(סמא דמותא) Death-Torah (Coronavirus)

 

As a rule, religious tradents associate kedushah (holiness) with life and images of life like light, water, and fruit. But with what kind of life? Life in this world or life in the world to come? In truth, religion and religious sancta bring life and death into close proximity. This goes beyond the merely symbolic. Kedushah creates, constitutes, institutes a hinge between life and death. Kedushah is simultaneously repelled by death and drawn to death. Not physical life, not even the fear of heaven, what really matters is the sancta.

The Babylonian rabbis touch upon this theme here:

Within and without shalt thou overlay it. Raba said: Any scholar whose inside is not like his outside, is no scholar. Abaye, or, as some say, Rabbah b. ‘Ulla said: He is called abominable, as it is said: How much less one that is abominable and impure, man who drinketh iniquity like water. R. Samuel b. Nahmani, in the name of R. Jonathan: What is the meaning of the scriptural statement: Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool, to buy wisdom, seeing he hath no understanding, i.e., woe unto the enemies of the scholars, who occupy themselves with the Torah, but have no fear of heaven! R. Jannai proclaimed: Woe unto him who has no court, but makes a gateway for his court! Raba said to the Sages: I beseech you, do not inherit a double Gehinnom!

R. Joshua b. Levi said: What is the meaning of the Scriptural verse: And this is the law which Moses set (סם) [before the children of Israel]? — If he is meritorious it becomes for him a medicine of life (סם חיים), if not, a deadly poison (סם מיתה). That is what Raba [meant when he] said: If he uses it the right way it is a medicine of life (סמא דחייא) unto him; he who does not use it the right way, it is a deadly poison (סמא דמותא).

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: R. Jonathan pointed out the following contradiction: it is written: The precepts of the Lord are upright, rejoicing the heart, but it is also written: The word of the Lord is purging (צרפו)? If he is meritorious, it rejoices him; if not, it purges him. Resh Lakish said: From the body of the same passage this can be derived: If he is meritorious, it purges him unto life; if not, it purges him unto death

Yoma 72b

(Soncino translation with alteration)

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
This entry was posted in uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s