Right, he says sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
Try trek or trudge. Try "wading through molasses." Well, at least molasses probably smelled nicer than some of the stuff (bodily excrement, for example) that the rabbis have discussed in the pages I've learned.
Now I know why my Orthodox friend in Teaneck told me that Tractate Shabbat is "very challenging" or when I first started this "journey" in October he said, "You'll be starting with Berakhot (blessings) which is a good warm-up. At least it's accessible."
Tonight I read (Shabbat 99b):
Rav Mordechai raised a dilemma before Rava: In a case where there is a column in the public domain that is ten handbreadths high and four handbreadths wide, and one threw an object and it landed atop the column, what is the ruling? Was the lifting from the public domain performed in a prohibited manner and the placing in the private domain performed in a prohibited manner, and therefore one is liable? Or perhaps, since the object comes from an exempt domain, the one who threw the object would not be liable.
Rava said to Rav Mordechai: It is our mishna that states that one who places an object atop a boulder that is more than ten handbreadths high is liable. Rav Mordechai came and asked Rav Yosef about the same dilemma: Rav Yosef said to him: It is our mishna. Rav Mordechai came and asked Abaye. He said to him: It is our mishnah. Rav Mordechai said to them: You are all spewing the same spittle.
Yup, Rav Mordechai, you said it. Thus far, this makes 98 days of Tractate Shabbat (the tractate begins on page 2, as all Babylonian Talmud tractates do) and except for 4 or so days which focused on the reasons for Chanukah, and 3 or so days which focused on the revelation of Torah at Sinai, Tractate Shabbat appears thus far to be an extended discourse on "carrying" on Shabbat.
Why didn't the rabbis just say, "Don't carry on Shabbat." Why didn't they say, "Carrying is bad." Would have been easier. Would have wasted less paper. Did they really have to address this issue down to the most seemingly inconsequential detail? Rabbis, teachers, guys, I get it. Can't we please move on to something else?
On some occasions, I've texted our congregation's cantorial intern and cited a passage from the text, gobsmacked at some of the concerns from the 5th-6th centuries. I've turned to my wife and read her a passage and she's looked at me and said, "Why are you spending your time learning this stuff?"
Now there's the $64,000 question. Why am I spending my time learning this stuff? No one's asking or requiring me to do it. There's no extra salary incentive. And I'm not even sure that my learning is making me a more observant Jew. In fact, given my tone in this blog post, I fear that more learning is actually making me more skeptical, irreverent and frustrated.
So why am I spending my time learning this stuff? Because I am. Because I want to. Because I'm curious. Because I'm doing it lishma, for its own sake, and for no other real comprehensible reason. Why did the bear look over the mountain, you ask?
I'm not in this for any kind of reward. I just want to know what this monumental volume of work we call "Talmud" actually includes, you know that "Talmud" I like to quote in sermons, or those "ancient rabbis" I like to unknowingly praise.
Let's face it. Some of it is frustrating (so is life). Some of it makes my head spin (so does life). But sometimes, there are gems, real diamonds in the rough (like in life). A story from folklore, a parable, a brilliant exposition of a biblical passage, a rabbi humorously yelling at his colleagues for "spewing the same spittle," asking them to go deeper in their interpretation, deeper in their thinking and analysis.
Because, at its heart, that's what this is. It's an intellectual exercise from a time when people, when Jews, weren't necessarily free to speak their minds, or share their ideas openly. It's a logic puzzle. It's free thought and conversation, discourse and dialogue from generations, recorded on 2,711 front-and-back pages. It's rabbis arguing with one another, trying to understand the meaning and the depth of their brilliant tradition. Because not to dialogue, not to think, not to challenge, not to argue, is to die, and to allow their (and our) tradition to die. These rabbis seem to have kept their traditions alive by debating them, by challenging them, by wresting whatever kind of meaning from them they possibly could.
Can I take seven more years of this? I guess I can only find out one day at a time. 161 days down. 2,550 days still to go. If I warrant "finishing" this in one go, Hannah will be bat mitzvah, and Emily will be 11. I won't have young children anymore. I'll have more grey hairs. And beyond these realities, only one thing remains clear -- by that time I may not be any more learned than I am now, but I will still undoubtedly be learning, and have yet more to learn.
 Koren Talmud Bavli: Daf Yomi Edition, Shabbat Part Two. Commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, p. 92.
 Yup, I know, you never really finish this, do you?