Accidental Talmudist: Day 2544 – The Substitution Principle


My mom loves that I’ve been reading the Talmud for seven years, and that I am now the Accidental Talmudist. In all this time, however, she never asked what I am actually learning…until today.

It would’ve been nice if this morning’s page contained one of those profound sound bites that instantly spark conversation. For example:

” target=”_blank” title=”Temple”>Temple – a passage so difficult even the Sages had trouble with it:

This itself is difficult! First you said, “All can make temurah…” Then the Mishnah taught, “Not that a person is permitted to make temurah.” (Temurah 2a)

A temurah is a substitute for an animal previously designated as a sacrificial offering. Remember that in the ancient world, religion without sacrificial offerings did not exist . When the Almighty revealed the Torah at Sinai, however, the nature and manner of the sacrifice was radically redefined.

First, no more human sacrifice – a bizarre and horrific idea to us, but altogether common among agrarian pagans who feared they’d starve if they did not propitiate their weather and fertility gods.

” target=”_blank” title=”here”>here). Examples of Pharaohs might be smoking, shouting, passivity, lack of exercise, etc.

If you bring a conscious desire for your own personal redemption to the Seder, (and our Christian friends might recall that the Last Supper was a Seder) you can make 2012 the year that you cross the Red Sea, and leave that Pharaoh behind.

Invariably, however, you will slip backwards in your newfound freedom, as the bad habit lulls you back toward your old patterns. And the mechanism by which we slip is substitution.

For example, I want to start exercising more, and I have an treadmill in my basement. The first day I use it. The second day, I think it’s so cold down there, but if a go to the driving range, it will be sunny, and hitting balls is also a kind of exercise. The third day I think, I was frustrated at the range yesterday, but If I watch the pros play golf on TV, I’ll learn something that will motivate me to go back tomorrow. And by the fourth day, the couch has enslaved me again.

So the temurah principle is a pattern interrupt for those wishing to grow in mind, body and spirit. When you catch yourself slipping back toward Egypt, by rationalizing a substitute for the action required by your new plan, you DO BOTH! Hit the treadmill AND the range.

That will cost you a lot of time today, but it will help you remember not to engage in substitution tomorrow, and then you will not slip back toward Egypt.

And my mom liked that.

May we all merit to learn wisdom from our ancients, and may we all grow in spirit, heart, and mind this Passover. Chag Pesach Sameach!


Sal shares a bit of Jewish wisdom at “>accidentaltalmudist.org.

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