Do Your Initials Spell A Word?

Shalom aleichem!

Do your initials spell a word? Mine are “SEW.”

Who cares? you may be wondering.

If you’ve been paying attention to Tzipah’s Facebook or reading her weekly email, then you may have noticed that she (and our daughter) have taken up sewing. Coincidence? I think not.

A few nights ago, Tzipah and I were sitting at the table; she was sewing one of her latest projects, and I was studying some Talmud.

“Rabbi Abbahu and Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba happened to come to a certain place. Rabbi Abbahu taught matters of aggada (stories), and at the same time Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba taught halacha (law). Everyone left Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba and went off to listen to Rabbi Abbahu. Rabbi Chiyya was offended.

“Rabbi Abbahu said to him, [to appease him]: Let me give you a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to two people, one who sells precious stones and one who sells small items. Upon whom do the customers spring? Don’t they spring upon the one who sells small items?” (Sotah 40a).

In other words, Rabbi Abbahu was saying that Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba taught lofty and important matters that do not attract many people; everyone came to Rabbi Abbahu because he taught seemingly minor matters, which are easier to “sell.”

While studying, I noted the word סידקית / sidkis, translated above (from the Koren Talmud) as “small items.” More specifically, the word refers to small needles.

I thought to myself, isn’t it denigrating to refer to aggada teachings of the Talmud as small things/needles? Surely they are more important than that!

Perusing some of the classic commentaries, I found that Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (known as Ben Ish Chai; 1832-1909) addresses this issue. He explains that not only is the term sidkis (needle) not disparaging, but it actually is a praise!

What is unique about Aggada of the Talmud, is that it weaves together literal teachings, allusions, non-literal interpretations and Kabbalistic secrets.

And this is why Rabbi Abbahu referred to them as needles: Just as a needle joins two pieces of distinct fabric to create one item of clothing, so too, Aggada “sews” together the different facets of Torah, connecting all the spiritual worlds (Note: Kabbalah generally mentions four different spiritual worlds, and the Ben Ish Chai points out that these correspond to the four types of “fabric” joined together by Aggada: literal, allusions, non-literal interpretations and Kabbalistic secrets).

So I guess you can say that Rabbi Abbahu was sewing it all together 🙂

Shabbat Shalom!