כ״ח בתשרי ה׳תשע״ד (October 2, 2013)

Pesaḥim 104a-b: Distinctions Between Holy and Profane

The standard text of havdala includes not only a statement formally acknowledging that Shabbat or Yom Tov has ended, but also a series of distinctions – of things that stand in contrast to one another. This tradition stems from the statement of Rabbi Elazar quoting Rabbi Oshaya that at least three such distinctions are to be included in the havdala blessing, but no more than seven. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi comments that ideally the model of the havdala blessing should be distinctions made in the Torah itself.

Although the Gemara does include examples of Biblical distinctions (e.g. between holy and profane, between light and darkness, between Shabbat – the day of rest – and the six working days of the week), it is interesting that one of the most basic statements in the Torah is left out. In Shmot 26:33, the Torah teaches that when building the Mishkan, there is a parohet that separates between the Holy and the Holy-of-Holies. Some argue that the parohet is a man-made object that divided the Mishkan. In havdala we are searching for distinctions that were developed by God himself. Others point out that the separation of the parohet no longer exists, as opposed to the other examples, which are eternal. Perhaps the simplest explanation is the one put forward by the Me’iri, who argues that the statement of distinction made when a Yom Tov falls out immediately after Shabbatbein kodesh le-kodesh (“between holy and holy”) – stems from the separation of the parohet in the Mishkan, which is the source for the concept of distinguishing between two levels of holiness.

This discussion notwithstanding, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Yohanan as saying:
The son of sacred ones recites only one distinction, but the people were accustomed to recite three distinctions. The Gemara asks: Who is this person called the son of sacred ones? The Gemara answers: Rabbi Menahem bar Simai. And why did they call him the son of sacred ones? Because he would not look at the forms on coins [zuz].

Many of the coins minted by the Greeks and Romans included images of actual idols, which would, therefore, make them forbidden like any manifestation of avoda zara. It should be noted, however, that the images of Greek and Roman kings that appeared on the coins also were problematic in that the kings often presented themselves as gods – at least to the provincial folk.

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