By Mona Berdugo
This time of year – just before Pesach – is always a bit crazy in just about every Jewish household. There's the cleaning, feeling guilty for not cleaning enough, menu planning, trying to come up with interesting things to do or say at the seder that can keep everyone interested etc. This year, in addition to all the usual pre-Pesach things to contend with, I also had a family ski trip, a daughter starting her army service (which apparently requires way more shopping than I ever imagined,) and a party celebrating my father-in-law's 80th birthday. Not that I am complaining – these are all wonderful excuses to procrastinate, for which I am truly grateful – but according to the daf yomi schedule I had to finish Masechet Shabbat somewhere in there too, so this was not a good time for me to fall behind.
My family is certainly not one of those that goes on European vacations every year, but I love skiing and there's not much of it in Israel. My kids really wanted to go so we'd been dreaming about a family ski trip for a few years. Now that my oldest was about to begin her army service I figured if we don't do it now we probably won't get another chance for a long time so off we went.
I brought my gemara with me and had it all planned out. Really, I did. I'd learn on the airplane and I'd have lots of free time in the evenings too. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) things did not quite go as planned. The plane was noisy and it was hard to focus. Once we were there the magic of spending a week in the beautiful Dolomites and watching my children learn to enjoy skiing almost as much as I do took over. We were all having such a great time I just couldn't pull myself away from it all to learn my daf. Before I knew it, at the end of our 8 day vacation I found myself 5 days behind. To top it all off, we were supposed to finish the masechet soon and really wanted to finish on time.
So, less than a month before Pesach I started doing 2 pages a day for about a week to catch up. About halfway through that week I got up to daf 147b where it says:
R. Helbo said: The wine of Perugitha and the water of Diomsith cut off the Ten Tribes from Israel. R. Eleazar b. 'Arak visited that place. He was attracted to them, and [in consequence] his learning vanished. When he returned, he arose to read in the Scroll [of the Torah]. He wished to read, Hahodesh hazeh lakem [This month shall be unto you, etc.], [instead of which] he read haharesh hayah libbam. But the scholars prayed for him, and his learning returned. And it is thus that we learnt, R. Nehorai said: Be exiled to a place of Torah, and say not that it will follow thee, for thy companions will establish it in thy possession; and do not rely on thine own understanding.
Basically, the wine of Perigitha (a region somewhere in northern Israel) and the water of Diomsith were seen as being dangerous. According to R. Helbo, the Ten Tribes were so pre-occupied with these pleasures that they neglected their learning which led to their exile. When R. Eliezer ben Arak visited he was so smitten by the inhabitants and their luxurious lifestyle that he forgot his learning. He couldn't even remember the proper way to read from the Torah until other scholars prayed for him and his learning returned. R. Nehorai thus concludes that conversation about Torah and interaction with other scholars is a necessary component of learning.
Boy, could I relate to that story. For me it was not good wine and hot springs, but the intoxicating views, the thrill of racing down the mountains, and the beautiful canals of Venice. The results were similar though. I don't know how much Torah I actually forgot, but I had to work double time for almost a week to make up what I neglected. And I don't have any scholars to pray for me.
Still, it's nice to know that it was not just me - it happened to the best of them. It's easy to get carried away by material pleasures in life and neglect the spiritual. I suppose enjoying the "the good life" does not have to preclude intellectual growth and Torah study, but it can and this is a warning. Of course, in my case it was only for a week and it was totally worth the effort it took to make it up.