Monday, May 3, 2010

USE YOUR HEAD ( a joke) and an actual summary of a page from the Talmud

Every morning I study a page from our tradition of the bible called the Talmud. There are about 2500 pages and at one page a day it takes seven and 1/2 years to read it all. Here is a summary of a much longer page from yesterday that was my birthday. At the end is a joke for balance.

Love Yehuda

Sanhedrin 79a-b
May 2, 2010

What is more significant - a person's intent or a person's actions?


This question comes to the fore in the Mishnah on today's daf (page) where many cases are presented where a person's specific intention is not fulfilled, but a very similar thing does take place. For example, if a person meant to hit a child severely enough so that the child would die, but instead his blow hit an adult, and there was not enough force in the blow to actually kill an adult. In such a case, if the adult died nonetheless, the attacker will not be held liable, since his blow was not strong enough to kill an adult. If, however, he meant to kill the adult with a blow that was sufficient to kill an adult or a child, if he actually hit an adult, he would be held liable as a murderer. The Mishnah concludes with Rabbi Shimon's opinion, that someone who intended to kill one person and ended up killing another will not be held liable for murder.


The first opinion in the Mishnah apparently believes that we look at just one element of the person's intent - did he mean to kill? If he meant to kill and his action was sufficient to kill, he will be held liable, even if his actions killed someone other than the person he intended to murder.


Rabbi Shimon, on the other hand, insists that all elements of intent must be in place for a person to be held responsible for his actions, and that he will only be liable if his actions matched his intention. This position, which places much significance to a person's intentions, is true according to Rabbi Shimon not only in these laws, but in other areas of halakhah, as well. There are some places where all agree that we must take into account the person's intent - e.g. the laws of Shabbat - but Rabbi Shimon applies this idea across the board.

A rabbi was walking down the street when, suddenly, a strong gust of
wind blew his streimel (fur hat) off his head.  The rabbi ran after
his hat but the wind was so strong it kept blowing his hat farther and
farther away.  He just couldn't catch up with it.

A young gentile man, witnessing this event and being more fit than the
rabbi, ran after the hat and caught it.  The young gentile man handed
the hat over to the rabbi. The rabbi was so pleased and grateful that
he gave the man twenty dollars, put his hand on the man"s head and
blessed him.  The young man was very excited about both the tip and
the blessing.

The young gentile decided to take his new found wealth to the
racetrack.  He bet the entire $20 on the first race that he could.

After the races the young man returned home and recounted his very
exciting day at the races to his father.

"I arrived at the fifth race," said the young man.   "I looked at the
racing program and saw a horse by the name of  Top Hat was running.
The odds on this horse were 100-to-1.  It was the longest shot in the

After saving the rabbi"s hat, having received the rabbi"s blessing,
gotten the $20, and seeing Top Hat in the fifth race, I thought this
was a message from God.  So, I bet the entire 20 dollars on Top Hat.
An amazing thing happened.  The horse that was the longest shot and
who did not have the slightest chance to even show, came in first by 5

"You must have made a fortune," said the father.

"Well yes, $2000.  But wait, it gets better," replied the son.

"In the following race, a horse by the name of Stetson was running.
The odds on the horse were 30 to 1"  Stetson being some kind of hat
and again thinking of the rabbi"s blessing and his hat, I decided to
bet all my winnings on this horse."

"What happened?" asked the excited father.

"Stetson came in like a rocket.  Now I had $60,000!"

"Are you telling me you brought home all this money?" asked his excited father.

"No," said the son.

"I lost it all on the next race.  There was a horse in this race
named Chateau, which is French for hat.  So I decided to bet all the
money on Chateau. But the horse broke down and came in last."

"Hat in French is "Chapeau" not "Chateau" you moron," said the father.

"You lost all of the money because of your ignorance. Tell me, what
horse won the race?"

The son answered, "A long shot from Japan named Yamaka."