Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Are Chazal Organized?

WARNING - This post discusses the halakhot of Brit Milah and is thus biased towards men.

If you have been following the posts discussing the organizational system of the Mishneh Torah, then you may have the following thought going through your head: “Gee that Rambam guy is like hyper-organized. But those Chazal guys, they just seemed to put topics together at random.” And many people learn Gemara with the belief that Chazal do not intend to methodologically organize halakhah, unlike Rambam. This is not to say that according to Chazal the halakhot are completely random, rather that Chazal are not concerned with a systematic organization of halakhah.

I stand before you today and tell you that indeed Chazal do have a system of organization - but it is subtle, if not hidden. Yet with a little bit of extra studying, you can often discover profound philosophical messages based on the organization of the halakhot in Shas.

Massechet Shabbat is a prime example of Chazal’s system of organizing halakhah. I mentioned in a previous post, that Rambam places the halakhot of Brit Milah in Sefer Ahavah. According to Rambam, these halakhot are another example of how to be closer to HaShem. One could say that Brit Milah symbolizes removing a physical barrier between Jewish men and HaShem.

Why would Chazal place the halakhot of Brit Milah in the context of the halakhot of Shabbat? One answer could be that both Brit Milah and Shabbat are designated as an אות by the Chumash and by Chazal. They both signify and symbolize the unique connection between HaShem and the Jewish people. They are physical reminders to us, that we have a special covenantal relationship with HaShem. We can now state that Rambam emphasizes that Brit Milah represents our ability to be closer to HaShem. Whereas Chazal emphasize, that it symbolically represents our unique relationship with HaShem.

There are many other insights, chiddushim and vortlech that can be made regarding the connection between Shabbat and Brit Milah - please feel free to share them with me. Nevertheless, the fact remains that these connections are important and the organization is not random. Chazal deliberately arranged the topics in the Mishnah and the Gemara, and it is our job to discover their wisdom. instead of ignoring it.

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