Pesachim 54

Ten things.

Today’s daf contains one of my favorite beraitot (early rabbinic teachings), an epitome of rabbinic organization and creative thinking.

Ten things were created in heaven on Shabbat eve during twilight. They were: Miriam’s well, and the manna that fell in the desert, and the rainbow, writing, and the writing instrument, and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the grave of Moses, and the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood, the opening of the mouth of Balaam’s donkey, and the opening of the earth’s mouth to swallow the wicked in the incident involving Korach.

What do these ten things — which the rabbis say were created at the 11th hour, the very end of the sixth day of creation right before God finished making the world — have in common? They are all miraculous, standing outside of the natural order, that testifies to God’s continued involvement in the life of the people of Israel.

Here’s the thing: exceptional, miraculous events are profoundly powerful, and sometimes scary. The natural order of things has rules, it is predictable. A donkey suddenly speaking, or the earth opening up and swallowing sinners — these are outside the rules, the height of unpredictability. And yet, in this short beraita, the rabbis subsume these miraculous phenomena to a divine plan, making them part of the natural order of things instituted in the seven days of creation in Genesis 1. Rather than thinking of miracles as “rule-breaking,” then, the rabbis depict them as evidence of God’s omniscient and omnipotent planning.  

This neat tannaitic (early rabbinic) list of ten remarkable, even miraculous things inspires the later rabbis of the Talmud, the Amoraim, to speculate about other things that might be on this list, and here the focus is on the rare and exceptional:

Rabbi Yoshiya said in the name of his father: Even the ram slaughtered by Abraham in place of Isaac, and the shamir used to shape the stones for the altar, were created at that time …

And some say that even Aaron’s staff was created then with its almonds and its blossoms.

Some say that even the demons were created at this time.

And some say that even the garment of Adam, the first man, was created at this time.

But while some rabbis focus on the explicitly miraculous and one-of-a-kind, other rabbis suggest that God used this time to create some more practical phenomena as well:

Rabbi Nehemya said in the name of his father: Even the fire and the mule.

Rabbi Yehuda says: Even the tongs were created at this time. He would say: Tongs can be fashioned only with other tongs, but who fashioned the first tongs? Indeed, the first pair of tongs was fashioned at the hand of Heaven.

There’s something particularly charming in thinking about God creating the first set of tongs as the sun sets on the first Friday. These last three items — fire, tongs, the mule — are not outside the natural order; instead they are crucial tools that allow humans to interact with the mundane world. Most people in the rabbis’ world probably interacted with at least one of these three things every single day.

While this final set of phenomena is not explicitly outside of nature, Rabbi Nehemya and Rabbi Yehuda’s teachings encourage us to see the miraculous in the mundane. Taken as a whole, today’s daf encourages us to understand the exceptional in the every day, and the mundane as part of a miraculous world planned out and created by God.

Read all of Pesachim 54 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 14th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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