Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Servant of the Secret Fire (Tax Evasion, Sharp Minds & Sati)

I have a girl with such a sharp mind in my Avodah Zarah class (we'll call her A.B.) We were learning the following in the Nemukei Yosef today:

It took her exactly two seconds to understand that the Talmid Hakham referenced here would think of the Torah/ God as a consuming fire and hence that would be what he intended to reference if he claimed he were to be a "servant of the fire." She was light years ahead of me, who only grasped that after Rabbi Auman explained it. Although I did get the Jacob "Anokhi" reference and how similar this is to it.

Basically what this is is a really sneaky way of getting around taxes. Now, this is only permitted when the government is levying an unfair tax, not one which is lawful and correct (as those levied by the USA are, for instance.) So when the government is levying an unfair tax that is discriminatory, even a Talmid Hakham is permitted to say "I am a servant of the fire" which suggests he is a fire-worshipper, thereby an idolater, when in truth what he means to say (and thinks to himself) is that he is a servant of God, who is called a consuming fire. There is a second and easier explanation to grasp where he is simply saying he is a servant of fire-worshippers (so a servant of the idolaters, but not theoretically claiming to be an idolater himself.) The idea is that the fire-worshippers or priests didn't have to pay taxes, so he could avoid the tax in this way.

It gets better, though. I referenced "I am a servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You shall not pass!" It's Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. So I was cracking up and laughingly say, "Lord of the Rings and Gemara; today's a good day." Again, this really sharp girl got the reference in two seconds. It's awesome when people think that quickly.

But she took the cake when it came to the other Gemara we were learning. It's Avodah Zara 8 and 11. We were learning about kings and the fact that their personal effects are burned when they die out of respect, so that they won't be used by others. So she and I made the exact same connection; we both immediately thought of Avishag and Adonijah and how Bat-Sheva wanted to allow him to marry Avishag and Shlomo says "You might as well give him the kingdom!" The idea there is that a king's leftover personal effects are dangerous; they can be used to symbolize the claiming of the kingship. The difference is that I thought of this and kept quiet because I assumed it was my own tangential thought but she verbalized the thought and I was completely dumbfounded; I turned around in my chair, laughing and say "I thought that exactly!" It was fantastic!

But even more amazing than that, she referenced the custom in India of "sati" and by this time I could have jumped up and hugged her; I haven't met many people who know what sati is and who would have made the connection. Tangential of course, since no one is immolating themselves here, but once you're on the topic of burning things...

At this point I said, "Somehow I don't think the wife would like that" (I was also thinking of Sinbad and his being buried alive with his wife) and Rabbi Auman gives me a look and this super sarcastic remark, "Oh, you think?"

I died laughing, didn't know Rabbi Auman could be this funny. I'm so entertained.

I'm so thrilled to have the pleasure of such a sharp-minded girl in my class!


A.B said...

aw, Chana, I'm blushing.

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