Doorkeepers and Ash Jugs: Berakhot 28

The story about the deposing of Rabban Gamliel continues in today’s Daf Yomi reading (B. Ber. 28). Big changes in the academy, following his removal, include dismissing the “doorkeeper (shomer ha-petach, [שׁוֹמֵר הַפֶּתַח])”:

תָּנָא אוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם, סִלְּקוּהוּ לְשׁוֹמֵר הַפֶּתַח וְנִתְּנָה לָהֶם רְשׁוּת לַתַּלְמִידִים לִיכָּנֵס
On that day, the doorkeeper was removed and permission granted to the students to enter.
שֶׁהָיָה רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל מַכְרִיז וְאוֹמֵר
Rabban Gamliel had proclaimed:
כׇּל תַּלְמִיד שֶׁאֵין תּוֹכוֹ כְּבָרוֹ, לֹא יִכָּנֵס לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ
Any student whose inside is not like his exterior will not enter the study hall.

Once the doorkeeper, along with this test (of character or purity), was removed, so many new students arrived that 400 (or maybe 700) new benches were required. On that day, there was no halakhah not fully explained, and even Rabban Gamliel was not absent.

But when Gamliel saw all the new students, he became alarmed:

דִּלְמָא חַס וְשָׁלוֹם מָנַעְתִּי תּוֹרָה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל
He said: Perhaps, Heaven forbid, I prevented Yisrael from engaging in Torah study.
אַחְזוֹ לֵיהּ בְּחֶלְמֵיהּ חַצְבֵי חִיוָּרֵי דְּמַלְיִין קִטְמָא
He’s shown in a dream white jugs filled with ashes.
וְלָא הִיא, הַהִיא לְיַתּוֹבֵי דַּעְתֵּיהּ, הוּא דְּאַחְזוֹ לֵיהּ
That is not the case, he was shown this to appease him.

This vision is explained by many teachers as Gamliel suspecting that the newcomers to the Beit Midrash were ones whose insides did not match their outsides (white jugs containing ashes). But the editorial voice tells us this is not true but intended to make Gamliel feel better…

…pursuing Daf Yomi means leaving such powerful points for discussion some other time. Before we speed on to the next day’s page, however, it might be worth asking ourselves:

When we notice that we have been excluding people or their perspectives and concerns from our understanding, are we tempted to diminish those perspectives or people, as a way of protecting ourselves and our worldviews?


Inside and Outside

Yesterday’s post mentioned Rabban Gamliel telling a student to wait until the “shield masters (ba’alei terisin, [בעלי תריסין])” arrive before raising a point of contention. These ba’alei terisin are variously understood as those who battle over Torah, scholars who protect Torah from being forgotten, or some sort of officers who work in conjunction with the Romans.

Very near the end of Ber. 27, Roman rule is mentioned explicitly. Among the reasons given for choosing R. Elazar ben Azarya (Eleazar b. Azariah) as a leader is that he is rich and so can “if need be, pay homage to Caesar’s court.” Commentaries suggest this could involve travel expense, taxes, bribes, and other costs of appearing in front of Caesar, lobbying and negotiating.

Through the filter of Roman rule, the doorkeeper in today’s reading might look something like a contemporary security guard or a bouncer tasked with keeping out informants. But Rabban Gamliel’s entrance exam, so to speak, appears to function in other ways.

Rabban Gamliel seems to be demanding that students look and/or behave in certain ways in order to testify that their “insides” deserve to be included. This suggests that he, or his doorkeeper, can see character or intention. But then Gamliel visits Rabbi Yehoshua and apparently notices for the first time that Yehoshua works hard for a living.

R. Yehoshua responds: “Alas for the generation of which you are the leader, seeing that you know nothing of the troubles of the scholars, their struggles to support and sustain themselves!”

This returns to the inside/outside test Rabban Gamliel proclaimed, but turns it on its head:

You don’t even know what’s going on — It’s interesting, right? He said you have to be [inside matching outside], but he wasn’t looking on the inside of people. He had no idea what was going with the people….
— Rabbanit Michelle Cohen Farber, Hadran
Daf Yomi: Berakhot 28

 

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