TALMUD the 1st Massechet – BERAKHOT

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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5 Responses to TALMUD the 1st Massechet – BERAKHOT

  1. Berakhot 8a-b – Cutting veins and arteriesAugust 09, 2012

    On today’s daf (=page) we find Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi offered a number of legal and ethical recommendations to his son. Among then was the statement “Be careful with the veins, in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah.”

    The reference to Rabbi Yehudah refers to a Mishnah in Massekhet Hullin (daf 27) that teaches one of the most basic rules of ritual slaughter. When performing shehitah the slaughterer must cut two simanim – the esophagus and trachea – in an animal, and a single siman – either the esophagus or the trachea – in a bird. In both cases, it would be sufficient to cut the majority of the simanim (or one of the simanim in the case of a bird). Rabbi Yehudah requires that the arteries should be cut, as well.

    Rav Hisda limits Rabbi Yehudah’s teaching to shehitah performed on a bird, since a bird is often roasted whole. Larger animals, however, that are invariably cut into pieces, do not need to have their arteries severed.

    The Gemara concludes from this that Rabbi Yehudah’s ruling is not connected with shehitah per se, so much as it is a response to a potential problem with blood becoming congealed in the body of the animal. Therefore, it is not essential that the veins be cut during the act of ritual slaughter, in fact it is sufficient if the arteries are punctured after slaughter, as well. Furthermore, the rishonim point out that if the arteries were not cut during slaughter or punctured after slaughter, nevertheless the bird would still be kosher; it would just have to be cut up, rather than roasted whole, so that the blood would have an opportunity to drain out of the meat.

    The term used by Rabbi Yehudah for arteries is veridim – a word that does not appear in biblical Hebrew at all – that refers to the major blood vessels in the neck. The distinction that is made today between veins – the vessels that carry deoxygenated blood from the rest of the body to the heart – and arteries that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body, is a modern concept that was unknown in the time of the Gemara. The Arukh haShulhan rules that Rabbi Yehudah requires that the large veins in the neck near the skin be cut, but most of the poskim, following the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishnah, argue that the reference is to the two arteries that are deeper in the neck, behind the esophagus and the trachea.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

    Berakhot 9a-b – Different aspects of redemption

    In the first Mishnah of Massekhet Berakhot (daf, or page 2), Rabban Gamliel taught that many commandments that are supposed to be completed by midnight, can really be done until dawn. The Gemara on today’s daf notes that the commandment to eat the Passover sacrifice is not included in his list, indicating that Rabban Gamliel believes that it cannot wait until dawn and must be completed by midnight.

    Rav Yosef explains that in fact there is a difference of opinion between the tannaim regarding this point. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya agrees with Rabban Gamliel that the sacrifice must be eaten by midnight while Rabbi Akiva believes that it can be eaten until dawn. Rabbi Abba explains that they differ with regard to when the period of “haste” that represented redemption took place – when the Egyptians hurried to their homes at night to encourage them to leave, or when the Israelites hurried to leave during the day. All agree, however, that permission for redemption was given at night and that the redemption itself took place during the day.

    In his Ein Ayah, Rav Kook explains that here are two separate elements to the transition from slavery to freedom. First, the slave acquires a personal sense of freedom and becomes master of his own fate. Second, he becomes free in the eyes of others, i.e., he is perceived by those surrounding him as a free man and has the potential to influence them. With regard to the children of Israel, the first element enabled them to receive the Torah and elevate themselves with the fulfillment of God’s commandments. The second element provided Israel with the opportunity to become a “light unto the nations.” Therefore, the redemption was divided into two stages. The first stage, in which they acquired private, personal freedom, took place at night; the second stage, which drew the attention of the world to the miracle of the Exodus, took place during the day.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 10a-b – Recognizing God in every stage of life

    Much of today’s daf (=page) is devoted to explanations of prophetic verses in the books of Tehillim and Mishlei. One of the passages discussed appears in Eshet Hayil, a section at the end of the Book of Mishlei. Rabbi Yohanan quotes Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai as teaching:

    What is the meaning of that which is written: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of loving-kindness is on her tongue” (Mishlei 31:26)? The Sages explain that this chapter discusses the wisdom of Torah and those who engage in its study, so with reference to whom did Solomon say this verse? He said this verse about none other than his father, David, who was the clearest example of one who opens his mouth in wisdom, and who resided in five worlds or stages of life and his soul said a song of praise corresponding to each of them. Five times David said: “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” each corresponding to a different stage of life.

    He resided in his mother’s womb, his first world, and said a song of praise of the pregnancy, as it is stated: “Of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless His holy name” (Tehillim 103:1).

    He emerged into the atmosphere of the world, his second world, looked upon the stars and constellations and said a song of praise of God for the entirety of creation, as it is stated: “Bless the Lord, His angels, mighty in strength, that fulfill His word, listening to the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His servants, that do His will. Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His kingship, bless my soul, Lord” (Tehillim 103:20-23). David saw the grandeur of all creation and recognized that they are mere servants, carrying out the will of their Creator.

    He nursed from his mother’s breast, his third world, and he looked upon her bosom and said a song of praise, as it is stated: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits [gemulav]” (Tehillim 103:2). The etymological association is between gemulav and gemulei meĥalav, which means weaned from milk (Yeshayahu 28:9).

    He witnessed in both vision and reality the downfall of the wicked and he said a song of praise, as it is stated: “Let sinners cease from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul, Halleluya” (Tehillim 104:35).

    The fifth world was when David looked upon the day of death and said a song of praise, as it is stated: “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed in glory and majesty” (Tehillim 104:1); for even death is a time of transcendence for the righteous.

    In his Ein Ayah, Rav Kook teaches that there is a tremendous difference between looking upon an experience in a superficial manner and reflecting upon it and contemplating it. An individual who merely sees the external will not come to understand the deeper, spiritual significance of a given experience or encounter. Natural events like pregnancy, birth, and nursing may seem to be mundane events experienced by humans and animals alike. However, one with a higher level of spiritual discernment will appreciate the vast difference between man and animal. King David’s songs of praise, uttered at every stage of life, attest to the magnitude of his sensitivity to God’s beneficence and to his appreciation of His role in the world.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 11a-b – Different kinds of love

    On today’s daf (page) the Gemara discusses the blessing that introduces recitation of the Shema: Does one recite ahavah rabah “an abounding love” or ahavat olam “an eternal love”?

    We have inherited two kinds of love from our fathers, and both kinds can be considered a natural part of us in the sense that everyone can experience them with appropriate incentive and guidance. The first of these loves is abounding love, which is indeed vast and superior in every way. It is totally superior and, in contrast to earthly love, is not dependent on any external factor. It can only be achieved through an act of meditation and introspection. Love that sublime opens one up to a growing degree of awareness, of inner identity with divinity. It is a wholly internal experience, deeper, broader, and more sublime than any other.

    On the one hand, one may justifiably wonder whether this sublime love is essential for one’s immediate well-being. What is wrong with simply and naturally loving God with the second type of love, eternal love, like a son loves his father? Why can one not simply confess the soul’s dependence on and yearning for God and leave the intellectual quest to fathom His greatness to those better qualified? After all, simple, natural love is within the capacity of all men, whereas the intellectual inquiry and meditative comprehension of the divine requires an elevated level of connection, attained by only a few. On the other hand, if a son becomes conscious of his father’s greatness and learns to appreciate his virtues and capabilities, that will enrich his love and provide it with breadth and vitality that may otherwise be lacking. The simple love then transcends its irrational, natural, and personal confines and becomes something that greatly enhances one’s capacity to live in the world of God, Father to us all. It is as though one were to say: Even if God were not my own King and Father, I could not help loving Him in every way. Thus, the relationship gains an added dimension.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 12a-b – Morning blessings recited in the Temple

    While discussing the blessings that accompany the recitation of the Shema, the Gemara describes the practice in the Temple. In a Mishnah in Massekhet Tamid we learn:

    In the morning the deputy High Priest appointed to oversee activity in the Temple, said to the priests who were members of the priestly watch [mishmar] on duty that week: Recite a single blessing. The members of the priestly watch recited a blessing, and read the Ten Commandments, Shema, VeHaya im Shamoa and VaYomer, the standard recitation of Shema. Additionally they blessed the people with three blessings. These blessings were:

    True and Firm, the blessing of redemption recited after Shema;

    Avoda, service, the special blessing recited over God’s acceptance of the sacrifices with favor, similar to the blessing of Temple Service recited in the Amida prayer; and

    the priestly benediction, recited in the form of a prayer without the outstretched hands that usually accompany that blessing.

    And on Shabbat one blessing is added to bless the outgoing priestly watch, as the watch serving in the Temple was replaced on Shabbat.

    Even before the Temple’s construction was completed, there were already more priests than necessary to perform the sacred service. Therefore, King David and the prophet Samuel established priestly watches (see I Divrei HaYamim Chapter 24). Based on ancient criteria, the priests were grouped into twenty-four watches, each serving in the Temple for one week twice a year. Only during the Pilgrimage Festivals, when the entire nation ascended to Jerusalem, did all of the priests come to the Temple. During the Second Temple period, the watches were redivided; however, the basic divisions remained intact. Each watch was divided into six paternal families, each assigned to one day of the week, so that all of the members of the watch would serve. The changing of the watches took place each Shabbat, and they would then perform the ceremony and recite the blessing for the incoming priestly watch.

    The Gemara teaches that the final blessing that was added when the priestly watch changed over was “May He cause love and brotherhood, peace and camaraderie to dwell among you.”

    The Maharsha explains that the incoming priestly watch was blessed with this particular blessing because, at least for a brief period, the choice of the priest who would perform a particular service in the Temple was based on the result of competition between the priests. This competition sometimes led to calamitous results. Therefore, this blessing was recited in the hope that the incoming watch would be blessed with brotherhood and peace.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 13a-b – Reciting the Shema mid-lecture

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) relates that Rav said to his uncle, Rabbi Ĥiyya: I did not see Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi accept the kingship of Heaven upon himself, meaning that he did not see him recite Shema. In response Rabbi Ĥiyya said to him, when Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi passed his hands over his face in the study hall in the middle of his lesson, he accepted the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven upon himself, as his Shema was comprised of a single verse.

    Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s students and members of his household disputed:

    Does he complete Shema later or does he not complete it later? Bar Kappara says: He does not complete it later. Rabbi Shimon, son of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, says: He completes it later. Bar Kappara said to Rabbi Shimon, son of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi:

    Granted, according to my position, that I say that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi does not complete Shema later, that is why when he taught, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi would specifically seek a topic that included the exodus from Egypt, as by so doing he fulfills the mitzvah to remember the Exodus; a mitzvah that others fulfill in their recitation of the last paragraph of Shema. But according to you, who says that he completes his recitation of Shema later, why, when he teaches, would he specifically seek a topic that included the exodus from Egypt?

    Rabbi Shimon responded: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi did so in order to mention the exodus from Egypt at its appointed time, during the time of the recitation of Shema.

    Although this Gemara is describing an unusual situation, where Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi fulfilled the mitzvah of Shema while in the middle of his lecture, his practice of passing his hand over his face has become a standard feature of the recitation of the Shema. Various explanations of this practice have been offered. Rav Hai Ga’on and the Arukh suggest that while accepting God’s dominion over the entire world, one must direct his eyes in all directions, and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi covered his eyes to conceal their movement. Rashi explains that passing his hands over his face was meant to keep all potential distractions from his sight in order to facilitate proper intent.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 14a-b – Burial in the time of the Mishnah

    Jewish law recognizes the significance of death and mourning, so that involvement in burial will free an individual even from such important commandments as the recitation of the Shema. The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) quotes a baraita that teaches:

    One who digs a grave for the dead in the wall of the family burial cave is exempt from the recitation of Shema, from prayer, from phylacteries, and from all mitzvot mentioned in the Torah. When the appointed time for the recitation of Shema arrives, he emerges from the cave, washes his hands, dons phylacteries, recites Shema, and prays.

    The Gemara points out that the baraita itself is difficult and it appears to be contradictory:

    The first clause of the baraita stated that one digging a grave is exempt from the recitation of Shema, and the latter clause stated that he is obligated to emerge and recite Shema.

    The Gemara responds: That is not difficult. The latter clause of the baraita refers to a case of two individuals digging the grave together; one pauses to recite Shema while the other continues digging. The first clause of the baraita refers to a case of one individual digging alone, who may not stop.

    According to traditional burial practice during Mishnaic times, the coffins, or sarcophagi, were placed in compartments chiseled in cave walls. The grave would typically be hewn long in advance; however, on occasion they would only begin to dig when the individual died, in which case the work was urgent.

    There is an apparent redundancy in the baraita as it teaches that one is exempt from the recitation of Shema and from all mitzvot mentioned in the Torah. Given that the recitation of Shema is, itself, a mitzvah mentioned in the Torah, its mention was unnecessary. Tosefot Rabbeinu Yehuda HaĤasid explain that had the baraita merely stated: From all mitzvot mentioned in the Torah, one might have drawn the erroneous conclusion that it is referring only to those mitzvot with no set time, which may, therefore, be postponed; not to mitzvot like Shema whose time will pass.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 15a-b – What does a grave have to do with a womb?

    On today’s daf (=page) we find that Rabbi Tavi quotes Rabbi Yoshiya regarding a question having to do with the recitation of Shema. Incidental to this statement, the Gemara cites another statement in their name:

    And Rabbi Tavi said that Rabbi Yoshiya said: What is meant by that which is written:

    “There are three that are never satisfied…the grave and the barren womb” (Mishlei 30:15-16)? What does a grave have to do with a womb? Rather, this juxtaposition comes to tell you: Just as a womb takes in and gives forth, so too a grave takes in and gives forth with the resurrection of the dead.

    And is this not an a fortiori inference: Just as the fetus is placed into the womb in private, and the baby is removed from it with loud cries at childbirth; the grave into which the deceased is placed with loud cries of mourning at burial, is it not right that the body should be removed with loud cries? From this verse there is a refutation to those who say that there is no Torah source for the resurrection of the dead.

    The passage in Mishlei refers to three entities that are never satisfied: The grave, the womb, and the earth.

    The Maharsha explains that it is only with regard to the earth that the verse specifies that it can never get enough water. With regard to the grave and the womb, the verse does not specify what it is of which they can never get enough. Therefore, the Gemara concludes: The verse remained silent with regard to these two juxtaposed entities to underscore a connection between them. The Gra suggests that the four daughters mentioned in the verse represent the four primordial elements: The grave represents earth, the womb represents wind, the earth not satisfied with water represents water, and fire is, obviously, fire. The Gemara noted that rather than juxtapose the grave, representing earth, to earth not satisfied with water, the verse inserted the womb in between. This is because the earth and the womb have motherhood and birth in common, as man was created from the earth (Vilna Gaon on Mishlei 30:16).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 16a-b – A unique slave

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches a number of situations in which Rabban Gamliel did not personally follow the laws that he taught. For example, although a groom is not obligated in the recitation of the Shema, on his wedding day Rabban Gamliel did recite it, explaining to his students that he was unable to refrain from the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven even for one moment.

    The Mishnah continues:

    And when his slave, Tavi, died, Rabban Gamliel accepted condolences for his death as one would for a close family member. His students said to him: Have you not taught us, our teacher, that one does not accept condolences for the death of slaves?

    Rabban Gamliel said to his students: My slave, Tavi, is not like all the rest of the slaves, he was virtuous and it is appropriate to accord him the same respect accorded to a family member.

    This does not contradict the principle that one does not accept condolences for slaves, as is explained in the Jerusalem Talmud: From here we see that a student is beloved like a son. A virtuous slave who was a student, like Tavi, is beloved like a son and therefore one may accept condolences for his death.

    Tavi, the slave of Rabban Gamliel, is the most famous slave in the Talmud. Some go so far as to draw a parallel between Tavi, the slave of Rabban Gamliel, and Eliezer, the slave of Abraham. Rabban Gamliel was very fond of Tavi and appreciated his character and Torah knowledge. The Gemara relates that when Rabban Gamliel thought he had discovered a way to free Tavi he was overjoyed. Ultimately, though, he did not free him, due to concern over the prohibition to free a slave. Despite this, Rabban Gamliel treated him as a member of his family and, therefore, he accepted condolences when Tavi died.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 17a-b – Jesus in the Talmud

    The Gemara relates that when the Sages took leave of Rav Hisda (some say it was Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani) they would say the following homiletic interpretation of the passage in Sefer Tehillim (144:14):

    “There is no breach”; that our faction of Sages should not be like the faction of David, from which Ahitophel emerged, who caused a breach in the kingdom of David.

    “And no going forth”; that our faction should not be like the faction of Shaul, from which Doeg the Edomite emerged, who set forth on an evil path.

    “And no outcry”; that our faction should not be like the faction of Elisha, from which Geihazi emerged.

    “In our open places”; that we should not have a child or student who overcooks his food in public, i.e., who sins in public and causes others to sin, as in the well-known case of Jesus the Nazarene.

    In standard versions of the Talmud, this story appears without the name Jesus the Nazarene, which was removed by censors due to sensitivity to the Christian society in which they lived.

    Another example appears in tractate Sotah (47a), where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Peraĥya is depicted as one who pushed aside Jesus the Nazarene with both hands. The Gemara relates that Yehoshua ben Peraĥya was returning to Jerusalem following his flight to Alexandria in Egypt, together with his student, Jesus the Nazarene. When they stopped in an inn and were treated well, Yehoshua ben Peraĥya mentioned to Jesus that the service was good. Jesus responded that the innkeeper was unattractive. This response led Yehoshua ben Peraĥya to ostracize Jesus. Yehoshua ben Peraĥya was unable to bring himself to revoke the ostracism until it was too late and Jesus turned away from traditional Judaism.

    It should be noted, however, that the story of Yehoshua ben Peraĥya, who was driven from Jerusalem by the Hasmonean King Alexander Yannai, could not have taken place any later than 76 BCE. Consequently, the reference to Jesus the Nazarene cannot be connected with the individual surrounding whom the Christian faith was established. Many commentaries suggest that all talmudic references to Jesus refer to another person, or perhaps there was more than one person with that name who lived during the time of the Mishnah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 18a-b – Final respect for the dead

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) relates a number of rules and regulations concerning the dignity of the deceased. Thus, for example:

    One who watches over the deceased, even though it is not his dead relative, is exempt from the recitation of Shema, from the Amida prayer and from phylacteries, and from all mitzvot mentioned in the Torah.

    One who transports bones from place to place may not place them in a saddlebag and place them on the donkey’s back and ride on them, as in doing so he treats the remains disgracefully. However, if he is afraid of gentiles or highwaymen and therefore must move quickly, he is permitted to do so.

    One who sees the deceased taken to burial and does not escort him has committed a transgression due to the verse: “He who mocks the poor blasphemes his Creator.”

    Similarly, the Gemara relates:

    Rabbi Ĥiyya and Rabbi Yonatan were walking in a cemetery and the sky-blue string of Rabbi Yonatan’s ritual fringes was cast to the ground and dragging across the graves. Rabbi Ĥiyya said to him: Lift it, so the dead will not say: Tomorrow, when their day comes, they will come to be buried with us, and now they are insulting us.

    According to the ruling in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 23:1), in places where the custom is to attach ritual fringes to one’s regular clothing, one may enter a cemetery with that garment, but he must make certain that the ritual fringes do not drag over the graves, in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Ĥiyya. Nowadays, when the garment with the ritual fringes is designated exclusively for prayer, one is prohibited from wearing it in a cemetery even if the ritual fringes do not drag across the graves. If one wears the garment beneath his clothing, it is permitted to enter the cemetery.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 19a-b – The excommunication of a Sage

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses cases of excommunication, and mentions the famous case of Rabbi Eliezer and the tanur shel akhnai – the “snake oven” – that appears in Massekhet Bava Metzia (daf 59).

    A question was raised about the status of an oven that was made of separate pieces and then placed together with sand between the pieces. Should this tanur shel akhnai be seen as having lost its status as an existing oven when taken apart and rebuilt, or is it considered an oven throughout, since it was made to be taken apart in this way? Rabbi Eliezer felt that it lost its status as an oven and therefore, had it become ritually defiled, it would lose that status, as well; the Hakhamim ruled that it retained its status throughout.

    Rather than argue the case on its merits, the Gemara records that Rabbi Eliezer called on the carob tree to support him, the flowing water to support him, and the walls of the study hall to support him. In response to his call, the carob tree uprooted itself and moved 400 amot (=cubits), the spring flowed backwards and the walls began to collapse – until Rabbi Yehoshua stopped them. The Sages refused to be influenced by any of these miraculous occurrences. Finally Rabbi Eliezer asked the heavens to support his position, and a bat kol – a heavenly voice – was heard to say “Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, whose rulings are always correct?” In response the Sages said lo ba-shamayim he – since the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, decisions are no longer made based on heavenly decisions, but on the decisions of the Rabbis who interpret it.

    While some rishonim take this story literally and explain that miracles were performed on behalf of the Talmudic sages, just as they were for the early prophets, Rabbenu Hananel suggests another approach. He argues that this story was a dream – a vision at night – that seemed so real and significant that it was recorded for the message that it contains.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 20a-b – The decrees of Ezra the Scribe

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) relates that Ezra the Scribe decreed that one who is ritually impure because of a seminal emission may not engage in matters of Torah until he has immersed in a ritual bath and purified himself. Based on this the Mishnah teaches: If the time for the recitation of Shema arrived and one is impure due to a seminal emission, he may contemplate Shema in his heart, but neither recites the blessings preceding Shema, nor the blessings following it.

    The Gemara (Bava Kamma daf 82a) cites a tradition with regard to the ten ordinances instituted by Ezra in order to enhance fulfillment of both mitzvot by Torah law and ancient customs. The common thread among all the ordinances was enhancing the sanctity in the daily existence of the people. By Torah law, one who experienced a seminal emission is ritually impure and prohibited from eating teruma and consecrated foods. In his ordinance, Ezra instituted that the individual must purify himself before praying or engaging in Torah study, as well. Although the ordinance was repealed several generations later, it remained the custom in many communities as well as a custom of the pious throughout the generations.

    The continuation of the Gemara (daf 22a) teaches that when Ze’iri came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he taught “They abolished this ritual immersion.” According to most commentaries, (e.g., Rambam, Ra’avad, Shitta Mekubbetzet, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah), they could do so because Ezra’s ordinance did not gain acceptance throughout Israel. The principle is that any ordinance that did not gain acceptance, even if it was instituted by Torah giants, may be overturned by later generations; even by a court of lower stature than the one that instituted it in the first place. Indeed, the ordinance was repealed for several reasons. It led to dereliction in the study of Torah and it discouraged procreation. Therefore, it only remained as a custom to enhance sanctity.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 21a-b – A mistaken prayer on Shabbat

    In the course of a discussion about prayers said in error, the Gemara quotes Rav Nahman as relating:

    When we were in the school of Rabba bar Avuha we raised a dilemma before him:

    Those students who mistakenly recited a blessing from the weekday Amida on Shabbat, what is the ruling with regards to completing the weekday prayer? And Rabba bar Avuha said to us: The ruling is that one must complete that entire blessing.
    The Gemara explains:

    On Shabbat, the individual is obligated and should actually recite all eighteen blessings, and it is the Sages who did not impose upon him in deference to Shabbat and instituted an abridged formula.

    According to this opinion, Shabbat prayer is an abbreviated version of the weekday prayer, and therefore one who recites the weekday Amida on Shabbat and includes mention of Shabbat in his prayer, has, for all intents and purposes, arrived at the essence of the prayer and has fulfilled his obligation.

    Thus, one who was reciting the morning, afternoon, or evening prayer on Shabbat and mistakenly began to recite a blessing from the corresponding weekday Amida, completes the blessing that he began and then continues with the Shabbat prayer, in accordance with the opinion of Rabba bar Avuha.

    There is one Shabbat prayer that may be different. If one began to recite a weekday blessing during the musaf (additional) prayer, which would not be recited on a typical weekday, some say that he does the same as he does in the rest of the Shabbat prayers. The Ra’avad, however, rules that he stops immediately and continues with the additional prayer, since there is no connection between weekday blessings and the musaf prayer.

    The later poskim ruled in accordance with the latter opinion to avoid a possible blessing in vain (see Mishna Berurah; Rambam Sefer Ahava, Hilkhot Tefilla 10:7; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 268:2).
    .
    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 22a-b – *Those who immerse in the mornings*

    Even after Ze’iri quoted the ruling that abolished the decree of Ezra the Scribe requiring immersion and purification prior to Torah study (see above, daf, or page 20), the Gemara continues to discuss those who followed this practice. Thus we find Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asking: “What is the essence of those who immerse themselves in the morning?” The Gemara clarifies this question to be one of why immersion in a full 40-se’ah ritual bath would be necessary when other options are available, e.g., pouring nine-kav of water over the individual.

    Those mentioned here as “immersing in the morning” may have once comprised a clearly defined group who deviated from the path established by the Sages in different ways.

    At the end of the Tosefta for tractate Yadayim we find the following: Those who immerse in the morning said: We rail against you Pharisees, for you recite the Name of God in a state of impurity. They replied: We rail against you who immerse in the morning, for you recite the Name in an impure body. Apparently, those who immersed in the morning considered themselves separate from the Pharisee Sages of Israel. Indeed, some theorize that this refers to an Essene cult that was particularly strict with regard to the laws of purity and whose members stringently purified themselves after seminal emissions by immersing in an actual ritual bath.

    It is clear, however, that throughout the Talmudic period purification before Torah study was commonplace. The Gemara relates:

    Rav Pappa and Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, and Rava bar Shmuel ate bread together.

    Rav Pappa said to them: Allow me to recite Grace after Meals for the group, as I am ritually pure because nine kav of water fell upon me; i.e., he poured it over himself.

    Rava bar Shmuel said to them: We learned, in what case is this statement that nine kav purify, said? In a case involving Torah study for himself. But, in order to purify himself that he may teach Torah to others, and by extension to fulfill the obligation of others, he must immerse himself in forty se’ah. Rather, allow me to recite Grace after Meals for the group, as forty se’ah of water fell upon me; i.e., I immersed myself in a ritual bath.

    Rav Huna said to them: Allow me to recite Grace after Meals for the group, as I have had neither this nor that upon me because I remained ritually pure.

    Ultimately the Gemara concludes that there is no difference between the need to purify oneself for personal Torah study or to teach others, and, as we have learned, that the decree of Ezra no longer applies.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 23a-b – Restrictions to prayer

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses a variety of situations where a person is limited in his ability to pray. For example, one may not hold phylacteries in his hand or a Torah scroll in his arm and pray, because his concern that the phylacteries or Torah scroll might fall will distract him from his prayer.

    Another example is someone who needs to go to the bathroom. The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches:

    One who needs to relieve himself may not pray, and if he prayed, his prayer is an abomination.

    Rav Zevid and some say Rav Yehuda said in qualifying this statement:

    They only taught this halakhah in a case where one cannot restrain himself. But, if he can restrain himself, his prayer is a valid prayer as he is not tarnished by his need to relieve himself.

    In this case there are two reasons that he cannot pray. First, he is distracted and unable to concentrate on his prayer; and because one who needs to relieve himself is considered filthy and unfit to pray.

    The Gemara continues:

    And for how long must he be able to restrain himself? Rav Sheshet said: For as long as it takes to walk one parasang.

    The determination of the length of time necessary to walk a parasang is connected to the disagreement with regard to the basic unit of measurement, the time necessary to walk a Talmudic mil. The talmudic mil is a unit of distance related to, but not identical with, the Roman mile, from which it received its name. One mil is equal to 2,000 cubits, 960 m (1,049 yd) according to Avraham Chaim Na’e, or 1,150 m (1,258 yd) according to the Ĥazon Ish. The fundamental problem lies in the method used to determine a person’s regular walking pace. According to the various opinions, the time it takes to walk a parasang is either one hour and twelve minutes or one hour and thirty-six minutes.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 24a-b – The challenge of moving to Israel

    Should one move to Israel?

    The Gemara relates that there was a disagreement among the Sages of the Gemara regarding this question.

    Rabbi Abba was avoiding being seen by his teacher Rav Yehuda, as Rabbi Abba sought to ascend to Eretz Yisrael and his teacher disapproved, as Rav Yehuda said: Anyone who ascends from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael transgresses a positive commandment, as it is stated: “They shall be taken to Babylonia and there they shall remain until the day that I recall them, said the Lord” (Yirmiyahu 27:22). Rabbi Abba did not want to discuss his desire to emigrate with Rav Yehuda. Nevertheless he said: I will go and hear something from him at the hall where the Sages assemble, without being seen, and afterwards I will leave Babylonia.

    The Gemara in Massekhet Ketubot (daf, or page 110b) relates a similar incident regarding Rabbi Zeira who, like Rabbi Abba, was a student of Rav Yehudah who desired to move to Israel. According to that Gemara, the proof-text brought by Rav Yehudah from Sefer Yirmiyahu was understood by Rabbi Zeira as referring specifically to the Temple vessels that had been looted by the Babylonian troops. According to his approach, those vessels would not be returned until the time of redemption, but the passage does not relate at all to moving to Israel.

    Tosafot point out that in any case, the context of the passage in Yirmiyahu clearly relates to the period following the destruction of the first Temple; nevertheless Rav Yehudah chose to apply it to his time, as well. Apparently even according to Rav Yehuda’s understanding, the prohibition – which is unique to Babylonia – did not apply while the Temple was standing, for then there is clearly a mitzvah to immigrate to the land of Israel and fulfill the mitzvot that are connected with the land of Israel. However, Rav Yehuda maintained that after the destruction of the Temple it was forbidden to leave Babylonia.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 25a-b – Of chamber pots and prayer

    While it is easily understood that praying in the vicinity of filth or excrement is inappropriate, the Gemara on today’s daf (=page) teaches that a chamber pot is always considered to be disgusting, even if it is clean.

    The Sages taught: Opposite a chamber pot used for excrement or urine, it is prohibited to recite Shema, even if there is nothing in it, as it is always considered filthy.

    In light of this ruling the Gemara discusses what can be done to avoid the problem of reciting the Shema with a chamber pot in the room.

    Rav Yosef said: I raised a dilemma before Rav Huna: It is obvious to me that a bed under which there is a space of less than three handbreadths is considered connected [lavud] to the ground as if the void beneath it does not exist, as halakhah considers a void of less than three handbreadths as sealed. What, then, is the dilemma? What is the halakhah if that space is three, four, five, six, seven, eight or nine handbreadths? He said to him: I do not know. However, with regard to a space greater than ten handbreadths I certainly have no dilemma, as it is clear that this space is considered a separate domain. Abaye said to him: You did well that you did not have a dilemma, as the halakhah is that any space tenhandbreadths high is a separate domain.

    The Tosafot R”I explain that there are two basic measurements established here: A space of less than three handbreadths is considered as if it were connected, so any void smaller than this is considered non-existent with regard to practical demarcation of limits and boundaries. Ten handbreadths, however, establishes not only a significant separation, but a separate domain in and of itself. Since their beds were covered along the sides, anything less than three handbreadths is considered connected, while more than ten is considered a separate room.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 26a-b – The source of the Amidah prayer

    The primary focus of the fourth chapter of Massekhet Berakhot, which begins on today’s daf (=page) is the Amidah prayer, also called Shemoneh Esreh (Eighteen), which was the number of blessings originally instituted in the weekday prayer. It is recited on weekdays, on Shabbat, and on Festivals. The fundamental question is: What is the source of the Amida prayer? Is it tied to Shema, the course of a person’s daily life, the days that turn into night and vice-versa? Or is the primary element its connection to the sacred service performed in the Temple, serving as a substitute form of worship since its destruction? This dilemma, manifest in the dispute amongst the Sages whether prayer was instituted by the Patriarchs or established parallel to the daily offerings in the Temple, touches upon the different characteristics of prayer and serves as a basis for the halakhic questions discussed in this chapter.

    Clearly, there is a consensus that beyond the essential obligation to pray, the source of which was subject to dispute, the various prayers must be recited at fixed times. It is, then, necessary to ascertain the parameters of those times: When is the earliest and latest time that each prayer can be recited? This is relevant to the morning prayer, which is parallel to the daily offering sacrificed early in the morning when the Temple stood, and to the afternoon prayer, which is parallel to the daily offering sacrificed in the afternoon.

    Some explain the idea that “prayers were instituted based on the daily offerings” to mean that prayerswere instituted by the Sages after the destruction of the Temple to replace the offerings. However, these prayers were already extant throughout the Second Temple era with virtually the same formula that was instituted later, with certain known differences. Furthermore, there were already synagogues at that time, some even in close proximity to the Temple. The dispute in this case is whether the prayers were instituted to parallel the offerings, or whether the prayers have an independent source, unrelated to the Temple Service.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 27a-b – Halakhic battles in the study hall

    In the course of discussing whether the evening service is obligatory or optional, the Gemara relates the following story:

    The Sages taught: There was an incident involving a student, who came before Rabbi Yehoshua. The student said to him: Is the evening prayer optional or obligatory? Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: Optional.

    The same student came before Rabban Gamliel and said to him: Is the evening prayer optional or obligatory? Rabban Gamliel said to him: Obligatory.

    The student said to Rabban Gamliel: But didn’t Rabbi Yehoshua tell me that the evening prayer is optional? Rabban Gamliel said to the student: Wait until the ba’alei terisin – “the masters of the shields,” a reference to the Torah scholars who battle in the war of Torah, enter the study hall, at which point we will discuss this issue.

    When the ba’alei terisin entered, the questioner stood before everyone present and asked: Is the evening prayer optional or obligatory?

    Rabban Gamliel said to him: Obligatory. In order to ascertain whether or not Rabbi Yehoshua still maintained his opinion, Rabban Gamliel said to the Sages: Is there any person who disputes this matter?

    Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: No, no one disagrees. In deference to the Nasi, he did not wish to argue with him publicly (Tziyyun Le-Nefesh Ĥayya). Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua: But was it not in your name that they told me that the evening prayer is optional?

    Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua: Yehoshua, stand on your feet and they will testify against you. Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: If I were alive and the student were dead, the living can contradict the dead, and I could deny issuing that ruling. Now that I am alive and he is alive, how can the living contradict the living? I have no choice but to admit that I said it.

    In the meantime, Rabban Gamliel, as the Nasi, was sitting and lecturing, and Rabbi Yehoshua all the while was standing on his feet, because Rabban Gamliel did not instruct him to sit. He remained standing in deference to the Nasi. This continued for some time, until it aroused great resentment against Rabban Gamliel, and all of the people assembled began murmuring and said to Ĥutzpit the disseminator: Stop conveying Rabban Gamliel’s lecture. And he stopped.

    While Rashi interprets ba’alei terisin as the scholars who debate one another in the “battle of Torah,” the Arukh offers the more literal definition of “shield bearers,” that is, soldiers or police officers who were appointed by the government to support the Jewish leadership. In this story, as well as similar ones that appear in other places in the Talmud, we see that Rabban Gamliel desired to establish Yavneh as the central address for singular leadership and law in the post-Temple era. In his disagreements with Rabbi Yehoshua – one of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s closest students – he aims to clarify and establish his halakhic decisions as binding.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 28a-b – Who escorts us to the next world?

    At the moment of death, who escorts us to the next world?

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) relates that when on his deathbed, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was visited by his students who asked him why he was crying and ultimately to be blessed by him. He responded by telling them that he was unsure whether he would be led to Gan Eden or to Gehinom, and that they should fear God as much as they fear man. After some discussion of these matters, the Gemara relates his final concerns:

    At the time of his death, immediately beforehand, he said to them: Remove the vessels from the house and take them outside due to the ritual impurity that will be imparted by my corpse, which they would otherwise contract. And prepare a chair for Hezekiah, the King of Judea, who is coming from the upper world to accompany me.

    Some say that it was specifically Hezekiah who appeared to Rabban Yoĥanan because he was one of his descendants (Rav Sa’adia Ga’on). Others say that Hezekiah appeared because Rabban Yoĥanan, like Hezekiah before him, brought about an increase in the Torah study among the Jews (see Mishlei 25:1).

    This may also be interpreted symbolically. Hezekiah, as the representative of the royal House of David, was declaring that there is no anger over the fact that Rabbi Yoĥanan filled the position of Nasi in place of the descendants of Beit Hillel who were descendants of the House of David. It was also an allusion to the fact that the position of Nasi, the throne represented by the chair, would be restored to a descendant of the House of David, Rabban Gamliel (Tziyyun Le-Nefesh Ĥayya). Rav Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog interprets the appearance of King Hezekiah as a message that although Hezekiah did not surrender when Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem, he approved of Rabban Yoĥanan’s concessions to Roman rule as timely, and that is why he came to accompany him.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Daf Yomi
    Berakhot 29a-b – Will a righteous person remain virtuous until his death?

    On today’s daf (=page), the Gemara discusses the blessing regarding heretics and describes how – in the days before written prayer books – Shmu’el HaKatan had difficulty remembering the language of the blessing and was given time to recollect the blessing. The Gemara explains that since he penned the blessing he was not suspected of avoiding its recitation. This story leads to a discussion about whether a righteous person may become a transgressor later in life.

    The Gemara asks: And does he not become wicked? Didn’t we learn in a mishnah: Do not be sure of yourself until the day you die, as Yoĥanan the High Priest served in the High Priesthood for eighty years and ultimately became a Sadducee. Even one who is outstanding in his righteousness can become a heretic.

    Abaye responded: He is Yannai he is Yoĥanan. In other words, from its inception, the entire Hasmonean dynasty had the same positive attitude toward the Sadducees, and there was no distinction between Yoĥanan Hyrcanus and Alexander Yannai. Yoĥanan the High Priest had Sadducee leanings from the outset.

    Rava disagrees with Abayye. The Gemara explains that according to Rava:

    Yannai is distinct and Yoĥanan is distinct. They did not share the same position in this regard. Yannai was wicked from the outset and Yoĥanan was righteous from the outset.

    This dispute with regard to Yannai and Yoĥanan alludes to the general assessment of the entire royal house of the Hasmoneans. In this passage, Yoĥanan the High Priest symbolizes all the Hasmonean kings who served as High Priests for approximately eighty years. Ultimately, the degree to which they distanced themselves from the Pharisee tradition and drew closer to the Sadducee tradition became more and more evident, culminating in the reign of Alexander Yannai. The dispute here focuses on whether their dynasty was flawed from its inception or whether it deteriorated over time.

    The Gemara explains that according to Rava, it was only because Shmu’el HaKatan began the blessing before becoming confused that he was not suspected of being a heretic.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 30a-b – Focusing on the content of prayer

    The fourth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot dealt primarily with clarifying the framework for prayer, i.e., establishing the times of the fixed prayers and defining the circumstances in which an individual is exempt from prayer. The primary focus of the fifth perek, which begins on today’s daf (=page) is the content of the prayer, the details within this framework. While the previous chapter discussed the individual’s obligation to engage in the act of prayer, this chapter focuses on elucidating the spiritual demands, namely, the requisite and desired approach to prayer. In particular, the chapter deals with how one approaches prayer, what elements are required, permitted, or prohibited to introduce into the prayer formula, and what prayer is capable of accomplishing. Despite the legalistic manner in which the Gemara deals with issues, the halakhah is very closely tied to the philosophical questions involved.

    There are various methods of preparation for prayer, such as adopting an approach of gravity, studying Torah, or engaging in performance of a mitzvah and experiencing the joy associated with that performance. More than an expression of difference of opinion, these constitute a variety of complementary approaches to different aspects of prayer: Petition and submission, the joy of thanksgiving and the gravity of contemplation.

    The many aggadic passages in this chapter shed light on these different aspects of prayer. Even the additions to the daily prayers hold significance. Prayer is a specific framework that expresses particular approaches to supplication and perspectives on faith. A person may not introduce elements to prayer indiscriminately. This was especially significant at a time when there were various deviant sects very close to traditional Judaism, who secretly sought to introduce their deviant ideas into the accepted prayer formula. On the other hand, there are specific elements that one must emphasize and include in his requests. It was vital to determine the most significant, general needs that may and even must be incorporated into the various blessings, such as the request for rain, emphasis of the sanctity of the Festivals, and recitation of havdalah between the sacred and the profane.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 31a-b – Lessons from Biblical characters

    Many halakhot are derived from evoking the prayers of biblical characters. Two of the primary characters who engage in prayer are Daniel, as well as Hannah, the mother of the prophet Shmu’el.

    The Gemara teaches:

    Rabbi Ĥiyya bar Abba said: One should always pray in a house with windows, as it is stated regarding Daniel: “And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went to his house. In his attic there were open windows facing Jerusalem, and three times a day he knelt upon his knees and prayed and gave thanks before his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:11).

    Rashi explains that the need for windows is so one will be able to see the expanses and the sky, while Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah suggest that the windows were necessary to further illuminate the synagogue, as light has a salutary effect and facilitates one’s focus on his prayer.

    In the Tosefta, additional halakhot were derived from Daniel’s prayer.

    I might have thought that one could pray as many times as he wishes throughout the entire day; it has already been articulated by Daniel, with regard to whom it is stated: “And three times a day he knelt upon his knees and prayed.” This teaches that there are fixed prayers.

    I might have thought that this practice of fixed prayer began only when he came to the Babylonian exile; it was stated: “Just as he had done before.”

    Further, I might have thought that one may pray facing any direction he wishes; the verse states: The appropriate direction for prayer is “facing Jerusalem.”

    Daniel does not describe how these three prayers are distributed during the day.

    I might have thought that one may include all three prayers at one time; it has already been articulated by David that one may not do so, as it is written: “Evening and morning and noon, I pray and cry aloud and He hears my voice” (Tehillim 55:18).

    Furthermore, I might have thought that one may make his voice heard in his Amidah prayer; it has already been articulated by Hannah in her prayer, as it is stated: “And Hannah spoke in her heart, only her lips moved and her voice could not be heard” (I Shmuel 1:13).

    Thus, the Rabbinic Sages established the normative rules and regulations of prayer based on the actions of biblical characters as they are presented in the written Torah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 32a-b – Sinning with gold

    One of the most well-known – and disturbing – sins committed by the Children of Israel was building a golden calf just 40 days after receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. On today’s daf (=page), the Gemara offers a number of aggadic interpretations of that incident.

    According to the students of the school of Rabbi Yannai, Moshe laid the blame for the Golden Calf on God, given the generosity that He showed the people in giving them gold and silver. Illustrating this point the Gemara quotes Rabbi Ĥiyya bar Abba in the name of Rabbi Yoĥanan who said:

    This is comparable to a person who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him with oil, fed him and gave him drink, and hung a purse of money around his neck. Then, he brought his son to the entrance of a brothel. What could the son do to avoid sinning?

    The Gemara continues:

    It is stated: “And the Lord said to Moshe: Go and descend, for your people whom you have lifted out of the land of Egypt have been corrupted” (Shmot 32:7). What is the meaning of “go and descend”?

    Rabbi Elazar said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moshe: Moshe, descend from your greatness. Isn’t it only for the sake of Israel, so that you may serve as an emissary, that I granted you prominence; and now that Israel has sinned, why do I need you? There is no need for an emissary.

    Immediately, Moshe’s strength waned and he was powerless to speak in defense of Israel. And once God said to Moshe: “Leave Me be, that I may destroy them” (Devarim 9:19), Moshe said to himself: If God is telling me to let Him be, it must be because this matter is dependent upon me. Immediately Moshe stood and was strengthened in prayer, and asked that God have mercy on the nation of Israel and forgive them for their transgression.

    The Maharsha points out that the phrase, “go and descend,” is not interpreted as a command to literally descend the mountain, but as a symbolic expression. As God did not tell Moshe what to do once he descended the mountain, apparently, this is a statement removing Moshe from his position of prominence. In his Tziyyun LeNefesh Ĥayya Rav Yehezkel Landau explains that this seems to be the case, as, after commanding him to descend, God continued to speak to Moses, indicating that “go and descend” refers to descent from prominence, not from the mountain.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 33a-b – In praise of knowledge

    One of the additional prayers that is added to the Amidah is havdalah – the separation service – that is inserted into the first of the weekday blessings at the close of Shabbat and holidays. Having mentioned that blessing, which relates to wisdom, the Gemara quotes Rav Ami as teaching:

    Great is knowledge that was placed at the beginning of the weekday blessings.

    This teaching leads to a longer discussion of the importance of wisdom.

    And Rav Ami said in praise of knowledge: Great is knowledge that was placed between two letters, two names of God, as it is stated: “For God of knowledge is the Lord” (I Shmuel 2:3). And since knowledge is regarded so highly, anyone without knowledge, it is forbidden to have compassion upon him, as it is stated: “For they are a people of no wisdom, so their Creator will have no compassion upon them and their Creator will not be gracious unto them” (Yeshayahu 27:11). If God shows no mercy for those who lack wisdom, all the more so should people refrain from doing so.

    The Maharsha explains that in this context, knowledge does not refer specifically to intellectual capability, but rather to one’s fundamental ability to conduct oneself and live in accordance with that capability. That is why the Gemara relates so harshly to one without knowledge, as by failing to realize his potential, he negates his own essence. Every creature that maintains his fundamental essence deserves compassion; one without knowledge negates the very justification of his existence.

    Similarly, Rabbi Elazar said: Great is the Holy Temple, as it too was placed between two letters, two names of God, as it is stated: “The place in which to dwell which You have made, Lord, the Temple, Lord, which Your hands have prepared” (Shmot 15:17).

    Noting the parallel between these two ideas, Rabbi Elazar added and said: Anyone with knowledge, it is as if the Holy Temple was built in his days; knowledge was placed between two letters and the Temple was placed between two letters, signifying that they stand together.

    In his Torat HaOlah, the Rema explains that the Sages already established that one who engages in the study of the laws of the burnt-offering it is as if he sacrificed a burnt-offering. Therefore, anyone with knowledge can achieve ultimate closeness to God, which is the purpose of the Temple and the service performed therein. Consequently, it is as if the Temple was built in his days.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 34a-b – The power of fluent prayer

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) describes how errors in prayer are indicative that the prayer is not accepted. In particular it relates the story of Rabbi Ĥaninaben Dosa who told that he knew whether his prayer was accepted based on the fluency with which he was able to recite it.

    The Gemara tells the following story about Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa –

    And there was another incident involving Rabbi Ĥanina ben Dosa, who went to study Torah before Rabbi Yoĥanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Yoĥanan’s son fell ill. He said to him: Ĥanina, my son, pray for mercy on behalf of my son so that he will live. Rabbi Ĥanina ben Dosa placed his head between his knees in order to meditate and prayed for mercy upon his behalf, and Rabbi Yoĥanan ben Zakkai’s son lived.

    Rabbi Yoĥanan ben Zakkai said about himself: “Had ben Zakkai stuck his head between his knees throughout the entire day, they would have paid him no attention.”

    His wife said to him: And is Ĥanina greater than you? He replied to her: No, but his prayer is better received than my own because he is like a servant before the King, and as such he is able to enter before the King and make various requests at all times. I, on the other hand, am like a minister before the King, and I can enter only when invited and can make requests only with regard to especially significant matters.

    According to Rabbi Ĥisdai Crescas in his Or Hashem, Rabban Yoĥanan ben Zakkai sought to express that the acceptance of Rabbi Ĥanina’s prayer was because his devotion to God was greater, although his Torah knowledge was not. According to the parable, the minister, specifically because he is engaged in more significant undertakings, cannot raise his own personal problems or the problems of others before the king. At the same time, the servant, whose devotion is solely to the king, has ready access to him.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 35a-b – Blessing over food

    The origins of blessings of enjoyment, which are recited before partaking of any kind of pleasure, are ancient. The sixth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot seeks to clarify the details of these blessings, but not to establish the essential obligation to recite them. Consequently, the fundamental issue throughout the chapter is the question of parameters and definitions. What do these blessings include? Which blessings are appropriate for which items?

    Blessings over food range from the general to the particular, from general blessings recited over different types of food to blessings recited over very specific items.

    •The most comprehensive blessing: “By whose word all things came to be,” is applicable to all foods.
    •The blessings over the fruit of the earth are more detailed and include a separate blessing for fruit of the trees.
    •Within this category, there is an even more specific blessing over wine: “Who creates fruit of the vine.”
    •Within the category of fruit of the earth, there is also a specific blessing for cooked grains: “Who creates the various kinds of nourishment,” and there is even a blessing recited exclusively over bread: “Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

    These are merely preliminary determinations. The criteria for defining the objects of the blessings must also be established. What constitutes fruit of the tree and fruit of the ground, for these purposes? What is considered a cooked food and what, exactly, is bread? Although some foods clearly fall into a specific category, there are many food items whose categorization is less obvious and whose blessing must be determined. Consequently, most of the discussion in this chapter focuses upon the categorization of these borderline items. There is one underlying principle common to all of these deliberations: A more specific blessing is preferable. The higher the quality and the more extensive the processing of the food item, the more specific and exceptional the blessing. Therefore, the discussion is an attempt to delineate those parameters and to determine the quality and degree of processing of each item.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 36a-b – Blessings over edible parts of the caperbush

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), the sixth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot focuses on the blessings recited before partaking in any kind of pleasures, and specifically on determining the specific type of blessing that is appropriate for a particular food.

    The case discussed on today’s daf is the caperbush, which is described as having three separate edible parts. According to the discussion in the Gemara, over the leaves and young fronds of the caperbush, as well as over its buds, one recites: “Who creates fruit of the ground,” and over its berries, however, he recites: “Who creates fruit of the tree.” The Gemara brings this to show that even over leaves and various other parts of the tree that are secondary to the fruit, the blessing is “Who creates fruit of the ground,” and not the more general “By Whose word all things came to be.”

    The most common species of caperbush in Israel is the thorny caperbush (Capparis spinosa), a thorny, deciduous bush growing to a height of a meter and a half. Its rounded leaves range in color from purple to green. There is a pair of thorns alongside each leaf. The caperbush has large white flowers, approximately 6 cm in diameter, with purple stamens.

    The buds of the caper-bush, the kaprisin, from the Greek κά ππαρις, capparis, meaning caper-bush or fruit of the caper-bush, are the buds of flowers that have not yet bloomed. These buds are pickled and eaten. These buds open into new flowers on a daily basis, are then pollinated and wither on that same day.

    The ripe fruit, or berries of the caper-bush, the avyona, is similar in shape to a date or small squash, and grows to 6 cm.

    In the Mediterranean region, e.g., in Provence and Greece, the caper-bush is grown primarily for its pickled buds. The young fronds are apparently the caper-bush’s young, purple-green branches and their leaves, which in ancient times were pickled and eaten. They are called shuta in Aramaic.

    Botanically, the fruit of the caper-bush is the berry, which is generally eaten pickled, even today.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 37a-b – The status of rice in Jewish law

    In determining the appropriate blessing to recite when eating rice, the Gemara cites two contradictory baraitot. In one rice is determined to be similar to cooked dishes inasmuch as blessings are recited both before and after eating, albeit the blessings are a general “By Whose word all things came to be,” and at the end, “Who creates the many forms of life and their needs for all that You have created.” In the other baraita, rice is treated like a true grain and the blessings are more specific.

    In explanation, the Gemara suggests that the second baraita should be identified with the position put forward by Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri regarding the laws of matzah. Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri rules that rice is also a type of grain for which one would be held liable for eating on Passover if it became hametz, and that one could fulfill the mitzvah by baking it into matzah. The accepted opinion understands that the process of mixing rice with water does not lead to himutz – fermentation – but to sirhon – spoilage. The Jerusalem Talmud explains that establishing which types of grains are those that can become hametz and matzah was based on extensive research done by the sages, who experimented with the baking process to ascertain whether the fermentation process takes place. With regard to a small number of grain-type products, there remained differences of opinions as to whether the process that took place should be considered himutz.

    Although the conclusion of the Gemara clearly rejects the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri, nevertheless over centuries of Jewish history traditions arose that limited the use of kitniyot (=pulses) on Pesach due to a concern that kernels of grain may become mixed in with them. Generally speaking, Ashkenazi communities limit their use. Among the traditions:

    – Some make full use of kitniyot.
    – Some forbid the use of rice, but permit other types of pulses.
    – Some forbid the use of all kitniyot.

    As a rule, people follow the traditions of their parents and communities.

    ***************************************

    Berakhot 38a-b – Dual purpose foods on Shabbat

    Generally speaking, if someone prepares a mixture that is to be ingested for medicinal purposes, it will not receive the normal blessing beforehand. The Gemara points out, however, that if it was prepared as ordinary food or drink, even though it also has medicinal qualities, it would be appropriate to recite a blessing before eating. Thus, Rav Ĥisda explains that when Rav requires a shehakol blessing (“By Whose word all things came to be”) on shetita – roasted barley to which honey or vinegar was added – and Shmuel requires a borei minei mezonot (“Who creates the various kinds of nourishment”), it is not because they disagree. Rather they are talking about different cases. Shmuel is discussing a case where a thick mixture was made to be eaten; Rav is discussing a case where a thin mixture was made to be used as medicine.

    With regard to the assumption that this mixture is essentially medicinal, Rav Yosef raised a challenge from the laws of Shabbat:
    And they agree that one may mix shetita on Shabbat and drink Egyptian beer, which contains a mixture of a pungent spice in flour. And if it enters your mind to say that when one prepares shetita, his intention is for medicinal purposes, is medicine permitted on Shabbat?
    Abayye said to Rav Yosef: Do you not hold that to be true? Didn’t we learn in a Mishnah: All foods that are commonly eaten; a person may eat them for medicinal purposes on Shabbat, and all drinks that are not designated for medicinal purposes, a person may drink them for medicinal purposes on Shabbat. But what can you say in explaining that ruling? The man’s intention is for the purpose of eating; here too, when he mixes the shetita, the man’s intention is for the purpose of eating.

    Thus, something that is prepared for ordinary ingestion may be eaten on Shabbat, even if it has medicinal qualities.

    The Sages decreed that one may only use medicine on Shabbat in life-threatening circumstances or instances of grave danger. Consequently, they prohibited all curative actions, especially preparing and taking medicine. In tractate Shabbat, there is a discussion with regard to various foods and whether they should be considered as food that may be eaten on Shabbat, even by those deriving medicinal benefit; or whether they are prohibited, because their primary use is medicinal, which is prohibited by rabbinic decree.

    Berakhot 39a-b – A whole loaf or a slice of bread?

    Does it make a difference whether a blessing is recited over a whole loaf of bread or over a piece of bread? This question is discussed on today’s daf (=page).

    It was stated that there was an amoraic dispute with regard to whether to recite the blessing over a whole loaf of bread or to recite it over a piece of bread: If they brought pieces and whole loaves of bread before those partaking of a meal, Rav Huna said: One may recite the blessing over the pieces and with that blessing exempt the whole loaves as well. Rabbi Yoĥanan said: The optimal manner in which to fulfill the mitzvah is to recite the blessing over the whole loaf. However, if the piece was of wheat bread and the whole loaf was of barley bread, everyone agrees that one recites a blessing over the piece of wheat bread. Although it is a piece of bread, it is nevertheless of superior quality, and in so doing one exempts the whole loaf of barley bread.

    Rabbi Yoĥanan’s opinion that one recites a blessing over whole loaves because they are more esthetic is understandable. However, Rav Huna’s opinion must be explained, as well. Rashi, as well as other commentaries, assert that Rav Huna did not give preference to the pieces; he simply equated them to the whole loaves. He said that they only take precedence if they are larger. Rav Hai Gaon and the Rashba disagree, explaining that since the pieces are already sliced, they can be eaten immediately, and pleasure from them is instantaneous. For this reason it is preferable to recite a blessing over them, rather than the whole loaves, which one must slice before enjoying them.

    In a case where there was a wheat slice and a barley loaf, the Rambam (Sefer Ahava, Hilkhot Berakhot 7:4) recommends placing the slice beneath the loaf and breaking from both at once.

  4. Berakhot 40a-b – Interruptions before eating

    What is considered to be an interruption between the blessing on bread at the beginning of a meal and beginning the meal itself?

    The Gemara assumes that anything that is necessary for the meal would not be considered an interruption, but defining what is considered necessary for the meal is the subject of dispute. According to Rabbi Yohanan, for example, asking for salt would not be considered an interruption. According to Rav Sheshet, even saying “mix food for the oxen” is not an interruption. The Gemara explains that this follows the teaching of Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav who taught:
    One is prohibited from eating before feeding his animals, as it is stated: “And I will give grass in your fields for your animals” first and only then: “And you shall eat and be satisfied” (Devarim 11:15).

    In the verse, preparation of food for one’s cattle precedes preparation of one’s own food. Consequently, it is considered part of the preparation for one’s own meal.

    The Gemara continues by clarifying the importance of salt at a meal –
    Rava bar Shmuel said in the name of Rabbi Ĥiyya: One who breaks bread is not permitted to break it until they bring salt or relish before each and every one seated at the table. However, the Gemara relates that Rava bar Shmuel himself happened to come to the House of the Exilarch. They brought him bread, which he immediately broke, without waiting for them to bring salt or relish. They said to him: Did the Master reconsider his halakhicruling? He said to them: Although poor quality bread requires salt in order to give the bread flavor, and therefore one must wait before breaking bread, this refined bread served in the House of the Exilarch needs no salt, and does not require waiting.

    The simple reason that salt is essential to the meal is that the salt is necessary in order to give the food some taste, and consequently, refined bread does not require salt. Some explain based on the Gemara’s statement that a person’s table is like an altar; one must place salt on the table, just as salt is placed on the altar. The Rosh adds that salt serves as a reminder of the “eternal covenant of salt” (Bamidbar 18:19) between God and the Jewish people and protects the Jewish people from its detractors.

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    Berakhot 41a-b – Making order of blessings

    The Mishnah (daf, or page 40) cited a dispute with regard to the order in which one is supposed to recite the blessings when there were many types of food before him. Rabbi Yehuda ruled: If there is one of the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael was praised among them, he recites the first blessing over it. And the Rabbis taught: He recites a blessing over whichever of them he wants. The Gemara on today’s daf discusses this disagreement.

    Ulla said: This dispute is specifically in a case where the blessings to be recited over each type of food are the same, as in that case Rabbi Yehuda holds: The type of the seven species takes precedence, and the Rabbis hold: The preferred type takes precedence, and a blessing is recited over itfirst. However, when their blessings are not the same, everyone agrees that one must recite a blessing over this type of food and then recite another blessing over that, ensuring that the appropriate blessing is recited over each type of food.

    There are two opinions about the halakhic ruling in this case. According to one opinion (the Rosh), the halakhah is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, as explained in the Gemara: With regard to fruits which require the same blessing, one recites a blessing over the item which is one of the seven species, as in that case Rabbi Yehuda agrees with the Rabbis (Taz); and if none of the food items is one of the seven species, one recites a blessing over whichever he prefers or whichever he likes better. According to the second opinion (Rambam), the halakhah is in accordance with the opinion of the Rabbis, and one recites a blessing over that which he likes better first, and if he likes them both the same, he recites a blessing over that which is of the seven species first. The halakhic conclusion is unclear. While the Mishna Berura prefers the first opinion, others hold that one may decide to conduct himself in accordance with whichever position he prefers (Shulĥan Arukh HaRavbased on the Taz. See also Rambam Sefer Ahava, Hilkhot Berakhot 8:13 and the Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 211:1).

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    Berakhot 42a-b – A meal circle

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) distinguishes between a case where several people were sitting to eat, which is not a joint meal, where each and every diner recites a blessing for himself; and a case where they were reclining on divans, which renders it a joint meal, and one recites a blessing on behalf of all of them.

    The Gemara infers: If they reclined, yes, it is considered a joint meal; if they did not recline, no. And the Gemara raises a contradiction: Ten people who were walking on the road, even if they are all eating from one loaf, each and every one recites a blessing for himself. If they sat to eat, even if each and every one is eating from his own loaf, one recites a blessing on behalf of them all as it is considered a joint meal. In any case, it was taught: If they sat to eat, even though they did not recline. Apparently, sitting together is enough to render it a joint meal and reclining is not required.

    Rav Naĥman bar Yitzĥak said: With regard to those walking along the road, it was in a case where they said: Let us go and eat in such-and-such a place. Since they designated a specific location to eat together in advance, it is considered a joint meal.

    In talmudic times, the custom was to partake of significant meals while reclining, not sitting upright. This was the custom of the wealthy, free men, who had the ability to leisurely relax and carry on conversations during the meal.

    Tosefot Rabbeinu Yehuda HaĤasidexplains that the term heisevu – “they reclined” – both here and elsewhere (e.g. at the Pesach Seder), is related to the word sivuv – “circle” – meaning that those reclining sat around a table or surrounding the surface where the food was placed. Based on that interpretation, individuals surrounding the bread, even when not reclining in the literal sense, are considered to have dined together, and one may recite a blessing on behalf of the others.

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    Berakhot 43a-b – Blessings over scents

    On today’s daf (=page) the Gemara turns its attention to blessings made before smelling perfume:

    Rav Zutra bar Toviya said that Rav said: From where is it derived that one recites a blessing over scent? As it is stated: “Let every soul praise the Lord” (Tehillim 150:6). He explains the verse: What is it from which the soul derives benefit and the body does not derive benefit from it? You must say: That is scent. Even over items from which only the soul derives benefit, one must recite a blessing and praise God.

    It would appear that scent should be included in the general concept that one is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without reciting a blessing. Therefore, the question is, why was it necessary to cite a special derivation in this case?
    Rashi in tractate Niddah explains that since the benefit derived from smell is less substantial than other physical pleasures, no blessing should be necessary.
    Others explain that since deriving benefit from this world without reciting a blessing is likened to misusing consecrated property; with regard to those laws, smell is considered inconsequential. Therefore, no blessing is necessary (Tziyyun LeNefesh Ĥayya).
    Others contend that since enjoying a fragrance does not fundamentally compromise the integrity of the object, it is not self-evident that a blessing is required (Rabbi Elazar Moshe Horowitz).

    Two of the scents discussed by the Gemara are balsam and musk.

    The balsam is likely the Commiphora opobalsamum, also known as Commiphora gileadensis, from the Burseraceaefamily, known in English as Balm of Gilead or Balsam of Mecca. This is not to be confused with the Balm of Gilead found in other parts of the world that is made from the resin of a different tree, the balsam poplar. The balsam is a short bush or tree of 3–5 meters with thin branches, many small leaves, and small white flowers. The highest quality perfume is derived from the resin that drips slowly from the edges of the stalks in small droplets, though the perfume is generally extracted by boiling the branches. This perfume is also used medicinally, as well as in incense and as a fragrant oil. Apparently, this is the tzori mentioned among the incense oils used in the Temple.
    During the Second Temple period, the choicest balsam trees grew in the Jericho valley, and it was considered worth its weight in gold. That is why it merited its own special blessing: Who creates oil of our land.

    Musk has a powerful odor. Some used it as a perfume by itself, although it is more commonly the dominant component of several fragrances used in manufacturing perfumes. Musk is extracted from the excretions of various animals, although historically, it was primarily collected from a pocket in which the glandular secretions of the male musk deer accumulate. The musk deer is the Moschus moschiferus, a hornless, deer-like animal that grows to a height of 60 cm. Some associate musk with the biblical myrrh.

    Tractate Ta’anit
    Berakhot 44a-b
    The Valley of Genosar

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches a basic principle regarding blessings over food: in a case where primary and secondary foods are eaten together, the blessing on the primary food exempts the secondary from a blessing. Somewhat surprisingly, according to the Mishnah, even bread, the most significant food as far as blessings are concerned, can be considered secondary to another food.

    In searching for a case where bread would be considered secondary, the Gemara brings the following:
    Rav Aĥa, son of Rav Avira, said that Rav Ashi said: This halakhah was taught with regard to those who eat fruits of Genosar, which are extremely sweet and which would be eaten along with salted foods in order to temper this sweetness. They would eat bread along with those salted foods, which was therefore considered secondary.

    This teaching led the Gemara to wax hyperbolic about the qualities of the fruits of Genosar:
    Rabbi Abbahu ate fruits of Genosar until the sweet, lush fruits made his skin so slippery that a fly would slip from his forehead. And Rav Ami and Rav Asi would eat them until their hair fell out. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish would eat them until he became confused. And then Rabbi Yoĥanan would tell the household of the Nasi about his condition and Rabbi Yehuda Nesia would send the authorities after him and they would take him to his house.

    Genosar is the name of a beautiful valley that stretches along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, north of Tiberius. Josephus describes the area as follows: “Its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty; its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper
    of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts, which require the coldest air, flourish there in vast plenty; there are palm trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate. It supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually during ten months of the year and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most fertile fountain” (Wars of the Jews, Book III , 10:8).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 45a-b
    Grace after Meals

    After the blessings of enjoyment were discussed in the previous perek (=chapter), the seventh perek of Massekhet Berakhot, which begins on today’s daf (=page) is devoted to the blessing recited after the meal – Birkat HaMazon – Grace after Meals. This blessing is unique and more significant than the blessings of enjoyment, as it is a mitzvah by Torah law. Its component parts are also longer and more numerous than the formula of the blessings of enjoyment, and its halakhot are also numerous. Therefore, an entire chapter was devoted to it.

    Although there was also a discussion of Grace after Meals in the previous chapter, there it dealt with the question: “What are the foods that obligate one to recite Grace after Meals?” This chapter deals primarily with the prayer aspect of Grace after Meals. It also deals with the practical ramifications of the principle, which was accorded the authority of halakhah, that blessings should not be recited over items that have been corrupted from a moral standpoint. The verse: “The covetous one who recites a blessing has blasphemed the Lord” (Tehillim 10:3, according to the interpretation of one of the Sages), alludes to that fact and it is clear that reciting a blessing over any food whose consumption is prohibited is not a mitzvah but quite the contrary. It is necessary to determine with regard to which food items these prohibitions apply.

    Grace after Meals is fundamentally a blessing over the meal, as it is stated: “You will eat, and be satisfied, and bless the Lord” (Devarim 8:10). As one often dines in the company of others, the Gemara deals with various questions with regard to the procedure through which people dining may unite by means of the blessing of zimmun. The zimmun is a special blessing recited when several individuals happen to dine together. The opening Mishnah of the perek discusses who is obligated in zimmun, what food creates such an obligation and how much must be eaten. These topics will be examined throughout the perek.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 46a-b
    The fourth blessing in Grace after Meals

    There are four blessings that make up Birkat HaMazon – Grace after Meals. The first three are generally viewed as of Biblical origin, but according to some, the fourth is a separate, Rabbinic blessing.

    Rav Yitzĥak bar Shmuel bar Marta said another proof in the name of Rav: Know that the fourth blessing – HaTov veHaMetiv – “Who is good and does good,” is not required by Torah law, as one who recites it begins to recite it with: Blessed, but does not conclude reciting it with: Blessed. This is the formula in all comparable blessings, as it was taught in a baraita: All blessings, one begins to recite them with: Blessed, and concludes reciting them with: Blessed, except for blessings over fruit, blessings over mitzvot, a blessing that is juxtaposed to another blessing, and the final blessing after Shema. There are among these blessings those that one who recites it begins to recite it with: Blessed, but does not conclude reciting it with: Blessed; and there are among these blessings that one who recites it concludes reciting it with: Blessed, but does not begin reciting it with: Blessed. The blessing: “Who is good and does good,” one who recites it begins to recite it with: Blessed, but does not conclude reciting it with: Blessed. This proves by inference that it is an independent blessing.

    Generally speaking, the blessings recited over food or before performance of a mitzvah are short blessings with a single theme. They contain neither pleas nor requests. As such, it is sufficient to open with: Blessed. More lengthy, complex blessings, e.g., Kiddush on Shabbat, which must include praise of God’s creation, or the blessings prior to reciting Shema, which include a petition on behalf of the Jewish people, must both open and close with words of praise to the Almighty. When a blessing that is juxtaposed to another blessing, however, creating a series of blessings that follow one another, e.g., the eighteen blessings of the Amida prayer and the blessings of Grace after Meals, the first blessing opens with “Blessed,” while the subsequent blessings do not. That is either because the opening of the first blessing in the series is considered as providing an opening for all of the blessings in the series (Rashi; Rashbam Pesaĥim 104b) or because the closing “Blessed” of the previous blessing serves as an opening for the blessing that follows (Tosafot).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 47a-b
    Exclusions from participation in a Grace after Meals group

    While discussing the inclusion of a Samaritan in a zimmun – a group of three joining together when reciting Grace after Meals – the Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that an am ha’aretz may not be included in a zimmun.

    The term am ha’aretz – literally, people of the land – already appears in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as a term reserved for gentiles, not Jews. At a later stage, am ha’aretz became a derogatory epithet for a Jew who acts like a gentile. Fundamentally, an am ha’aretz is not just one ignorant of Torah, who might be called an ignoramus or fool [boor], but one who actually behaves in a non-Jewish manner. It is clear from the continuation of the baraita that am ha’aretz is not a clearly defined concept. There are many opinions with regard to characterizing an am ha’aretz. They range from the opinion that the term refers to one who does not serve Torah scholars and learn from them to the opinion that the term refers to one with no Torah, no Mishnah and no manners. According to the first opinion, many learned people are included in this category. According to the second opinion, an am ha’aretz is the basest of individuals to whom the most derogatory epithets are generally applied. The common application of the term is to one devoid of spirituality, with no profession or occupation, no education, and no connection to Torah and mitzvot.

    In the talmudic era, and even more so in later times, the situation changed in two respects. First, while there remained many who were uneducated, the am ha’aretz in its most extreme form disappeared, as even simple Jews upheld Torah and mitzvot to the best of their ability. Secondly, to avoid causing rifts among the nation in exile and in their wanderings, the halakhot restricting inclusion of most types of am ha’aretz were repealed.

    Nowadays, even a full-fledged am ha’aretz may be included in a zimmun so as not to cause divisiveness within the Jewish people (Tosafot). Only one who has excluded himself from the community of Israel may not be included in a zimmun (Magen Avraham; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 199:3).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 48a-b
    The origins of the blessings of Grace after Meals

    As we have learned (see above, daf, or page 46), Grace after Meals consists of four blessings, the first three of which are of Biblical origin, based on the passage in Sefer Devarim (8:10), while the fourth blessing is either derived from that same verse, or else it is a later, Rabbinic, addition. The baraita that is the source for this teaching appears on today’s daf.

    At the same time, today’s daf also contains the following teaching, in which Rav Naĥman credits the origins of the four blessings of Grace after Meals to various Biblical characters, including those who lived after the Torah was given.

    Moses instituted for Israel the first blessing of: Who feeds all, when the manna descended for them and they needed to thank God.
    Joshua instituted the blessing of the land when they entered Eretz Yisrael.
    David and Solomon instituted the third blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, in the following manner: David instituted “…on Israel Your people and on Jerusalem Your city…” as he conquered the city, and Solomon instituted “…on the great and Holy Temple…” as he was the one who built the Temple.
    They instituted the blessing: Who is good and does good, at Yavne in reference to the slain Jews of the city of Beitar at the culmination of the bar Kokheva rebellion. They were ultimately brought to burial after a period during which Hadrian refused to permit their burial.

    The Rashba points out that if the first three blessings are obligatory by Torah law, how is it that they were not recited until the days of David and Solomon? He explains that the basis and fundamental essence of the blessings are alluded to in the Torah, but the formulae of the blessings were instituted over time by those Jewish luminaries, and changed according to the needs of the times. It is clear, for example, that the blessing that we say “Build up Jerusalem, the holy city, speedily in our time” is a changed blessing that could not possibly have been recited in King Solomon’s time.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 49a-b
    Discussing covenant, Torah and sovereignty

    Certain concepts are essential to Grace after Meals, and if they are not mentioned, the recitation is invalid. Among the concepts mentioned are covenant, Torah and sovereignty. The Gemara relates that not all of the Sages were in agreement regarding this requirement. Rav Hisda is quoted as telling Rabbi Zeira that he did not feel confident that he knew the laws of Grace after Meals. He explained this by means of the following story:

    I happened to come to the house of the Exilarch and recited Grace after Meals, and Rav Sheshet stiffened his neck over me like a snake, i.e., he got angry and challenged me. Rabbi Zeira asked: And why did Rav Sheshet become angry with you? He answered: I did not mention covenant, Torah, or sovereignty in Grace after Meals.
    Rabbi Zeira wondered: And why did you not mention those themes? He answered that he did so in accordance with the opinion that Rav Ĥananel said that Rav said: If one does not mention covenant, Torah or sovereignty in Grace after Meals, he nevertheless fulfilled his obligation because these themes are not applicable to all of Israel. Covenant does not apply to women; Torah and sovereignty apply neither to women nor to slaves.
    RabbiZeira said to him: Rav Sheshet should have been angry withyou. And you abandoned all of these tanna’im and amora’im who disagree with him, and followed Rav? Evidently, many tanna’im and amora’im hold that covenant, Torah, and sovereignty must be mentioned in the second blessing of Grace after Meals.

    Many questioned why Rav Ĥisda recited Grace after Meals without mentioning covenant, Torah, and sovereignty, contrary to the virtually unanimous opinion of the Sages. Even if Rav Ĥananel permitted this after the fact, he did not prescribe to do so ab initio.
    Some explain that Rav Ĥisda inadvertently neglected to mention covenant, Torah, and sovereignty. Once he did so, he did not return to mention it (Penei Yehoshua). Others explain that there were women and slaves reclining at that table, and he sought to recite a formula appropriate for all present (Tziyyun LeNefesh Ĥayya). Alternatively, he held that because women and slaves do not mention covenant and sovereignty, men should not mention them either to ensure a universally uniform formula for Grace after Meals (Rashba).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 50a-b
    Proper use and care of foodSeptember 20, 2012

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses using food for different purposes. For example –

    The Sages taught: Four things were said with regard to bread: One may not place raw meat on bread so the blood will not drip onto the bread and render it inedible; and one may not pass a full cup of wine over bread lest the wine drip on it and ruin the bread; and one may not throw bread; and one may not prop up a dish with a piece of bread.

    This ruling notwithstanding, the Gemara recounts how Mar Zutra once tossed fruit to his colleagues, who expressed surprise at the lack of respect that he showed for the food. In the discussion that followed, two contradictory baraitot were quoted. One taught:
    Just as one may not throw bread, so too one may not throw other foods?
    The other taught:
    Although one may not throw bread, he may throw other foods?

    Ultimately the Gemara differentiates between food that becomes disgusting when thrown, where all throwing is forbidden, and food that will not become disgusting, where only bread may not be thrown.

    The Rosh explains that one may not throw bread at all, not because it becomes disgusting, but in deference to its uniqueness, as throwing bread is always considered disrespectful whether or not it spoils (Beit Yosef ). The reason that it is prohibited to treat food with contempt is because it is tantamount to denying the beneficence of God, Who provides one with food (HaBoneh).

    The Gemara extends the discussion of food becoming disgusting to other areas of halakhah, as well. With regard to blessings on food, for example, if one put food or drink into his mouth without reciting a blessing and is able to remove the food without it becoming disgusting, he should do so and recite a blessing. If not, he should move the food to the side of his mouth and recite the blessing. Liquids may be swallowed (Rambam Sefer Ahava, Hilkhot Berakhot 8:12; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 172:1–2).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 51a-b – Limiting ritual impurity at a meal

    Grace after Meals, and even more so the zimmun blessing, which were discussed in the previous perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot, lend an element of worship and prayer to every meal. However, even the meal itself is not merely an exercise in eating, but it contains a wide-ranging collection of laws with regard to the various food items consumed in the course of a meal. The eighth perek, which begins on today’s daf (=page), opens with a discussion of one specific issue – ritual impurity.

    By the letter of the law, one is not required to avoid ritual impurity, other than when dealing with consecrated items or entering the Temple. However, the nation’s elite, ĥaverim and Torah scholars, were always vigilant in their observance of the halakhot of ritual impurity and observed a standard of purity equal to that observed by priests. The plethora of halakhot associated with ritual purity and impurity and the preponderance of rabbinic decrees in that area created a situation where it was necessary to be especially vigilant during every meal in order to avoid both becoming ritually impure himself and making the food ritually impure. Special care was required with regard to liquids, as by rabbinic decree, they become ritually impure by means of contact with any impurity and they then render impure all objects with which they subsequently come into contact. In fact, both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel seek to minimize as much as possible the potential of a person or food items becoming ritually impure in the course of a meal.

    Thus, we find that the Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:

    Beit Shammai say: After washing, one dries his hands with a cloth and places it on the table. And Beit Hillel say: One places it on the cushion upon which he is sitting.
    Similarly, Beit Shammai say: One sweeps the area of the house where the meal took place and he washes his hands with the final waters before Grace after Meals thereafter. And Beit Hillel say: One washes his hands and sweeps the house thereafter.

    Each of the suggestions raised attempts to limit the spread of ritual impurity, as will be explained on tomorrow’s daf.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 52a-b – Limiting ritual impurity at a meal

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), the Mishnah quoted the opinions of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillelwho both attempt to limit the spread of ritual impurity at meals. Today’s Gemara quotes a Tosefta that expands on their discussion.

    Beit Shammai say: One washes his hands and mixes water with the wine in the cup thereafter, as if you say that one mixes water with the wine in the cup first, his hands will remain ritually impure, as the Sages decreed that unwashed hands have second degree ritual impurity status as if they touched something rendered ritually impure by a creeping animal. Consequently, there is room for concern that the liquid that inevitably drips on the outside of the cup might become ritually impure due to his hands, and those liquids will in turn render the cup ritually impure. Consequently, Beit Shammai said that the hands must be washed first in order to prevent that result.

    And Beit Hillel say: One mixes water with the wine in the cup and only washes his hands thereafter, as if you say that one washes his hands first, there is a decree lest the liquid from the outside of the cup that dampened one’s hands will be rendered ritually impure due to the cup which is liable to be impure, and the liquid will in turn render his hands ritually impure.

    The halakhot of ritual purity and impurity are among the most complex of Torah laws (Shabbat 31a; see Rashi). However, there are certain fundamental principles that apply universally. Most items that are impure by Torah law, i.e., a dead creeping animal, the carcass of an animal, a leper, and a zav, are primary sources of ritual impurity and render any person or vessel with which they come into contact ritually impure.

    A person, vessel, or food which comes into contact with a primary source of ritual impurity becomes a secondary source of ritual impurity and assumes first degree ritual impurity status. The item most sensitive to becoming ritually impure is consecrated meat, which may assume even fourth degree ritual impurity status. Terumah can assume no lower than third degree status and non-sacred items can assume no lower than second decree status. An item that becomes ritually impure but cannot render other items impure is deemed invalid or disqualified, not impure.

    To this basic system, the Sages added numerous decrees. One is: Liquids that become ritually impure always assume first degree ritual impurity status. This was a decree due to liquids of a zav (see Shabbat 14b; Bekhorot 38a). Any food item that comes into contact with a ritually impure liquid assumes at least second degree status.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 53a-b – Washing after a meal

    This perek (=chapter) closes with statements discussing the importance of washing at the end of a meal. The Gemara quotes a baraita containing three statements that talk about this law:

    According to Rabbi Zilai, if one does not have oil with which to cleanse his hands after eating, this prevents him from reciting the Grace after Meals blessing.
    Rabbi Zivai says: Lack of that oil does not prevent one from reciting Grace after Meals.
    Rav Zuhamai says: Just as one who is filthy is unfit for Temple service, so too are filthy hands unfit for reciting the Grace after Meals blessing.

    In response to this baraita Rav Naĥman bar Yitzĥak says:
    I do not know of Zilai or Zivai or Zuhamai; rather, I know a baraita, as Rav Yehuda said that Rav said, and some say that it was taught in a baraita: It is stated: “And you shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for holy am I, the Lord your God” (Vayikra 20:26). With regard to this verse, the Sages said: And you shall sanctify yourselves, these are the first waters with which one washes his hands before the meal; and you shall be holy, these are the final waters; for holy, this is oil which one spreads on his hands; am I, the Lord your God, this is the Grace after Meals blessing.

    The Maharatz Chajes suggest that the strange names of these Sages, along with the fact that they do not appear in any other sources, leads to the conjecture that Zivai, Zilai, and Zuhamai are nicknames rather than the actual names of these individuals. It seems that certain Sages who only stated a single well-known halakhah came to be known by that halakhah. The halakhah concerning disqualification due to filth, zohama, led to its author being called Rav Zuhamai. Apparently, that is the case with regard to Zilai and Zivai as well.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 54a-b – Blessing God

    In the final perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot, which begins on today’s daf (=page), we find discussions of different types of blessings. Despite the differences between these blessings, there are fundamental issues common to all of these blessings that fuse them into a single unit.

    The blessings in this chapter are neither blessings of enjoyment nor blessings over mitzvot. A significant number of them constitute the independent category of blessings of thanksgiving for God’s beneficence. In addition to the blessings of thanksgiving, there are several other blessings that do not fall into this category. Nevertheless, all those blessings share a common denominator. They all instruct us that anything that deviates from the norm obligates one to recite a blessing, be it a permanent fixture in nature, e.g., mountains and seas; natural phenomena, e.g., thunder and lightning; unique creatures; or events of extreme benevolence, e.g., miracles or tragic events. The significance of these blessings is the acknowledgement that everything in this world is the work of God. We offer thanks for His goodness and miracles and accept the tragedies and disasters.

    Fundamentally, these blessings are not expressions of thanks. Rather, they are declarations of a faith-based approach that the Creator directs and supervises everything. Consequently, everything that transpires in the world should be tied to the understanding that “it is the Lord that does all these things” (Yeshayahu 45:7).

    The blessings recited over unique phenomena come to underscore God’s involvement in every mundane occurrence as well. The epitome of this approach is the incorporation of God’s name into the standard greeting exchanged when people meet. Although one might consider the introduction of God’s name into routine exchanges as belittling His greatness, because of the rationale implicit in the verse: “It is time to work for the Lord; they have made void Your Torah” (Tehillim 119:126), attributing everything in the world to God was made top priority.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 55a-b – Dreams

    Much of the closing perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot deals with dreams and their significance. Here are a number of examples of statements found on today’s daf (=page) regarding dreams:

    1. “A good person is not shown a good dream”
    Since the purpose of a dream is to cause a person to repent, a good person is shown a bad dream to facilitate his repentance. A bad person is shown good dreams as part of his punishment, since his repentance is not desired (HaKotev). Even though there are cases where good dreams were experienced by good people, e.g., the biblical Joseph, that is when seeing the dream plays a role in its realization (Tziyyun LeNefesh Ĥayya).

    2. “Anyone who sleeps seven days without a dream is called evil”
    The idea that going without a dream for an extended period happens to the evil can be explained by understanding that dreams are an expression of the subconscious thoughts of a person during the day, as the Gemara derives from the book of Daniel (2:29). It is clear that every person has inappropriate thoughts that they regret. Even people who carry out wicked deeds usually regret their actions and want to repent. Many dreams are an unconscious manifestation of these thoughts. Consequently, one who has no dreams for seven days must have performed some evil deed and did not even consider repenting (Iyyun Ya’akov).

    3. One who saw a dream and does not know what he saw should stand before the priests when they lift their hands during the Priestly Blessing and say a prayer that the dream should be interpreted in a positive manner.

    One approach to this statement understands that it refers to someone who does not know whether the dream that he saw was good or bad. This approach suggests that, in addition to reciting the formula for bettering a dream, he should also recite this prayer during the Priestly Blessing (Eliya Rabba). The Maharsha suggests that only one who saw a disturbing dream recites the formula for bettering a dream. The prayer recited during the Priestly Blessing is recited only by one who wakes up upset by his dream but has no recollection of its content.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 56a-b – Influencing dreams

    The Gemara ascribes great significance to dreams, but it recognizes that they are influenced by conscious and psychological stimuli. Thus we find that when challenged to predict the dreams of non-Jews, the Sages were able to suggest scenarios that were curious enough to get them to ponder them for an entire day, which led them to dream about them at night. The Gemara relates:

    The Roman emperor said to Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Rabbi Ĥananya: You Jews say that you are extremely wise. If that is so, tell me what I will see in my dream. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: You will see the Persians capture you, and enslave you, and force you to herd unclean animals with a golden staff. He thought the entire day about the images described to him by Rabbi Yehoshua and that night he saw it in his dream. Shevor Malka, king of Persia said to Shmuel: You Jews say that you are extremely wise. If that is so, tell me what I will see in my dream. Shmuel said to him: You will see the Romans come and take you into captivity and force you to grind date pits in mills of gold. He thought the entire day about the images described to him by Shmuel, and that night he saw it in his dream.

    Shevor Malka – Shahpuhr – was the name of a number of Persian kings. Our Gemara is referring to the first king Shahpuhr, who continued his father’s success in wars against the Roman Empire, capturing the city of Netzivim and arriving at the border of Syria. In the course of a number of attacks, he not only defeated the Roman emperor Velrinus, but he captured him and held him until his death. With regard to internal matters, he was an open-minded leader, and allowed a good deal of freedom of religion. It appears that he showed an interest in Judaism and was on good terms with the amora Shmuel.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot-57a-b – Seeing bloodletting in a dream

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) continues with its discussion of dreams and their significance. Many of the examples of dreams involve everyday objects or activities. Thus we find a discussion of the meaning of seeing different Biblical books in a dream, or metal objects, or farm animals. Similarly we find discussions of the significance of seeing oneself climbing onto a roof, entering a forest or having his clothing torn.

    Another common practice during Talmudic times was bloodletting. The Gemara concludes that if a person sees himself undergoing that procedure it is an indication that his transgressions have been forgiven, based on a passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (1:18) “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

    Bloodletting involves spilling small quantities of blood. It was used both as a cure and as a general preventive therapy that was believed to keep a person healthy. Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluid were considered to be humors, the proper balance of which was believed to maintain health. It was the most common medical practice performed by doctors on both humans and animals from antiquity through the late 19th century, a period of almost two millennia. Today it is well established that bloodletting is not effective for most diseases. One of the only remaining conditions for which it is used is Polycythemia vera, a disease in which the body produces too many red blood cells. A classic symptom of this illness is erythromelalgia. This is a sudden, severe burning pain in the hands or feet, usually accompanied by a reddish or bluish coloration of the skin. Erythromelalgia is caused by an increased platelet count or increased platelet “stickiness” (aggregation), resulting in the formation of tiny blood clots in the vessels of the extremity. Patients with polycythemia vera are prone to the development of blood clots (thrombosis). A major thrombotic complication (e.g. stroke or heart attack) may sometimes be the first symptom or indication that a person has polycythemia vera.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  5. Berakhot 58a-b – Blessings recited on people

    There are occasions when simply seeing a group of people – or even a single individual – is reason enough to express thanks to God by means of reciting a blessing. Some examples that appear on today’s daf (=page) include:

    The Sages taught: One who sees the Sages of Israel recites:
    Blessed… Who has shared of His wisdom with those who revere Him.
    One who sees Sages of the nations of the world recites:
    Blessed… Who has given of His wisdom to flesh and blood.

    The formula of the blessing for non-Jews in standard editions of the Talmud is livriyotav, “to His creations,” rather than levasar vadam, “to flesh and blood.” The censor made this change to soften the contrast between: “Those who revere him,” which is the formula of the blessing recited for Jews, emphasizing their connection with God, and: “Flesh and blood,” which indicates no such connection. The formula: “To His creations,” indicates that non-Jews have a connection with God as well.

    Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees his friend after thirty days have passed since last seeing him recites: Blessed…Who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time. One who sees his friend after twelve months recites: Blessed…Who revives the dead.

    Tosafot and the Rosh both write that a blessing on seeing his friend after thirty days applies only to one who is especially close to the person he meets and he is not merely an acquaintance. In a responsum, the Rashba notes that there is no difference between men and women; in either case, this halakhah applies.

    The Maharsha explains that the obligation to recite a blessing upon seeing a friend after twelve months is the fact that on every Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur all mankind is judged. If a full year has passed since the last time these two individuals met, obviously, each has been tried and lived. An appropriate reaction to meeting someone who has survived that ordeal is to recite: Blessed…Who revives the dead.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 59a-b – The source of an earthquake

    The Mishnah taught that over zeva’ot one recites the blessing: “Whose strength and power fill the world.” The Gemara asks: What are zeva’ot? Rav Ketina said: An earthquake.

    The Gemara relates:
    Rav Ketina was once walking along the road when he came to the entrance of the house of a necromancer and an earthquake rumbled.
    He said: Does this necromancer know what is this earthquake?
    The necromancer raised his voice and said: Ketina, Ketina, why would I not know? Certainly this earthquake occurred because when the Holy One, Blessed be He, remembers His children who are suffering among the nations of the world, He sheds two tears into the great sea. The sound of their reverberation is heard from one end of the earth to the other. And that is an earthquake.

    Rav Ketina said: The necromancer is a liar and his statements are lies. If so, it would necessitate an earthquake followed by another earthquake, one for each tear. The Gemara comments: That is not so, as it indeed causes an earthquake followed by another earthquake; and the fact that Rav Ketina did not admit that the necromancer wascorrect was so that everyone would not mistakenly follow him.

    According to Rav Nissim Gaon, it is essential to underscore that, unquestionably, there is no room for comparison between God and a human being. He neither laughs, nor cries, nor sighs, nor sheds tears. Rather, the aggadic portions of the Talmud must be understood as metaphors and must not be taken literally. The explanations offered by Rav Ketina and the other Sages should be understood as statements that point to the unique connection that exists between God and the Jewish people. Due to the significance of the Jewish people in His eyes, the different natural phenomena should be viewed as signs to inform the Jewish people that God is anxious and concerned about their fate in exile.

    All early talmudic commentaries – Rav Hai Gaon, Rav Nissim Gaon and Rabbeinu Ĥananel – hold that these explanations of how earthquakes develop are to be understood as symbolism and esoterica. Essentially, this underscores that the relationship between God and Israel is at the basis of all phenomena in the world, and therefore natural phenomena in the world always have some connection to that relationship. An earthquake is an expression of God’s pain over the destruction of the Temple.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 60a-b – Of bathhouses and bloodletting

    On today’s daf (=page) the Gemara teaches that everyday activities such as going to the bathhouse or engaging in bloodletting (see above, daf 57) were also reason to recite prayers and blessings.

    The Sages taught: One who enters a Roman bathhouse, where a fire burns beneath the pool of water used for bathing, and where there is the risk of collapse, says:
    “May it be Your will, O Lord my God, that you save me from this and similar matters, and do not let ruin or iniquity befall me, and if ruin or iniquity does befall me, let my death be atonement for all of my transgressions.”

    Abayye said: One should not say: If ruin befalls me, so as not to open his mouth to Satan and provoke him. As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said and as it was taught in a baraita in the name of Rabbi Yosei: One should never open his mouth to Satan by raising, at his own initiative, the possibility of mishap or death.

    The Roman bathhouses during the time of the Mishnah consisted of several component parts, including a pool of boiling hot water that was under the floor of the bathhouse, which kept the building warm. The collapse of one of the bathhouse walls was liable to cause boiling water or extremely hot air to be released, endangering the lives of those in the bathhouse.

    Regarding bloodletting, the Gemara relates:

    Rav Aĥa said: One who enters to let blood says: “May it be Your will, O Lord my God, that this enterprise be for healing and that You should heal me. As You are a faithful God of healing and Your healing is truth. Because it is not the way of people to heal, but they have become accustomed.”
    Abayye responded and said: One should not say this, as it was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael that from the verse, “And shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Shmot 21:19), from here we derive that permission is granted to a doctor to heal.

    In the time of the Mishnah, heretical groups maintained that one is prohibited from interfering in matters that are in God’s purview by engaging in healing. Some explained that a specific Torah source is necessary to permit one to heal illnesses that are not caused by man, as in so doing he acts contrary to God’s will. Others explained that the emphasis of this verse is that doctors are permitted to heal and to accept payment for their services. One might have thought that since he is engaged in the mitzvah of saving lives, he may not accept payment. The verse teaches that he may.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 61a-b – Creating Man…and Woman

    Because of an additional letter that appears in the Torah in the Creation story, the Gemara offers a variety of explanations – one of them suggesting that in the original creation of Man the creation was androgynous.

    Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, created two faces on Adam the first man; he was created both male and female in a single body, as it is stated: “You have formed me [tzartani] behind and before” (Tehillim 139:5); tzartani is derived from the word tzura [face]. God formed two faces on a single creation, back and front.

    In the Gemara in Ketubot (daf, or page 8a), in the context of seeking to explain a dispute, the possibility is raised that there is a disagreement whether there was a single creation of Man or if there was a second Creation, as well. Most commentaries tie that dispute to the question in our Gemara, whether man was created with one face and the woman was subsequently an independent creation, or whether he was created with two faces and the creation of Eve was merely the separation the two faces from each other, i.e., not a creation at all. Another possible explanation of the dispute is based on the opinion in our Gemara: At first, the thought entered His mind to create two, but ultimately only one was created. On that basis, the dispute can be explained as a disagreement: Which is the determining factor, thought or action?

    Our Gemara continues discussing the creation of Man

    It is stated: “And the tzelah which the Lord, God, had taken from the man, He made a woman, and brought her unto the man” (Bereshit 2:22). Rav and Shmuel disagree over the meaning of the word tzelah: One said: It means face. Eve was originally one face or side of Adam. And one said: It means tail, which he explains to mean that the tzelah was an appendage, i.e., one of the ribs in Adam’s chest.

    The Arukh explains that the word tail, here and in several other places in the Talmud, refers to an appendage that is unlike the object to which it is attached in appearance or size. The Rashba explains “tail” in this context as a limb of secondary importance, as a tail is to a body.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 62a-b – Learning from a mentor

    Today’s daf (=page) opens with a number of stories where the Talmudic Sages would follow their teachers into the bathroom in order to observe their behavior and learn the proper way to act in those situations. They then shared this information with their peers. When questioned about the appropriateness of following them into a private place and observing them there, the response that is given is “It is Torah, and I must learn.”

    The lessons gleaned in the bathroom all related to issues of modesty, and the Gemara continues with stories about the importance of modesty even in the privacy of the bathroom and even at night when it is dark.

    An even more surprising story is told about Rav Kahana:
    The Gemara relates that Rav Kahana entered and lay beneath Rav’s bed. He heard Rav chatting and laughing with his wife, and seeing to his needs, i.e., having relations with her. Rav Kahana said to Rav: The mouth of Abba, Rav, is like one whom has never eaten a cooked dish, i.e., his behavior was lustful.
    Rav said to him: Kahana, you are here? Leave, as this is an undesirable mode of behavior.
    Rav Kahana said to him: It is Torah, and I must learn.

    The Maharsha asks why, in all of these cases, did the disciple not simply ask his teacher as to the proper way to conduct himself in these situations? He explains that the students wanted a practical rather than a theoretical answer, and they thought that the ideal manner to learn the practical halakhah is to watch their mentor in action. The essence of the matter is that Torah encompasses all facets of life. Even in areas considered personal and private, a great person must conduct himself in accordance with the Torah, recognizing that, as a role model, others may learn from him.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 63a-b – Learning alone

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) describes a gathering of the Sages in Kerem B’Yavneh – “The vineyard of Yavneh” – which served as the seat of the Sanhedrin. On this occasion, a number of different Sages offered homilies in honor of the Torah.

    One of the ideas that was shared was that Torah study “is only acquired through study in a group.” Furthermore, based on a passage in Sefer Yirmiyahu (50:6), the Gemara concludes that a curse was placed on scholars who sit alone and study Torah who ultimately grow foolish because of their solitary study.

    In his Ein Ayah, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook explains that the Holy Torah is a Torah of life. It does not guide its followers towards a life of asceticism or a rejection of the wholesome pleasures of the world that can raise the spirits of an individual. Therefore, the Torah anticipates that those who walk in its path will be members of a community, whose support and encouragement will help facilitate their spiritual growth and development. Moreover, an essential aspect of a Torah scholar is the role that he plays in improving the world around him. To accomplish this, the scholar must develop an appreciation for opinions that are at variance with his own, both in the realm of halakhah and in the realm of ethics. That kind of openness comes about only by means of group study, in the course of which one becomes accustomed to hearing opinions that are different from his own. When one chooses to limit debate and to remain secluded within his own closed community, he is unable to learn the ideas and thoughts of his peers and will consequently be unwilling to accept dissenting positions. Isolation inevitably leads to intractable disagreements and, ultimately, to bitter fights and arguments.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

    Berakhot 64a – Questions about Torah leadership

    The closing daf (=page) in Massekhet Berakhot tells of the succession of leadership in the yeshiva in Pumbedita.

    Rabba and Rav Yosef: Rav Yosef was “Sinai,” extremely erudite, and Rabba was “oker harim” – one who uproots mountains, i.e., extremely sharp. The moment arrived when they were needed; one of them was to be chosen as head of the yeshiva.
    They sent the following question there, to the Sages of Eretz Yisrael: Which takes precedence, Sinai or one who uproots mountains?
    They sent to them in response: Sinai takes precedence, for everyone needs the owner of the wheat, one who is expert in the sources.
    Nevertheless, Rav Yosef did not accept the appointment, as the Chaldean astrologers told him: You will preside as head of the yeshiva for two years.
    Rabba presided as head of the yeshiva for twenty-two years. After he died, Rav Yosef presided for two and a half years.

    When Rav Yehuda, who was the head of the yeshiva in Pumbedita, died, there were two qualified candidates to replace him: Rabba and Rav Yosef. Rabba, who was younger than Rav Yosef, was renowned for his sharp intellect, while Rav Yosef was renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge. Since there was uncertainty with regard to which of them should be chosen, they posed a fundamental question to the Sages of Eretz Yisrael: Which takes precedence, “Sinai” or one who uproots mountains? The answer that was received was that Sinai takes precedence. However, Rav Yosef, for reasons described in the Gemara, deferred, and during the twenty-two years that Rabba served as head of the yeshiva, Rav Yosef did not assume even the slightest air of authority. Only after Rabba’s death, Rav Yosef assumed the position at the head of the yeshiva.

    Regarding the Chaldean astrologers, it is apparent from several places in the Talmud that the Chaldeans, or, as they are known in the Book of Daniel (2:4), Kasdim, were sorcerers and magicians with whom the Torah prohibits consulting. However, the Chaldeans were the scientists of that era and their primary area of expertise was astrology, i.e., foretelling a person’s future based on the stars. Although not everyone approved of consulting the Chaldeans (see Tosafot, Shabbat 156b), there is no real transgression in doing so, and it was not uncommon for Jewish men and women to seek their advice.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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