Monday, February 26, 2007

My New Roommate (Moed Katan 25a)

As of last week, I have a new roommate. At first, I was excited – after living alone for a while, I thought it would be fun to have a companion. I would not have to worry about noise or distraction, because my roommate never speaks – my roommate is, in fact, incapable of speech. My roommate also isn't too demanding, since this roommate of mine simply lays there on the couch all day. But even so, I found that having a roommate has resulted in some dramatic changes in my daily habits. I can no longer leave the door open when I go to the bathroom; I don't feel comfortable blasting silly music and singing along at the top of my lungs; and suddenly I'm responsible for making sure my roommate gets to shul on time every Shabbat morning.

When I had a friend over two nights ago, we had no place to sit in my small studio – it didn't seem appropriate to carry my roommate up to my lofted bed, nor did it seem right for all three of us to share the couch. I have no chairs in my apartment, and we considered standing, but this was not particularly conducive to an hour-long Gemara chevruta. In the end, my roommate lay on my desk and we took over the couch, although I'm still not sure this was the best solution. After all, given the primacy of Torah she'bichtav over Torah she'b'al peh, can you really move aside a Sefer Torah to make room to study Talmud?

The Gemara in Masechet Moed Katan, which we proceeded to study that evening, considers a dilemma not unlike the one that my friend and I faced:

When Rav Huna died, they decided to put a Sefer Torah on his bed [next to his dead body]. Rav Chisda said to them: You can't do something that Rav Huna himself wouldn't have permitted! As Rav Tachalifa said: We saw one time that Rav Huna wanted to sit on a bed where a Sefer Torah was resting. So he put a jug on the ground and rested the Sefer Torah upon it. Therefore Rav Huna [must have] reasoned that it is forbidden to sit on a bed on which a Sefer Torah is resting.

I don't have any jugs in my apartment, and the Brita filter in my refrigerator would almost certainly have collapsed under the weight of a Sefer Torah. So I guess my desk was the best option, even if it meant finding a new home for my laptop and manuscripts.

By the way, if you are wondering what then happened in the room with the dead body and the Sefer Torah, here is where the sugya gets even more curious:

They could not fit Rav Huna's deathbed through the doorway, so they decided lift it out through the roof. Rav Chisda said to them: But haven't we learned from Rav Huna that a righteous man's honor requires that he exit through the doorway? So they decided to move his dead body to a narrower bed. Rav Chisda said to them: A righteous person's honor is tied to his first bed. How do we know that a righteous person's honor is tied to his first bed? As it is written, "And they carried the ark of the God on a new wagon" (2 Shmuel 6.3). And so they broke down the door [and carried out Rav Huna].

Since moving the ark to a new wagon led to disastrous consequences (namely the death of Uzziah, as described in Samuel), the rabbis learn that the ark should always remain on the same wagon. The ark is compared to a righteous person, since both are holy – thus, just as the ark should not have been moved to a new wagon, so too should Rav Huna not be transferred to a new bed. Ironically, this means that the Sefer Torah--which strikes me as much more similar to an ark than a dead rabbi--is transferred instead. Given this irony, perhaps it was appropriate for me to feel uncomfortable when my friend and I relocated the Torah to make room for us to sit on the couch.

After about a half hour, I relocated to the kitchen to prepare a snack for us to eat. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil, my friend read aloud the end of this sugya, which is also about relocating objects and rabbis:

The rabbis asked: Where should we bury Rav Huna? They decided: Rav Huna taught Torah in Israel, as did Rabbi Chiya, and therefore Rav Huna should be buried beside Rabbi Chiya. They asked: Who should take Rav Huna's body into the cave where Rabbi Chiya is buried? Rav Chaga said: I will do it, because I have the virtues of abiding by my learning, and because until the age of eighteen I never had a seminal emission, and because I used to serve Rav Huna, and I knew of his greatness. For instance, one day Rav Huna's tefillin strap flipped over so that the underside was showing, and he consequently fasted forty fasts.

Rav Chaga took Rav Huna's dead body into the cave. Inside, Yehuda the son of Rabbi Chiya was to the right of his father, and Chizkiya his son was to his left. Yehuda said to Chizkiya: Get up out of respect for Rav Huna. When he got up, a pillar of fire rose up with him. When Rav Chaga saw the pillar of fire, he grew terrified and he put down Rav Huna's coffin and ran out of the cave.

My co-gabbai returns from America next week, and then I'll go back to living alone. Meanwhile, for as long as the Sefer Torah is in my apartment, I will try to dress modestly and make sure that I never inadvertently reveal the wrong side of my tefillin strap. I will hope that no dead rabbis start turning over in their graves and speaking to each other, and that no pillars of fire leap out at me when I am boiling water on my stove. But if the stress of living with a Sefer Torah becomes too intense, you may just find me climbing through the roof.


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