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The voices in my head

I hadn’t been planning on learning Daf Yomi this cycle. I’ve had good intentions many times before, and got right through Berachot once, but sticking to routines is not one of my strong points, and seven and a half years is about 50 times longer than I usually manage to do anything before wandering off and doing something else (can you say AADD?)

What pushed me over the edge was the opportunity to learn from a 16th century edition, thanks to the Hebrew University and National Library website. I’ve never seen Latin on the title page of a volume of Talmud before. Unfortunately, the Talmud manuscripts on the same site don’t work in my browser (I opened an evangelism bug on this a long time ago, without any effect that I can see).

So, something on the second page (that’s 3a: Talmudic tractates don’t have a page 1) has been puzzling me.

תניא א”ר יוסי פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בדרך ונכנסתי לחורבה אחת מחורבות ירושלים להתפלל בא אליהו זכור לטוב ושמר לי על הפתח…

We learn in a Baraita: Rabbi Yosé said,
“Once I was walking on the road and went into to one of the ruins of Jerusalem to pray. Elijah of blessed memory came and guarded the door and waited for me until I had finished the prayer. After I had finished, he said to me, ‘Peace unto you, my teacher,’ and I said to him, ‘Peace unto you, my teacher and my master.’.
“He said to me, ‘My son, why did you go into this ruin?’ I said, ‘To pray.’
“He said, ‘You should have prayed on the road.’ I said, ‘I was afraid that the passers-by would disturb me.’
“He said, ‘You should have prayed a shortened form of the prayer.’
“I learned three things from him then. I learned that one shouldn’t go into a ruin; I learned that one may pray on the road; and I learned that if one prays on the road one should pray in a shortened form.
“Then he said, ‘My son, what voice did you hear in this ruin?’
“I said, ‘I heard a heavenly voice cooing like a dove and saying, “Woe unto the children because of whose sins I destroyed my temple and burned my shrine and exiled them among the nations!”’
“He said to me, ‘By your life! Not at this time alone does it say this, but every day, three times a day, it says this, and what is more, when the people of Israel enter synagogues and houses of study and respond “May his great name be blessed” the Holy One, Blessed be He, nods his head and says, “Happy is the king who receives such praise in his house. What should a father do who has exiled his children? Woe upon the children who have been exiled from their father’s table.”’”

Now this is very beautiful, especially in the original rather than my slapdash translation, which is why I’ve quoted it at greater length than I originally intended, but it puzzles me. If somebody described an experience like that today, you would wonder why they weren’t taking their medication. I don’t usually think of חז״ל in those terms, so I don’t know what to make of it. Were the dividing lines between what we would define as sanity and delusion just totally different? Is it a surreal literary device not intended to be taken literally? What exactly is going on here?

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