ToD: Brachot 55a: Perhaps you were in God’s shadow

The last chapter in Tractate Brachot is a “dream”, because much of it is about dreams, and on that, next week. The rest is dedicated to a catch-all of anything around blessings we didn’t get to until now, like what to say when we hear thunder. Or see lightening. Or are saved from trouble, what kind of trouble. And much more.

Among it all, Rabbi Yochanan teaches that “there are three things that the Holy One Blessed be He, proclaims by Himself”; three things that G-d announces, not through messengers and angels, by directly. One of them, which could have been useful now, is a good leader. The idea is taken from the verse in Exodus when G-d introduces Bezalel, the artist who will build the mishkan (the pre-temple temple): “See, I have called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 31:1–2), says the Almighty to Moses.

In the Gemara’s associative manner, the conversation takes off from there, and tell us, that not only did G-d “announce” of Bezal’el, but consulted. The text tells us (italics – from the Talmud with mostly Sefaria’s translation):

אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק: אֵין מַעֲמִידִין פַּרְנָס עַל הַצִּבּוּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן נִמְלָכִים בַּצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״רְאוּ קָרָא ה׳ בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל״,

With regard to Bezalel’s appointment, Rabbi Yitzḥak said: One may only appoint a leader over a community if he consults with the community and they agree to the appointment, as it is stated: “And Moses said unto the children of Israel: See (in the plural form), the Lord has called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 35:30).

אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: מֹשֶׁה, הָגוּן עָלֶיךָ בְּצַלְאֵל?

The Lord said to Moses: Moses, is Bezalel a suitable appointment in your eyes?

G-d is asking Moses for advice, and Moses,, graciously, accepts G-d’s choice:

אָמַר לוֹ: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אִם לְפָנֶיךָ הָגוּן — לְפָנַי לֹא כׇּל שֶׁכֵּן!

Moses said to Him: Master of the universe, if he is a suitable appointment in Your eyes, then all the more so in my eyes.

G-d then says, according to the rabbis, that this is not enough. He needs to ask the people, who will likewise accept. Do they have any other options? Bezal’el is G-d’s choice! Nevertheless, they are asked:

אָמַר לוֹ: אַף עַל פִּי כֵן, לֵךְ אֱמוֹר לָהֶם. הָלַךְ וְאָמַר לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל: הָגוּן עֲלֵיכֶם בְּצַלְאֵל?

אָמְרוּ לוֹ: אִם לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּלְפָנֶיךָ הוּא הָגוּן, לְפָנֵינוּ לֹא כׇּל שֶׁכֵּן!

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: Nevertheless, go and tell Israel and ask their opinion. Moses went and said to Israel: Is Bezalel suitable in your eyes? They said to him: If he is suitable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and in your eyes, all the more so he is suitable in our eyes.

What was so special about Bezalel? He was wise. What was so special about wisdom?

אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: בְּצַלְאֵל עַל שֵׁם חׇכְמָתוֹ נִקְרָא. בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁאָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: לֵךְ אֱמוֹר לוֹ לִבְצַלְאֵל ״עֲשֵׂה לִי מִשְׁכָּן אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים״.

הָלַךְ מֹשֶׁה וְהָפַךְ וְאָמַר לוֹ: ״עֲשֵׂה אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים וּמִשְׁכָּן״.

When the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: Go say to Bezalel, “Make a tabernacle, an ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 31:7–11), Moses went and reversed the order and told Bezalel: “Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle” (see Exodus 25–26).

G-d gave the instruction for the construction of the mishkan, and Moses passes those on, but not exactly. Maybe because Moses was not an artist, he didn’t think the order mattered, and maybe he was testing Bezalel to see if he’s really that good. Bezalel catches him right away:

אָמַר לוֹ: מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ, מִנְהָגוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם אָדָם בּוֹנֶה בַּיִת וְאַחַר כָּךְ מַכְנִיס לְתוֹכוֹ כֵּלִים, וְאַתָּה אוֹמֵר ״עֲשֵׂה לִי אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים וּמִשְׁכָּן״, כֵּלִים שֶׁאֲנִי עוֹשֶׂה, לְהֵיכָן אַכְנִיסֵם? שֶׁמָּא כָּךְ אָמַר לְךָ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, ״עֲשֵׂה מִשְׁכָּן אָרוֹן וְכֵלִים״?!

He (Bezal’el) said to Moses: Moses, our teacher, the standard practice throughout the world is that a person builds a house and only afterward places the vessels in the house, and you say to me: Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle. If I do so in the order you have commanded, the vessels that I make, where shall I put them? Perhaps God told you the following: “Make a tabernacle, ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 36).

אָמַר לוֹ: שֶׁמָּא בְּצֵל אֵל הָיִיתָ וְיָדַעְתָּ?

Moses said to Bezalel: Perhaps you were in God’s shadow [betzel El], and you knew precisely what He said?!

Bezalel intuited G-d’s commands and therefore was named betzel-El, “in G-d’s shadow”, as if he was in G-d’s shadow, and that’s how he knew what’s needed. Further, there is a deeper discussion about the place of details and order: does it matter or not? Take for example, writing an email. I can make all sorts of mistakes in the body of the mail. If writing a friend, I can also mix up the order of things. But, if I put even as much as a comma instead of a period in the address itself, chances are the mail will not reach its desired destination. Where is the line between being meticulous to no end and between careless? Yes. In this case, Bezal’el knew the line, but it wasn’t just because “G-d said so”. It had reasoning too.

But what is perhaps most touching to me, is G-d consulting Moses and the People. This text is not in the Torah! It’s our sages imparting on us a certain kind of relationship with each other and with the Divine. G-d would have most likely done whatever She does. Or not. Only G-d knows. But what we’re left with is the importance of the other, of listening, paying attention, reaching out.

We just entered the month of Adar with Purim ahead. Purim is the only holiday which, in its original form, can not be celebrated alone. And this is what we’re left with, that the Torah and mishkan (Tabernacle) and maybe even G-d Herself, are not things for their own right, but there for us to use to connect.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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TOD Brachot 46-47: Traveling on a Donkey & washing Hands…

 

The Torah tells us to honor parents and my extension, big brothers and teachers. This is one of the top five, and yet it has its boundaries. The question often comes up, what to do in situations of abuse: do we still have an obligation of “kavod”? and what does it mean? Notice, that the Torah told us to love G-d and our “neighbor” but did not tell us to love parents. This can be because love here was not a priority or the Torah realized how complicated this can be or we don’t quite understand “love” and “honor” and what actions are required and derived from either.

The Talmud in this week’s reading, sets one such limit on honoring great teachers. As the text is meandering in its usual associative manner, we’re not near discussion about honor, but rather about “benching”, blessing after the meal, which leads us to looking at hand washing before and after food. From there we remember something (Brachot 46:b-47:a):

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: אֵין מְכַבְּדִין לֹא בִּדְרָכִים וְלֹא בִּגְשָׁרִים וְלֹא בְּיָדַיִם מְזוֹהָמוֹת.

The Sages teach that there are times and places where one does not show respect. There include roads, bridges and dirty hands (i.e., with regard to washing hands at the end of a meal).

Then the Gemara follows up with a  story, which has nothing to do with the hands, but with a journey taken:

רָבִין וְאַבָּיֵי הֲווֹ קָא אָזְלִי בְּאוֹרְחָא, קַדְמֵיהּ חֲמָרֵיהּ דְּרַבִּין לִדְאַבָּיֵי וְלָא אֲמַר לֵיהּ ״נֵיזִיל מָר״. אֲמַר: מִדִּסְלִיק הַאי מֵרַבָּנַן מִמַּעְרְבָא, גַּס לֵיהּ דַּעְתֵּיהּ. כִּי מְטָא לְפִתְחָא דְבֵי כְנִישְׁתָּא אֲמַר לֵיהּ: נֵיעַל מָר. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: וְעַד הַשְׁתָּא לָאו מָר אֲנָא? אֲמַר לֵיהּ, הָכִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אֵין מְכַבְּדִין אֶלָּא בְּפֶתַח שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ מְזוּזָה.

Ravin and Abaye were traveling along the road on donkeys. Ravin’s donkey preceded Abaye’s and Ravin did not say to Abaye: Let the Master go first. Abaye said to himself: Ever since this one of the Sages, Ravin, ascended from the West, he has become arrogant. When they reached the door of the synagogue, Ravin said to Abaye: Let the Master enter first. Abaye said to him: Until now was I not Master? Ravin said to him: Rabbi Yoḥanan said the following: One only defers to those greater than he at a doorway that has a mezuza (or that is worthwhile of the mezuza).

Two sages are traveling together on donkeys. The road, paths and bridges too, are likely narrow and often, dangerous. This is not the right place to begin a ‘you go ahead’, ‘no, you go ahead’, ‘no, I insist, you go’… This is a place that is purposeful and necessitates movement forward. However, Abaye does not attribute Ravin’s considerate behavior to his learning and manners, but rather, thinks of it as rude, for Ravin does not let the master ahead. Further, he thinks “to himself” (how does the Gemara know what anyone thinks to himself??) that since Ravin has “ascended from the West”, his manners have deteriorated. Where is the West for the Babylonian sages? Indeed, it is Eretz Yisrael. Notice two things: 1. Abaye talks about “ascending from”… while we most often speak of going up TO Israel, and down elsewhere, here, Abaye thinks of Babylon as the up and Ravin coming from a place further “down”… oh oh! The land of Israel as “down”? then we see that this is how he thinks of its sages, surely Ravin is rude for not calling Abaye master and not letting him go first. But Ravin uses it to teach Abaye an “Israeli halacha”, taught by Rabbi Yochanan, the editor of the Jerusalem Talmud: respect “games” have their place and time; not everywhere, but where is appropriate and where it has meaning. In a structure that holds a mezuza – or could hold one (in those days, synagogues did not have one), you go ahead, but not on the road, where we are both equal, human travelers.

But how interesting, the tension between “diaspora” and “The Land”, then and now: who is “up”? which direction is the “ascend”? Do we attribute behaviors that are not like “ours” to learning, tradition or some other “inferior” culture we misunderstand?

And how is hand-washing here? That too is considered like a act holding a danger, so just do it. Honor those who deserve honor, later.

Shabbat Shalom.

Walking donkeys on the suspension bridge in Nepal

 

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TOD: Brachot 41:a: Who’s on first?

It’s Shabbat lunch and we’re sitting around the table after the “meal”, talking and “schmoozing”, when the host brings in a tray of nuts and dried fruits and some chocolate dessert. Should we say a special blessing? Should we say the blessing after the meal and then start a new “set”? what blessing shall we say before and what after? And what order should we bless and eat this food?

First, let us note – again, the extensive amount of time our sages spend on how we should consume food appropriately. That is the seemingly primary topic.  Behind it is a discussion about setting priorities and preferences. Is there room for individual taste? Or is everything prescribed? We join a discussion about the Mishna. Here we are in Brachot 41:a:

הָיוּ לְפָנָיו מִינִין הַרְבֵּה וְכוּ׳: אָמַר עוּלָּא: מַחֲלוֹקֶת בְּשֶׁבִּרְכוֹתֵיהֶן שָׁווֹת, דְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה סָבַר מִין שִׁבְעָה עָדִיף, וְרַבָּנַן סָבְרִי מִין חָבִיב עָדִיף. אֲבָל בְּשֶׁאֵין בִּרְכוֹתֵיהֶן שָׁווֹת — דִּבְרֵי הַכֹּל מְבָרֵךְ עַל זֶה, וְחוֹזֵר וּמְבָרֵךְ עַל זֶה.

The mishna 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. Ulla said: This dispute is specifically in a case where the blessings to be recited over each type of food are the same. Rabbi Yehuda holds: The type of the seven species takes precedence, and the Rabbis hold: The preferred type takes precedence. 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.

There are two opinions: Rabbi Yehuda thinks that if we have on the table something from the “Seven Species” for which the Land of Israel – ״אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ״. wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive oil and dates, then those take precedence, and in this order of importance; The sages think that one can say a blessing over whichever food they prefer and want to start eating first.

So if I have on the table olives, grapes, avocado, persimmon, dates, figs, apples and pomelo, for example, rabbi Yehuda would say to start with the grapes, since they are the ones mentioned first in the verse above (form Deuteronomy 8:8), while the rabbi will have no problem with me starting with the pomelo, then the avocado, then the olives… while saving the grapes for last.

On the surface, this may be a simple discussion, slightly intruding, slightly minutia, ‘oh, you again, caring about the 10 seconds between my eating a grape, a date and an apple? They all share the same blessing of “creator of the fruit of the tree” – בורא פרי העץ – why bother??

But maybe, it’s about my relationship with the greater community of Israel. Food, is not just about “food”. Food is about relationship, between me and myself, between me and my G-d and between me and my community. This is not a theoretical thing but something we practice daily. To what extent?? In this case, can I eat whatever I like first, or must I pause, reflect on the Land, possibly far away, and put that first, even before the slice of fruit I really, really want? Do I ever get a break from my “peoplehood” or am I constantly first of all a member of the klal, community, and only then, me, myself and I? This is a constant tension in our life, whether as partners, parents, workers… Rabbi Yehuda says, you’re “on” all the time, sort of like a wedding ring you never take off; any move away is a move away. The sages say, you’re within “range”; you’re not eating anything not kosher; you’re saying your blessings and you just want a minute to be an individual, so — we “let you”, maybe so that you stay a unique human being, and our community remains both diverse and cohesive. They do hold the majority opinion, but the debate continues to this very day.

Shabbat Shalom.

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TOD (Taste of Daf): Brachot 34:A – The Power of Blessings, Yeast, Salt & Saying No

I thought of starting like this: “since we are in Tractate Brachot, it may be no wonder that we’re now discussing food and its blessings”. Then I remembered that there are so many discussions about food in every tractate, each for its own reason. So maybe start like this: we’re discussing food because food is “it”. In the opening of the Book of Genesis (2:17), we are introduced for the first time to the root tz.v.h. – command and commandment (mitzvah), but also related to togetherness (tzavta). It is when G-d commands the human being “of every tree of the garden you are to eat (yes, eat)”… He later excludes the Tree of Knowledge, but that’s beyond us right now. What’s important that our connection to G-d goes through food. This helps us understand this week’s reading when the people ask and receive water and the manna. True, they are “thirsty” and “hungry”, and we assume it’s for physical sustenance, but maybe, they also thirst and hunger for that connection with Hashem.

Food and G-d continue to be connected in the Talmud too. Actually, food and other things as well, such as sex, relationship and good behavior. In the pages in front of us this week, the sages quote the Mishna that tells us which blessings to say before which food. The Gemara then asks, mina hane mili?? That is, where did you get this from? Or – how do you know we are supposed to say blessings before food at all??!! The Torah only tells us (Deuteronomy 8:10) that we should eat (what? how much?), be satisfied (how much is that?) and then bless (say, great thanks or is there a formula? Only one? And why?), but nothing before!! How can the Mishna then tell us “out of the blue” to say this and that blessing before? It seems that the Mishna already knows, in principle, much of what the Gemara will unpack. After a complex discussion trying to finding “proofs”, it just lets it go: “everything belong to Hashem”, they quote from the Psalms (24:1). Using anything requires at least an acknowledgement that it’s not ours and we’re borrowing it, whether a potato, grapes or bread, for the sake of our relationship; sort of like a child who gets an allowance for helping around the house, and then takes a portion and gets the parents flowers for Shabbat or a birthday gift. Why bother? The parents can go out and shop for her/himself. Nevertheless, the fact that the math turns out the same, doesn’t matter.

Food is also used for metaphors and to make a point. Here, the mishna teaches that one who substitute a communal prayer leader who made a mistake in the middle of the Amida prayer should not refuse when approached to replace him. The Gemara discusses the halakha as to what is the proper conduct when one is approached to serve as prayer leader (Brachot 34:a):

גְּמָ׳ תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: הָעוֹבֵר לִפְנֵי הַתֵּיבָה — צָרִיךְ לְסָרֵב. וְאִם אֵינוֹ מְסָרֵב — דּוֹמֶה לְתַבְשִׁיל שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מֶלַח. וְאִם מְסָרֵב יוֹתֵר מִדַּאי — דּוֹמֶה לְתַבְשִׁיל שֶׁהִקְדִּיחַתּוּ מֶלַח..

GEMARA: The Sages taught in a baraita: One who is approached to pass before the ark to serve as prayer leader, for the sake of propriety should refuse, to avoid creating the impression that he is too eager. And if he does not refuse, but jumps at the opportunity, he is like cooked food without salt, which is to say that he acts in bad taste. However, if he refuses too much this is similarly inappropriate, as he is like cooked food that was ruined by too much salt.

כֵּיצַד הוּא עוֹשֶׂה: פַּעַם רִאשׁוֹנָה — יְסָרֵב, שְׁנִיָּה — מְהַבְהֵב, שְׁלִישִׁית — פּוֹשֵׁט אֶת רַגְלָיו וְיוֹרֵד

So how should he act? The appropriate conduct when approached to serve as communal prayer leader is as follows: When approached the first time, one should refuse; the second time, one should vacillate like a wick that has just begun to catch a flame but is not yet burning; and the third time, he should stretch his legs and descend before the ark.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: שְׁלֹשָׁה רוּבָּן — קָשֶׁה, וּמִיעוּטָן — יָפֶה, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: שְׂאוֹר, וּמֶלַח, וְסָרְבָנוּת.

On this note, the Gemara cites that which the Sages taught in a baraita: There are three things that are harmful in excess but are beneficial when used sparingly. They are: Leavening (yeast) in dough, salt in a cooked dish and refusal for the sake of propriety.

Yeast impacts volume; salt impacts taste; Saying no impact how we move about in the world, where one ends and one begins. May we find the right balance of all three.

Shabbat Shalom & Happy Tu Bishvat (coming up this Monday)

a lengthy discussion: should olive oil have it own blessing, like wine?? I would have voted yes… (Brachot 35:b)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TOD (Taste of Daf): Brachot 27:b-28:a: At the Beit Midrash

Among the many discussions about prayer kinds, times, regularity and more, we’re escorted in to the beit midrash of old, and introduced to various interactions and exchanges among the sages. Between pages 27:b and 28:a, we come across a fascinating story. A student, not to be named until the end of the anecdote, asks Rabbi Yehoshua: is the evening prayer obligatory or optional? Rabbi Yehoshua says, optional. We’d think the student would be happy with this response, but seemingly dissatisfied, he seeks a second option, that of Rabban Gamliel, head of Sanhedrin. Again he asks: Is the evening prayer obligatory or optional? And Rabban Gamliel says, obligatory. The student, maybe, can choose which he answer he prefers, but possibly being interested in something else other than “an” answer, says, ‘but Rabbi Yehoshua said it’s optional! Rabban Gamliel invites the conversation to continue with the sages, which causes great upheaval. Without giving the whole story away, eventually, Rabban Gamliel decides to go and make peace wit Rabbi Yehoshua. As this is not a Disney / Hollywood film, the peace making hits its own challenges. Here’s the text:

אָמַר רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל: הוֹאִיל וְהָכִי הֲוָה, אֵיזִיל וַאֲפַיְּיסֵיהּ לְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ. כִּי מְטָא לְבֵיתֵיהּ, חֲזִינְהוּ לְאַשְׁיָתָא דְבֵיתֵיהּ דְּמַשְׁחֲרָן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: מִכּוֹתְלֵי בֵיתְךָ אַתָּה נִיכָּר שֶׁפֶּחָמִי אַתָּה. אָמַר לוֹ: אוֹי לוֹ לַדּוֹר שֶׁאַתָּה פַּרְנָסוֹ, שֶׁאִי אַתָּה יוֹדֵעַ בְּצַעֲרָן שֶׁל תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים, בַּמֶּה הֵם מִתְפַּרְנְסִים וּבַמֶּה הֵם נִזּוֹנִים.

Rabban Gamliel said to himself: Since this is the situation, that the people are following Rabbi Yehoshua, apparently he was right. Therefore, it would be appropriate for me to go and appease Rabbi Yehoshua. When he reached Rabbi Yehoshua’s house, he saw that the walls of his house were black. Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua in wonderment: From the walls of your house it is apparent that you are a blacksmith, as until then he had no idea that Rabbi Yehoshua was forced to engage in that arduous trade in order to make a living. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: Woe unto a generation that you are its leader as you are unaware of the difficulties of Torah scholars, how they make a living and how they feed themselves.

We see here that the argument between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua is not simply a disagreement over this and that issue, which can be resolved with a simple sorry, but a mirror to a whole different way of life and a different outlook. While both are wise, scholarly and knowledgeable, RG is rich, secure in his life and position, rightfully or not, and RY works hard to make a living; and we know from another story that he’s not good looking and mocked for it. When RG enters RY’s home, he’s puzzled by the dark walls, and realizes that even though they argue with fervor, how much do they really know about each other?

This touches on an issue the Talmud is fond of: what are the lines between public and private domain? Between a performance at the beit midrash and one’s home? And which way is better, the strict, traditional RG or the open, progressive RY? The beauty and glory of the Talmud is its ability to hold both.

Shabbat Shalom.

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TOD: Pray all day?? Brachot 21:a

When should one pray? How long? How often? Repeat? Join a minyan, or go at it alone? Among many, Rabbi El’azar brings us some specific rules. Then comes Rabbi Yochanan and it seems that his “rule” in itself, is a prayer:

וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אָמַר: סָפֵק קָרָא קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע סָפֵק לֹא קָרָא — חוֹזֵר וְקוֹרֵא קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע. סָפֵק הִתְפַּלֵּל סָפֵק לֹא הִתְפַּלֵּל — אֵינוֹ חוֹזֵר וּמִתְפַּלֵּל. וְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן אָמַר: וּלְוַאי שֶׁיִּתְפַּלֵּל אָדָם כׇּל הַיּוֹם כּוּלּוֹ.

And Rabbi Elazar said a different opinion: One who is uncertain whether he recited Shema or whether he did not recite Shema, must recite Shema again. According to his opinion, there is a mitzva by Torah law to recite Shema. However, if one is uncertain whether he prayed (Amida or Shmone Esre) or whether he did not pray, he does not pray again, as the obligation to pray is by rabbinic law. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: if only a person would pray throughout the entire day.

We tend to confuse “prayer” with “shul / synagogue services”. Rav Kook sets it back (below in the Hebrew): The soul always prays. She flies and clings to her Beloved constantly… prayer is like a rose, opening it beautiful petals to the dew and sun-rays… Prayer asks its role from the soul. When days and years hae passed without intentional prayer, it’s as if the heart is filled with stumbling stones, causing a feeling of internal heaviness; and when the good feeling returns, it’s as if the many dams clogging and blocking the living soul’s flow, are removed… little by little, the window of prayer reveals its light.

Prayer is for us and the whole world, an absolute must, and a great delight…prayer is the ideal of all worlds… every shrub and plant, spec of sand and clog of dirt, everything that has hidden life within it, the smallest and greatest of creation… everything sings, moves, wishes, desires, swirls towards its highest place; and the human being absorbs all this… carrying it along, on its way to the (One) Source of Blessing and Source of Life.

Prayer, if so, is the constant song of the soul, clinging to its Creator, like two beloveds who can’t be separated and can’t wait to just talk and share. This is what Rabbi Yochanan meant, and indeed, if only.

Shabbat Shalom.

תפילה המתמדת של הנשמה – הרב קוק:

הנשמה היא תמיד מתפללת. היא עפה ומתרפקת על דודה בלא שום הפסק כלל, אלא שבשעת התפילה המעשית הרי התפילה הנשמתית התדירה מתגלה בפועל. וזהו עידונה ועינוגה, הדרה ותפארתה של התפילה שהיא מתדמה לשושנה הפותחת את עליה הנאים לקראת הטל או נוכח קרני השמש המופיעות עליה באורה. ולכן, “הלואי שיתפלל אדם כל היום כולו”. התפילה מבקשת מהנשמה את תפקידה. כשעברו ימים ושנים בלא תפילה בכוונה, מתקבצות בלב אבני נגף רבות, שמרגישים על ידן כבדות רוח פנימית. וכשרוח הטוב חוזר, ומתנת התפילה נתנת ממרומים, הולכים בכל תפילה ומתפנים אותם המכשולים והסכרים הרבים, אשר נקבצו בנחל הנובע של נשמת החיים העליונה, הולכים וסרים. אמנם לא בבת אחת נמנע החסרון, אבל הולך הוא ומתמלא, והצוהר של התפילה הולך ומגלה את אורותיו.

התפילה היא לנו ולעולם כולו, הכרח גמור וגם התענוג היותר כשר שבתענוגים. גלי הנשמה שלנו הולכים ושוטפים. הננו חפצים מעצמנו ומהעולם שלמות, כזאת שאין המציאות המוגבלת יכולה ליתן לנו, ומתוך כך, הננו מוצאים את עצמנו שרויים בצרה גדולה, שדאבונה יכול להעביר אותנו על דעתנו ועל דעת קוננו. אבל קודם שיעבור זמן גדול, שיוכל שרטון זה להתגלם בקרבנו, הננו באים ומתפללים. שופכים אנו את שיחתנו ומתנשאים אנחנו לעולם של מציאות שלם בתכלית השלמות, ואז נעשה עולמנו הפנימי באמת שלם בתכלית השלמות, ודעתנו מתמלאת נחת. ואותו המשקל שהכרעתנו הפנימית פועלת על המציאות, שגם פנימיותנו היא אחת מחלקיה, מכריע גם את כל העולם כולו לכף זכות.

התפילה היא האידיאל של כל עולמים. כל הוויה כולה למקור חייה היא עורגת. כל צמח וכל שיח, כל גרגר חול וכל רגב אדמה, כל אשר בו חיים נגלים וכל אשר בו חיים כמוסים, כל קטני היצירה וכל גדולה, שחקי מעל ושרפי קודש, כל הפרטיות שבכל יש, וכל כללותו – הכל הומה, שואף, עורג ושוקק לחמדת שלמות מקומו העליון, החי, הקדוש, הטהור והכביר. ואדם סופג את כל השקיקות האלו, בכל עת ובכל שעה והוא מתרומם ומתעלה בתשוקת קודשו, ובא תור הגילוי לתשוקת רוממות אל אלה בתפילה, —– גלי אורה היוצאת בחופש עזה בהגיון שיח קודשה למרחבי אל. מרומם הוא האדם בתפילה את כל היצור– מאחד הוא עימו את כל היש, מעלה את הכל, מרומם את הכל למקור הברכה ומקור החיים.

 

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Brachot 10:a: Songs, Astrology, Berurya & Shlomo Artzi

Prayer and song continue to be among the things on this week’s Talmud reading as well as a good story (Brachot 10:a). We’ll start with this:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחַי. מַאי דִּכְתִיב, ״פִּיהָ פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ״.

כְּנֶגֶד מִי אָמַר שְׁלֹמֹה מִקְרָא זֶה? —

לֹא אֲמָרוֹ אֶלָּא כְּנֶגֶד דָּוִד אָבִיו, שֶׁדָּר בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עוֹלָמִים, וְאָמַר שִׁירָה.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: 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” (Proverbs 31:26)? 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.

This verse is taken from the famous song “eshet chayil”, a woman of valor, but explain the Sages, it’s also possible that this chapter discusses other (female) forms of wisdom and soulfulness. Five times David said: “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” each corresponding to a different stage of life. About one of them, it says:

יָצָא לַאֲוִיר הָעוֹלָם וְנִסְתַּכֵּל בְּכוֹכָבִים וּמַזָּלוֹת וְאָמַר שִׁירָה, ש

ֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״בָּרְכוּ ה׳ מַלְאָכָיו גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עוֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ בָּרְכוּ ה׳ כָּל צְבָאָיו וְגוֹ׳״.

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” (Psalms 103:20–23).

Some say about this that David saw the grandeur of all creation and recognized that they are mere servants, carrying out the will of their Creator, while of course what caught my eye is that he looked at the “stars and constellations”. Astrology was a part of our people’s past; we know King David’s sign and more. In this way, we don’t “believe” in it in a deterministic manner, but we don’t deny it either. It’s one of G-d’s creation and here to shine and help us along.

*******

It’s hard to ignore another famous story this week, that of Bruriya and Rabbi Meir. Here it is:

הָנְהוּ בִּרְיוֹנֵי דַּהֲווֹ בְּשִׁבָבוּתֵיהּ דְּרַבִּי מֵאִיר וַהֲווֹ קָא מְצַעֲרוּ לֵיהּ טוּבָא. הֲוָה קָא בָּעֵי רַבִּי מֵאִיר רַחֲמֵי עִלָּוַיְהוּ כִּי הֵיכִי דְּלֵימוּתוּ. אָמְרָה לֵיהּ בְּרוּרְיָא דְּבֵיתְהוּ: מַאי דַּעְתָּךְ — מִשּׁוּם דִּכְתִיב ״יִתַּמּוּ חַטָּאִים״, מִי כְּתִיב ״חוֹטְאִים״? ״חַטָּאִים״ כְּתִיב.

The Gemara relates: There were these hooligans in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who caused him a great deal of anguish. Rabbi Meir prayed for God to have mercy on them, that they should die. Rabbi Meir’s wife, Berurya, said to him: What is your thinking? On what basis do you pray for the death of these hooligans? Do you base yourself on the verse, as it is written: “Let sins cease from the land” (Psalms 104:35), which you interpret to mean that the world would be better if the wicked were destroyed? But is it written, let sinners cease?” Let sins cease, is written. One should pray for an end to their transgressions, not for the demise of the transgressors themselves.

וְעוֹד, שְׁפֵיל לְסֵיפֵיהּ דִּקְרָא ״וּרְשָׁעִים עוֹד אֵינָם״, כֵּיוָן דְּ״יִתַּמּוּ חַטָּאִים״ ״וּרְשָׁעִים עוֹד אֵינָם״? אֶלָּא בְּעִי רַחֲמֵי עִלָּוַיְהוּ דְּלַהְדְּרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה, ״וּרְשָׁעִים עוֹד אֵינָם״.

Moreover, go to the end of the verse, where it says: “And the wicked will be no more.” If, as you suggest, transgressions shall cease refers to the demise of the evildoers, how is it possible that the wicked will be no more, i.e., that they will no longer be evil? Rather, pray for God to have mercy on them, that they should repent, as if they repent, then the wicked will be no more, as they will have repented.

בְּעָא רַחֲמֵי עִלָּוַיְהוּ, וַהֲדַרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה.

Rabbi Meir saw that Berurya was correct and he prayed for God to have mercy on them, and they repented.

Berurya then continues to “shoot her halachik arrows” at someone else who didn’t know better than to not fall into her mouth:

אֲמַר לַהּ הַהוּא מִינָא לִבְרוּרְיָא: כְּתִיב ״רָנִּי עֲקָרָה לֹא יָלָדָה״, מִשּׁוּם דְּלֹא יָלָדָה — רָנִּי?

The Gemara relates an additional example of Berurya’s incisive insight: A certain heretic said to Berurya: It is written: “Sing, barren woman who has not given birth, open forth in song and cry, you did not travail, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, said the Lord” (Isaiah 54:1). Because she has not given birth, she should sing and rejoice?

אֲמַרָה לֵיהּ: שָׁטְיָא, שְׁפֵיל לְסֵיפֵיהּ דִּקְרָא, דִּכְתִיב: ״כִּי רַבִּים בְּנֵי שׁוֹמֵמָה מִבְּנֵי בְעוּלָה אָמַר ה׳״.

Berurya responded to this heretic’s mockery and said: Fool! Go to the end of the verse, where it is written: “For the children of the desolate shall be more numerous than the children of the married wife, said the Lord.”

אֶלָּא מַאי ״עֲקָרָה לָא יָלְדָה״ — רָנִּי כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁדּוֹמָה לְאִשָּׁה עֲקָרָה שֶׁלֹּא יָלְדָה בָּנִים לְגֵיהִנָּם כְּוָתַיְיכוּ.

Rather, what is the meaning of: “Sing, barren woman who has not given birth”? It means: Sing congregation of Israel, which is like a barren woman who did not give birth to children who are destined for Gehenna like you.

Bruriah was the daughter of Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion, one of the Ten Martyrs, who was burned to death for his faith, as was Bruriah’s mother. She had two known siblings, a brother, Simon ben Haninah, who turned to a life of crime after failing to match Bruriah’s success as a teacher, and an unnamed sister, who was sold into sexual slavery and later rescued from a Roman brothel by Bruriah’s husband, Rabbi Meir as described later in the Talmud.

She is greatly admired for her breadth of knowledge in matters pertaining to both halachah and aggadah, and is said to have learned from the rabbis 300 halachot on a single cloudy day, and her comments there are praised by various sages in the Talmud. She was also renowned for her sharp wit and often caustic jibes. The Talmud relates] that she once chastised Yossi the Galilean, when he asked her “By which way do we go to Lod?” claiming that he could have instead said “By which to Lod?” (two Hebrew words rather than four), and thereby kept the Talmudic injunction not to speak to women unnecessarily. Was it sarcasm? The sages smiling at their own aphorisms through her? While the end of her life is controversial and looms in mystery, she remained an inspiration.

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The hype around daf yomi continues. This week, singer Shlomo Artzi revealed that his grandmother’s brother was Rabbi Shapiro, the daf’s initiator. What’s great about that is not just the genealogical anecdote but his sharing his “special connection” to the daf publicly. Some years ago, no respectful public, entertainment persona, would want to be associated even remotely with anything so “religious”. And look now.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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