Let me teach you an important Talmudic principle: tafasta merubah, lo tafasta. It means if you try and hold too much, you’ll end up dropping everything. It is taught in several rabbinic contexts including a discussion of the height of the Ark of the Covenant. The rabbinic commentator Rashi explains that if one is faced with a choice of two numbers, one greater and one smaller, the smaller one is preferable because it is “guaranteed” in a way that the larger one is not.
Why am I writing about this picayune concept today? The NFL playoffs of course. In my sixth grade KSDS class yesterday (hello Esther, Ben, Howard, Isaac, Ezra, Scott, Jacob, Taylor, Sedric and Madeline) as I came into the classroom the students were talking about possible Super Bowl match-ups. That presented the perfect opportunity to teach tafasta merubah, lo tafasta and explain why as Conservative Jews with a commitment to text study we should only be worrying about Sunday’s game with the Patriots.
The students immediately grasped how useful tafasta merubah, lo tafasta could be. “Rabbi Wechsler,” they exclaimed, “it could apply to anything in life – too much food, too much money, too much talking in class!” They’re right – and let’s hope the Ravens do as well as my sixth graders this Sunday.