ON YOD-GIMEL of AV (1.8.2012)there was a great celebration in all jewish world, the study cycle of TALMUD was finished and on the YOD-DALET(2.8.2012) of AV a new cycle of TALMUD STUDY STARTED, the first Masechet is the Masechet Berakhot, we will try to bring to the site the English version by Rav Steinsaltz for the readers to get the opportunity to really understand the amount of knowledge on jewish law left to us by our Sages in the form of Talmud.
Masechet Berakhot – Introduction and 2a-7a-b By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Submit a Comment More Sharing Services ShareEmail Print RSS Feed The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud. Introduction to Berakhot This introduction is taken from the new English edition of Tractate Berakhot of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
Tractate Berakhot is the first tractate in the order of “Faith” (as the order “Seeds” is called in Tractate Shabbat 31a). The primary focus of the tractate is the myriad ways in which a Jewish person expresses his faith throughout his life. The plethora of details with regard to the different blessings that one recites on various occasions over the course of his life, the prayer services and their customs, Shema with its associated blessings and halakhot, and numerous other laws connected with a person’s day-to-day existence are all comprehensively addressed in this tractate. In the background, the Gemara recounts in great detail the lives of Jews in Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia during the era of the Mishnah and the Talmud. It describes their occupations, their prayers, their aspirations, and their dreams, from morning to evening, on weekdays and festivals, in felicitous times and calamitous times, citing numerous halakhic and aggadic sources to enlighten, guide, and explain. With all of the different nuances and abundance of detail in the tractate, there is one central, unifying theme that recurs throughout all of the many halakhot and aspects touched upon within it, which transforms it into a cohesive unit: The principle that the abstract should be concretized and the sublime realized in a practical, detailed manner.
This theme is not unique to tractate Berakhot; to a certain degree, it appears in every tractate of the Talmud. In fact, it is one of the primary elements of the multifaceted world of halakhah. Consequently, it is present in every Jewish literary work throughout history as an internal, essential characteristic.
In tractate Berakhot, this approach is more intensive and more conspicuous. This is because the theme of the tractate is faith: The total awareness in heart and mind that there is an everlasting connection between the Creator and man and that perpetual inspiration descends from the Creator to the world – inspiration which creates, generates, and sustains. Man reacts, thanking, requesting, praying, anticipating a response; waiting to be blessed, to be cured, for a miracle. This connection of faith, which in and of itself is exalted and sublime, achieves form and clarity when it is transformed into practical halakhah through the halakhot of tractate Berakhot. Here, faith is manifest in the details of the halakhot, in the myriad blessings and in the formulation of prayer. However, alongside the de-emphasis of the abstract, faith as an integral part of real life is enhanced and established. This general consciousness evolves into halakhah, guidance how to live one’s life.
The choice in favor of practical manifestation of a concept, despite the rigidity of this form of expression, is multifaceted. The fundamental outlook of Judaism is that the essence of the Torah and the objective of creation are the actualization of the Torah as a living Torah. “It is not in the heavens”; rather, it was given to man and for man. The closer Torah is to man, the more concrete and practical it is, the closer it is to fulfilling its objective.
Therefore, the primary fulfillment and significance of most concepts in Judaism is when they are manifest in a concrete, practical manner. The manner and style in which they are actualized determine the significance of the concept. Therefore, throughout the generations, halakhah has never stopped creating. As the structure and circumstances of life change, new forms and styles develop in order to actualize the general, abstract concepts in those specific circumstances. Furthermore, faith, despite its broad scope, is not a palpable presence in one’s daily life. True, faith as a Weltanschauung and as a general approach exists, in one form or another, in the hearts of all people, at different levels of consciousness and acceptance.
However, the distance between that faith and real life is too significant. There is no comparison between accepting the fundamental tenets of faith in one’s heart and fulfilling them in practice, especially at all of those minor, uninspiring opportunities that constitute a majority of one’s life. If the abstract concepts of faith are not manifest in a practical manner in all of the details of a person’s life, faith will lose its substance; consequently, all of life’s details and actions will be rendered worthless and pointless.
Indeed, the fundamental demand of religion is well characterized in the phrase: “If you devote your heart and your eyes to Me, I know that you are Mine.” This issue of connecting abstract faith to real life is manifest in several verses in the Torah. Nowhere is that connection as conspicuous as in the section of Shema in Deuteronomy. “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” expresses the fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith; “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” expresses the essence of its accompanying feeling. However, together with those abstract ideas, this short section also includes instruction and guidance regarding how to translate them into the world of action: “And you shall teach them diligently unto your children”; “and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand”; “and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house.” That is why this section constitutes the spiritual basis for the entire tractate of Berakhot. Not only do some of its chapters discuss the halakhot of Shema, but other chapters extrapolate from this approach, connecting pristine faith to its actualization by means of the meticulous fulfillment of mitzvot.
Shema consists of three sections which, although they do not appear consecutively in the Torah, combine to form a single, meaningful unit. Shema is, first and foremost, a recitation of the fundamental tenets of Judaism. Reciting it each day provides the stabilizing foundation and the guidelines for Jewish life. It is conceivable that reciting Shema each morning and evening will not constitute a profound religious experience. However, it is accessible to all, and it provides the Jewish person with the ability to delve into the text and endow all of his thoughts and actions with the essence of Shema, thereby fulfilling the contents of those sections in the most profound sense.
Prayer is substantively different. From the outset, prayer constituted a portal through which one could address God whenever he desired, in times of distress and need as well as times of thanksgiving and gratitude. One’s ability to recite his own personal prayer was never restricted. This is optional prayer, in which one pours out his heart before God in his own style and his own words. However, this was insufficient, and therefore, the greatest of the Sages throughout the generations established a set, defined, obligatory formula for prayer, to be recited at fixed times. The establishment of set times for prayer and a set formula common to all has the capacity to crystallize that barely perceptible feeling which exists in the heart of even the simplest person. This is because, although religious feelings exist in the hearts of all people, these feelings are not easily expressed; not every individual is conscious of them, nor does he always understand them. Fixed prayer provides the desired expression, the coherent language for the person unable to appropriately articulate the feelings in his heart.
Furthermore, the very fact that prayer is, in its essence, communal, makes the person an integral member of the community at large. Each individual considers himself and is considered by those around him as belonging to a broad, all-encompassing world.
True, there is concern that the fixed nature of prayer, in terms of both the formula and the times that it may be recited, is liable to compromise the natural connection with God and one’s ability to express himself in prayer, and could ultimately become a meaningless verbal framework. Therefore, unlike Shema, which one is obligated to recite regardless of the conditions and circumstances, the halakhah is much more flexible regarding prayer in the sense that one principle supersedes all others: “Do not make your prayer fixed, rather make it a plea for mercy and an entreaty before God.”
Shema and prayer provide a general direction for integrating faith into daily life, with the eighteen blessings of the Amida prayer tying the fundamental tenets of faith that appear in Shema with all of the unique, specific problems that exist in the life of the Jewish people in general and in the life of each individual Jew in particular.
Blessings are an additional step in that direction. Tractate Berakhot discusses dozens of different types of blessings: Blessings in prayer, blessings of thanksgiving, blessings prior to the performance of mitzvot, blessings over food and delicacies, blessings as expressions of suffering and mourning, and blessings as expressions of joy and wonder. Despite the differences in details, formulas and meaning, there is a common intent to all of the blessings: they are a way of creating a bond of meaning between an action, incident, or object and God. Life is full of directionless, meaningless, purposeless phenomena; the blessing rescues them from that purposelessness, renders them significant, and connects them to their origins and their destiny.
The profusion of blessings is a result of the need for them; they draw a cloud of grace, sanctity, and meaning over the abundance of different phenomena in the world. Uniformity of formula and of custom can also lead to a general attitude of purposelessness toward the world around us, but the great number of blessings provide each object with a unique character, a significance all its own.
In addition to the halakhic portion of tractate Berakhot, there is also an aggadic portion. If, as mentioned above, the halakhic portion directed us from the abstract to the concrete, the direction provided by the aggadic section is from the concrete to the abstract. As a result, all actions, including the seemingly insignificant details among them, whether from the Torah or from human life, become paradigmatic and teeming with significance and meaning. Even matters that appear to be peripheral or of secondary importance are revealed in all their significance and centrality. Similarly, events that befell people in the distant past now become contemporary and extremely significant. In this way, personalities from the past are integrated in determining the character of the present. Even halakhic patterns – fixed, clearly defined templates – assume profundity and significance in the aggadic sections, in which they are tied to wide-ranging, sublime ideas, biblical verses, and the personalities of the great leaders throughout the generations.
The numerous aggadic sections in tractate Berakhot, as in all other tractates in the Talmud, are intermingled with the halakhic sections; they complement them and add additional perspective. There is no abrupt, disruptive transition between the practical world of halakhah, which deals with matters that at first glance might seem inconsequential, and the aggada, which deals with the sublime mysteries of the world.
Heavenly worlds and our world, discussions that delve into the smallest details, and the enigmas of faith are all cited together, as all things that exist in this world, with all of their positive and negative aspects, are one.
Berakhot 2a-b – Beginning with the recitation of the Shema
Since Massekhet Berakhot deals with the laws of prayers and blessings, the Tanna of the Mishnah chose to open with the rules of the recitation of the Shema, which is a Biblical command that is obligatory on a daily basis and contains the basic statement of faith and acceptance of God.
The fundamental issue discussed in the first chapter of Berakhot is: What are the practical implications of the text of Shema? Particularly, how is one to understand the terms “When you lie down, and when you arise” as a precise, practical halakhic directive?
Based on a reading of the text of the Torah itself, one could understand the content of these verses as general encouragement to engage in the study of Torah at all times. However, in the oral tradition, the obligation to recite Shema is derived from these verses. Once this obligation is established, it is incumbent upon us to ascertain how it is to be fulfilled. The obligation of Shema involves reciting three sections from the Torah:
Shema (Devarim 6:4-9); VeHaya im Shamo’a (Devarim 11:13-21), and VaYomer (Bamidbar 15:37-41). There is a twice-daily obligation to recite these sections, in the morning and the evening, as per the verse: “When you lie down, and when you arise.” Through reciting these sections one expresses commitment to the fundamental tenets of the Torah and faith in God.
The first question is with regard to the meaning of: “When you lie down, and when you arise.” Is the Torah merely establishing a time frame for reciting “these words,” or is it also describing the manner and the circumstances in which those words should be recited? Even if “when you lie down, and when you arise” merely establishes the time frame for reciting Shema, that time frame is not as clearly defined as it would have been had the Torah written “morning” and “evening.” It remains to be determined whether “when you lie down” refers to the hour that people usually go to sleep or, perhaps, the entire duration of that sleep. Similarly, is “when you arise” referring to the entire period of the day during which people are awake, or is it perhaps referring to the specific hour when each individual awakens? In general, is there a direct correlation between “when you lie down and when you arise” and morning and evening?
These and many related questions are the primary focus of the first chapter.
Berakhot 3a-b – Praying on the road
On today’s daf (=page) the Gemara relates a story about how Rabbi Yose once entered the ruins of an old, abandoned building in Jerusalem in order to pray. While in the midst of his prayers, he noticed that Eliyahu HaNavi came and guarded the entrance until he finished his prayer. In the ensuing conversation, Eliyahu inquired as to why Rabbi Yose had chosen to pray in a ruin, and Rabbi Yose explained that he did not want to be disturbed by others. In response Eliyahu told him that he should have recited an abbreviated prayer, which was instituted for just such circumstances.
From this exchange Rabbi Yose concludes: At that time, from that brief exchange, I learned from him, three things: I learned that one may not enter a ruin; and I learned that one need not enter a building to pray, but he may pray along the road; and I learned that one who prays along the road recites an abbreviated prayer so that he may maintain his focus.
Beyond its simple meaning, there is a deeper message conveyed in this story. Rabbi Yose was engrossed in thought and meditation, and as he entered a ruin among the ruins of Jerusalem, began to ruminate over the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel’s resultant exile. He began to think of the Temple, praying that it would be rebuilt and that Jerusalem would be restored. In the midst of these prayers, Rabbi Yose was interrupted by Eliyahu, who rebuked him and said that one should not become preoccupied with thoughts of destruction as that is a distraction from the task at hand. It is preferable to pray a brief, general prayer.
In his vision, in the minor prophecy that Rabbi Yose experienced in the ruin, he was told that the pain over the exile is not limited to Israel alone. Israel’s pain in exile is God’s pain as well, and one must hope that God will rebuild His sanctuary for His own sake as well as Israel’s.
Berakhot 4a-b – The impact of sin on prophesy
The Gemara names King David as an example of a righteous individual who was, nevertheless, concerned lest he lose his portion in the World-to-Come. The Gemara explains that although King David recognized his own status, he was concerned shema yigrom ha-het – lest a transgression that he might commit in the future would cause him to lose what he rightly deserved.
To support the idea of shema yigrom ha-het the Gemara offers examples of situations where transgressions are understood to have changed the course of history. One example is the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period, which took place naturally without any obvious miracles.
The Gemara relates that when Moshe Rabbenu sang the Song of the Sea he referred prophetically to the entrance of the Children of Israel into the land with Yehoshua and then again with Ezra (see Shemot 15:16-17). Based on the juxtaposition of these two entries in this single verse, the Sages said: “Israel was worthy of having a miracle performed on its behalf in the time of Ezra the scribe, just as one was performed on their behalf in the time of Yehoshua bin Nun. However, transgression caused the absence of a miracle.”
In both the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, (Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 10), and in his introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah, he writes that promises made by God by means of a prophet will never be retracted and that no sin can affect those promises. This appears to contradict the statement that transgression caused the undoing of Moses’ promise to the Jewish people that entry into Eretz Yisrael during Ezra’s time would be miraculous. The Anaf Yosef explains this discrepancy based on the fact that the Rambam wrote this in the context of explaining how to ascertain who is a true prophet. Positive prophecies made by a true prophet are always fulfilled lest questions be raised about the prophet’s legitimacy. Since there is no question that Moses was a true prophet, even if one of his prophecies was not realized due to the people’s transgression, no doubts would be raised with regard to his status as a prophet.
Berakhot 5a-b – To search for spiritual healing
The Gemara quotes Rava, and some say Rav Ĥisda, as teaching that if a person sees that suffering has befallen him, he should examine his actions.
In the course of discussing this, the Gemara argues that there are three different possible sources for an individual Jew’s suffering, each with scriptural support.
1. Generally, suffering comes about as punishment for one’s transgressions, as it is stated: “We will search and examine our ways, and return to God” (Eichah 3:40).
2. If he examined his ways and found no transgression for which that suffering is appropriate, he may attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah. God punishes an individual for dereliction in the study of Torah in order to emphasize the gravity of the issue, as it is stated: “Happy is the man whom You punish, Lord, and teach out of Your law” (Tehillim 94:12). This verse teaches us that his suffering will cause him to return to Your law.
3. And if he did attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah, and did not find this to be so, he may be confident that these are afflictions of love, as it is stated: “For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes, as does a father the son in whom he delights” (Mishlei 3:12). The Iyyun Ya’akov explains that the Gemara is teaching that when one realizes that he is ill, he should not assume that it is happenstance and immediately turn to medical doctors. Rather, he should view it as an opportunity to examine his own actions and conduct. A doctor examines a patient to determine the cause of the illness so that he may prescribe effective medicine to counteract the illness and restore the patient to physical health. Similarly, an examination of the soul is required to determine the source of one’s spiritual illness. The first step in curing the illness is abandoning the conduct that is deleterious to one’s spiritual health.
Berakhot 6a-b – Vigilance in daily prayer
The Gemara quotes Rabbi Helbo in the name of Rav Huna as teaching: One must always be vigilant with regard to the afternoon prayer, as Eliyahu’s prayer was only answered in the afternoon prayer, as it is stated: “And it was at the time of the afternoon offering that Elijah the Prophet came near, and he said: Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known on this day that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, Lord, answer me, that this people will know that You, Lord, are God” I Melakhim 18:36-37). Because Eliyau was answered in the afternoon prayer, it has particular significance.
In response, the Gemara quotes other Sages who recommend vigilance in the other prayers, as well.
Rabbi Yoĥanan said: One must be vigilant with regard to the evening prayer as well, as it is stated: “Let my prayer come forth as incense before You, the lifting of my hands as the evening offering” (Tehillim 141:2). Rav Naĥman bar Yitzĥak said: One must be vigilant with regard to the morning prayer as well, as it is stated: “Lord, in the morning You shall hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer unto You and will look forward” (Tehillim 5:4).
The Keli Yakar explains that there is reason to issue a particular warning with regard to the afternoon prayer and to underscore its significance because there are many reasons liable to cause one to neglect to recite the afternoon prayer or to fail to recite it with the proper intent. Unlike the morning prayer, which one recites before he leaves for work, or the evening prayer, which he recites after returning home, often, one must interrupt his activities and recite the afternoon prayer. Therefore, he is warned more sternly with regard to that prayer. For that same reason, the afternoon prayer is highly significant, as one must disengage himself from all involvements in order to pray. Rabbi Yoĥanan, who underscored the significance of the evening prayer, did so because he believed that it too required reinforcement due to the fact that it is optional and, when one is tired, he is liable to take it lightly. Rav Naĥman bar Yitzĥak underscored the significance of the morning prayer as well because he was concerned that when one is hurrying to leave for work, he may neglect to recite the prayer and rely on the fact that he can recite the afternoon prayer twice.
Berakhot 7a-b – The Lord’s prayer
Somewhat surprisingly, the Sages of the Gemara related that God recites prayers.
On today’s daf (=page) we learn: Rabbi Yoĥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose: From where is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays? As it is stated: “I will bring them to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in the house of My prayer” (Yeshayahu 56:7). The verse does not say the house of their prayer, but rather, “the house of My prayer”; from here we see that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays.
The Gemara asks: What does God pray? To whom does God pray?
Rav Zutra bar Tovia said that Rav said: God says: May it be My will that My mercy will overcome My anger towards Israel for their transgressions, and may My mercy prevail over My other attributes through which Israel is punished, and may I conduct myself toward My children, Israel, with the attribute of mercy, and may I enter before them beyond the letter of the law.
Much has been said with regard to these statements, and many homiletical and mystical interpretations have been suggested in an effort to understand them. Most commentaries hold that God’s prayer is God’s request of the individual and of mankind as a whole to turn to Him with all their heart. In other words, if people repent their sins and attempt to break the vicious cycle of “one transgression leads to another transgression,” they will cause God’s attribute of mercy to prevail over His attribute of justice, and even those deserving of punishment will be spared. That said, God’s prayer, so to speak, is His wish/request of man: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear” (Devarim 10:12).The fact that God’s wish is characterized as a prayer means that God is showing His desire and His will, His prayer, that man will be better and worthy of His bountiful blessing.