
מקרין תרתי משמע
אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק מקרן כתיב
Rav Judah said in the name of Shmuel: The bull which Adam offered had only one horn in its forehead, as the verse says, “And it shall please the Lord better than a bull that is horned and hooves.” But does not “horned’ imply two horns? R. Nahman b. Yitzchak said: “Horned” is here spelt [defectively].
Here is the origin of the Jewish version of the unicorn. There was once a unicorn in the world. But alas, Adam sacrificed it. This would seem to explain a difficult point with the earlier midrash. If Adam sacrificed an animal then there would be no other descendants of that animal. So what animal must that have been? The unicorn! Another great story.