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.
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.