Starting the new cycle of #DafYomi today with the well-known mishnah at the very beginning of Berachot (Ber. 2a) about until what time one can recite the evening Shema. The Gemara asks why they discuss the evening Shema before discussing the morning Shema. One of the suggested answers is because of the creation story that “there was evening and then there was morning,” meaning that the day actually begins at night. This is why the Hebrew calendar begins each new day with sundown. My take: by acknowledging the importance of the day beginning at night, we acknowledge that darkness is present before light appears. There will always be darkness, but no matter how dark it is or how dark it feels at times, there will always be light that follows it.
In Berachot 3a, there is a discussion about how many shift changes take place of the night watch and night guards, those who stayed up all night to keep the residents of the city safe while they slept, and the Talmud states that there is an earthly watch and a Heavenly watch, suggesting that at night, God also watches over us while we sleep. Rabbi Yitzhak bar Shmuel clarifies in the name of Rav: at the end of each and every watch, God would roar like a lion, and explains that such a sound was God mourning the destruction that took place because of humanity’s actions. My #DafYomi take: while the earthly guards are there to protect humanity, God, as part of this Heavenly watch described by the Talmud only sits and wails, for God is dependent on us. We are meant to be God’s partners in creation and when God sees the way we treat each other, all God can do is wail like a lion and cry. For if we are all made in God’s image, God sees that the way we treat each other is a reflection of how we treat the Holy One.
On Berachot 4a, a story is told of King David. After he made legal decisions, he would consult his teacher, Mephiboshet. He would ask his teacher if he offered the right legal advice and judged correctly. The Talmud stipulates that he was never embarrassed to do so. My #DafYomi take: We are taught that the king, the most powerful leader among the nation, is humble enough to know that he might make mistakes, and understands that even in a position of power, he continues to learn from a teacher. He understands that there is still so much to learn. The minute we think we do not have anything new to learn is the minute we know nothing at all. If the king of a nation can be humble enough to learn from others and admit his own imperfections, then certainly we can. We shouldn’t be afraid to say “I do not know.” We should not be afraid to admit “I made a mistake.” And we should never stop finding teachers to learn from.
We learn in Berachot 5b that if two people enter a space to pray and one finishes praying first and did not wait for the other, and left, it’s as if their prayers are tossed aside in front of them. The Talmud goes on to say that if one finishes their prayers and leaves before the other, the Divine Presence leaves that space as well. My #DafYomi Take: Prayer is only an example of all matters relating to community. Community is about being together. This is true in matters of prayer, as well as in all sacred work we do. We do not leave others behind. We carry them with us. And in the best sense, in a truly prayerful experience, we carry each other.
Ravin Bar Yitzhak teaches on Berachot 6a that God is found among those who pray in a synagogue. The Talmud elaborates to explain that not only is God found when community comes together in prayer, but also when judges offer judgement, when two people sit together and study, and even when one person learns by themselves. My #DafYomi Take: Jewish institutions and houses of worship of all faiths and religious denominations often center ourselves around prayer experiences. Our schedules revolve around Shabbat, the Sabbath, as the busiest day, assuming that this is how we wrestle with and connect with the Divine. I believe the Talmud is reminding us that learning and teaching the values of our tradition, and striving to build a more just society are just as sacred as prayer itself. God is present in our learning how to walk in God’s ways and God is present as we serve as God’s partners in creation to build a just society and complete this world that God set out to build. Let us remember that any and all ways that we choose to involve ourselves in religious life – through education of our children and ourselves, through social action and social activities, through activism, and yes, through prayer – are seen as holy.
We find on Berachot 7a of the Talmud the imagery of God praying. Previously in the tractate, the rabbis went as far as to explain that God wears ritual objects associated with prayer. Here, Rabbi Yochanan asks how we know God prays and concludes by quoting from Isaiah 56:7: “I will bring them to my holy mountain and they will rejoice in my House of Prayer.” The Talmud changes the grammatical reading of this verse and translates it instead as “The House of My Prayer” rather than “My House of Prayer. The Talmud further explains that God prays to control God’s own actions (to be merciful instead of angry, etc). The Otzar HaGeonim comments that explanations of how God prays are really meant to be a guide for how humans are supposed to ritually pray. My #DafYomi Take: the intention of the Talmudic rabbis is clear – they understand God to be a Divine being that prays. We pray to God, to the Divine Ruler and Creator. We are left wondering, who does God pray to? I believe God prays to us. Such an understanding sees God and humanity as partners. We rely on each other. If that is the case then we cannot only rely on prayer. We must also act because that is what God is waiting for us to do.
We learn on Berachot 8a that Rabbi Chiyah bar Ami said in the name of Ulla: since the day the Temple was destroyed God only had the four cubits of Halacha – of law – in God’s world. My #DafYomi Take: while the belief was 2000+ years ago that the Temple in Jerusalem was where God’s Presence dwelt, with the destruction of the Temple, God resides wherever Jewish law is discussed. God doesn’t reside in a specific place, but among us, humanity made in God’s image. Furthermore, if observance of law is our attempt to walk in God’s ways, the Talmud is suggesting that God is present in our actions. If we understand that, then we can appreciate every action to be a holy and sacred act.
On Berachot 9a, the Talmud debates when the Israelites left Egypt. When discussing when night ends and morning begins, the Talmud discusses what seems to be a contradiction in the Torah. In Deuteronomy 16:1 we read “God took you out of Egypt at night.” Yet in Numbers 33:3, we read that “on the day after the pascal offering they went out.” How could the Torah both say that they went out at night and also say they did not go out until the next day? The Talmud concludes that while they left the next day, their redemption began at night through their own actions. First the Israelites acted at night and then God acted the next day. My #DafYomi Take: redemption does not come from God alone. It begins first with our own actions. We cannot sit around and wait for it to happen. The Torah doesn’t tell us that justice is the reality and will happen. Rather, it tells us we must pursue justice (Deut. 16:20) and not just wait around for it to happen. So too, we do not wait around for freedom, liberation, or redemption. We act and our actions lead to God acting as well.
The Talmud discusses on Berachot 10b one’s position when they pray and concludes that one should be lower to the ground rather than higher so that they do not appear haughty. The text then offers a tangential teaching regarding how one prays from Rabbi Yossi son of Rabbi Chanina who taught in the name of Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yaakov: when one prays they need their legs to be aligned, side-by-side, like one, and quotes from Ezekiel 1:7 as a proof text. There is no debate or discussion, which is rare for the Talmud. This practice is accepted, and is our common practice now, when praying the Amidah and specifically the Kedushah, to pray with our feet together. My #DafYomi Take: the verse cited from Ezekiel in support of such a practice refers to angels who according to this prophetic vision had one leg. The Talmud is telling us that we should mirror our practices to be like angels, that we should see ourselves then as divine messengers. Even at times of prayer when we turn to God, we should see ourselves as God’s messengers, doing God’s holy and righteous work in this world.
On Berachot 11b, there is a discussion about saying the blessing regarding Torah study with regards to the blessings surrounding the Shema. This introduces a tangent about when to recite the blessing over Torah study. Rav Huna teaches that it should be said only when reciting Scripture, but not Midrash. Rabbi Elazar teaches that it should be recited when studying Torah or Midrash, but not Mishnah. Rabbi Yochanan adds that it should even be said when studying Mishnah, just not when studying Talmud. Rava concludes that even when studying Talmud, one should recite the blessing over Torah study. My #DafYomi Take: Rav Yehudah says in the name of Shmuel that the blessing for Torah study is “la’asok b’divrei Torah,” to busy ourselves and involve ourselves in Torah study. The conclusion that the Talmud makes is that Torah is not just limited to Scripture. Rabbinic discussion is Torah. Interpretation is Torah. Commentary is Torah. And humanity’s attempt to understand how to walk in God’s ways is Torah. It is just as much a blessing to wrestle with and strive to understand how to find meaning in Torah as it is to study the words of Torah. Furthermore, this conclusion stresses that our words, humanity’s words, and our teachings, are just as sacred as God’s word. As long as we live our lives striving to walk in God’s ways, then that which we teach is also sacred.
The Talmud discusses the choreography during worship services. On Berachot 12a, Shmuel tells Chiya bar Rav a teaching that he learned from Rav: a person should bow (when reciting a blessing) at the word “Baruch,” meaning “blessed,” so that the person is standing straight and upright when they recite God’s name. My #DafYomi Take: the Talmud goes to great lengths to emphasize our humility during prayer. Earlier in this tractate, we are taught that we should pray low to the ground rather than from a high place so that we are not haughty and think we are greater than God. Elsewhere in the Talmud, we are taught to not walk more than four cubits with our head uncovered, because that should be a reminder that God is above us. Yet here, we do not bow when we say God’s name. We should be standing straight up when doing so. One might believe that is because standing up straight is a sign of focus and intention, but I think this is suggesting something else. Throughout this tractate, there are hints that, especially during times of prayer, we should see ourselves as God’s partners. How we stand or sit reflects that as well. We should not be haughty or humble. Rather, we should stand up straight, seeing ourselves as God’s partners. And that is what our relationship with God should always be.
Berachot 13a begins a chapter two of the tractate with a new mishnah that says if one is reciting the words of the Shema from the Torah (essentially chanting scripture) and the time for reciting the Shema (time for prayer) arrived, if one directed their mind to it, then they have fulfilled their obligation for reciting the words of the Shema prayer. The Gemara comments that from this we should conclude that all commandments require intent. My #DafYomi Take: Kavannah, intention, is essential especially during prayer. The right intention, centering ourselves with the right mindset, is the difference between reading the words of a foreign language on a page and having a moving spiritual experience. Yet we also know that it is impossible to have the right intention at all times and find meaning at all times. In Ex. 24:7 the Israelites famously say “Na’aseh v’Nishma.” Upon receiving the Torah, they declare that we will first do and then we will understand. Our conclusion is that sometimes, when we do not find meaning in something, the simple act of doing it can turn out to be quite the inspiring and spiritual experience. Doing can lead to intention. If we wait for intention before doing, we may never end up doing anything. Try something new, even if it is not something that we think will be meaningful. The experience may be exactly what we need and what we’ve been looking for, and will give us the right intention going forward.
On Berachot 14a, there is a Baraita about one who is reciting the words of the Shema and encounters a teacher, or presumably, someone of great importance. The Talmud says that out of respect to them, and in some cases, because of awe of them, you may pause your prayers in between the different sections to greet them and say hello. The Talmud goes on further to suggest that while the Shema is made up of biblical verses so you can only pause in between sections, other parts of the service, like the Hallel service, which is of rabbinic origin rather than biblical, one may interrupt their prayers in the middle to greet someone. Rabbi Chiya clarifies that “there is nothing wrong with that.” My #DafYomi Take: Prayer is not just about conversation with God. It is also about conversation with each other. While there are necessary and important times for personal prayer, prayer in Judaism is meant to be a communal experience. There is an old joke that Schwartz comes to synagogue to talk to God, but Goldman comes to synagogue to talk to Schwartz. I was recently speaking with someone who came to synagogue for the very first time, having grown up in another faith tradition, and they were amazing by how informal the prayer service was. People were hugging and kissing as they entered the sanctuary, kids were running unto the bimah, and side conversations were taking place – some that had to do with the weekly Torah portion and some that had nothing to do with it. Building community is a part of the prayer experience and if we see each other as made in God’s image, then it is appropriate to greet each other, and even “schmooze” during the prayer service, for how we greet each other mirrors how we ultimately greet God in prayer.
We learned on Berachot 15b the teaching of Rav Obadiah: we should understand the command in Deuteronomy 11:19 that when we are told to teach these lessons to our children (referring to the words of the Shema) one’s teaching shall be pure. They understand the word “Limadtem” to be “limud’cha tam.” My #DafYomi Take: while the Gemara understands this to mean that we should say these words flawlessly, that we should teach our children to say the Shema without a mistake, I think there is an additional meaning. Tam, while translated as simple, the Gemara understands this word to mean pure or flawless. In the Torah, Jacob is referred to as an Ish Tam, a pure person. Similarly, Noah is also called this in the Torah, an Ish Tzaddik Tammam, a pure and righteous person. I believe that we are not only commanded to teach our children to flawlessly recite the words of the Shema, but that reciting these words every evening and every morning centers us and focuses us. Prayer helps us be of pure heart and mind, and inspires us to act, to walk in God’s ways.
On Berachot 16b, the Gemara cites different personal prayers rabbis would offer after they completed reciting the Amidah prayer. These prayers included prayers for love, unity, peace, and friendship, prayers for a hopeful future, prayers for goodness, sustenance, health, and blessing. My #DafYomi Take: Many of these words of spontaneous prayer have become a part of our fixed liturgy. They include words that we say as part of the seven wedding blessings and words that are said as part of the blessing for the new Hebrew month. Our challenge is we turn these Talmudic rabbis’ personal prayers into our own words of prayer because we do not make the time for personal prayer. We are taught that if we’ve recited the necessary words of fixed liturgy without making time for personal prayer, then we have not fulfilled our obligation. Prayer is hard. We should use others’ words of prayer as inspiration, but they are not a substitute for our own words of prayer. May we all find the words to say and have the courage to pour our hearts out to God.
We read on Berachot 17a well-known teaching of Rava: that the purpose of Jewish wisdom is to do acts of repentance and good deeds, so that an individual shouldn’t chant or study Torah and be terrible to a parent, a teacher, or someone of great wisdom (those whom Jewish tradition taught a person should revere.) My #DafYomi take: Torah is only an Etz Chayim, a Tree of Life, if it ends up influencing our lives. Studying Torah is not meant to be an intellectual exercise. Torah is meant to be a guide to how we live our lives and how we treat other people. This teaching specifically references treatment of others. One cannot be a righteous person, no matter what rituals they observe, if they do not treat others with kindness and do not care for the well-being of others. Don’t just chant Torah. Don’t just study Torah. Live Torah — not only through ritual, but through our relationships with others.
On Berachot 18a, we read one of the most important Talmudic teaches with regards to Kavod HaMeit, honoring a person who has passed away by caring for the deceased and giving them a proper burial. In a Baraita which reflects on how one must treat that body, we learn “as they said with regards to the bones [the Talmudic description of a deceased’s body] so they said with regards to a Torah scroll. My #DafYomi Take: We treat our Torah scrolls with such respect. As we parade around the sanctuary with them, we touch and kiss them; we respectfully stand when the Torah is held or lifted, or even when the holy ark is open, to acknowledge the divinely attributed teachings of scripture. We even fast if a Torah scroll is dropped and touches the ground. The suggestion that we treat the bodies of those who have passed away the same way we treat a Torah scroll is an important reminder that we are just as divinely inspired as the text of our tradition. God had a role in creating us, just as God had a role in crafting Torah. May we honor each other, not just in life, but even in difficulty in death, and see the sacred nature of our loved ones whose memories will forever be a blessing in our lives.
We find a Baraita on Berachot 19b that speaks to the importance of being with mourners and walking along this journey with them. We read: [After a funeral] individuals were accompany mourners back from the cemetery after they had buried their loved one and approached a fork in the road where they could take two paths. One path the Talmud declares as Tahor, usually translated as pure, and one path is Tamei, usually translated as impure. In essence, one path was the safe and normal path and one was the forbidden more dangerous path. The Baraita concludes that if the mourner takes the Tahor path, then all take the Tahor path and if the mourner takes the Tamei path, then they all take the Tamei path, out of respect for the mourner. My #DafYomi Take: We walk along side those in mourning, wherever the path of loss and grief take them. We make sure they do not walk alone. We make sure that they do not mourn alone. That is one of the reasons that one says Kaddish in the presence of a minyan, so that they can be lifted up and supported by community in times of grief. May we walk whatever path necessary to be there for each other in joy and sorrow, at the highest and lowest points of life. That is what community is truly all about.
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The Mishnah at the end of Berachot 20b mentions a case where one who is deemed spiritually impure, and thus should refrain from reciting the words of the Shema. The Mishnah suggests that such a person should reflect on and meditate on these words rather than saying them aloud. The Gemara Then suggests that thought is equivalent to speech, if one is about to think words and it has the same impact as saying them aloud. My #DafYomi Take: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of blessed memory used to teach that the Jewish people are not a people of thought, but rather a people of action. We are taught to think before we say something, to be careful with the words that we say. But such an understanding suggests that our thoughts don’t “count.” As long as they remain in our hearts and in our heads, and aren’t spoken aloud, then they are not real; we do not bring them into the world. The Gemara is suggesting otherwise. Hateful thoughts lead to hate speech which leads to discriminatory actions. Positive thoughts are the equivalent to reciting words of blessings. If we are to be careful of what we say, then truly we should also be careful of what we think.
In order to prove a totally different point, Berachot 21b cites a teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: Anyone who teaches their child Torah, it is as if they received the Torah directly from Mount Horeb (from Mount Sinai). Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi comes to this conclusion based on the back-to-back verses of Deut. 4:9-10, that you should teach your children and your children’s children, and a reminder of the day that you stood on Mount Horeb experiencing revelation. My #DafYomi Take: There is serious power in education. By teaching our children, we are giving them the opportunity to experience the wonders, marvels, and blessings of God all around us — in essence, giving them the opportunity to experience revelation. But also by educating our children, that brings us, the teachers, back to Mount Sinai as well. Sometimes, there is no greater reminder of God’s Presence in this world, then seeing the divine spark in the eyes of a child. This teaching also suggests, not that revelation simply happened, but that it is happening, that revelation is an ongoing experience. Each and every day, we have the ability to find blessings to be thankful for in this world. We just need to open our eyes to do so, and to be open to learning new things. We also understand our responsibility, as God’s partners in this world, to teach each other. We are the catalysts for experiencing revelation. We have the power to help others get to Mount Sinai.
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On Berachot 22a, Rabbi Yehudah is sitting with his students. They ask him to teach them about the laws of Derech Eretz, about how to conduct one’s self and treat others people. Being in a state of spiritual impurity, he first immersed in the mikvah, in the ritual waters, to spiritually purify himself before teaching them. They challenged him, “didn’t you tell us it was acceptable to teach laws of how one should treat others even in a state of spiritual impurity?!” Rabbi Yehudah interestingly responded: “I am lenient with others, but more stringent with myself.” My #DafYomi Take: do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than others? While we shouldn’t best ourselves up over things that we let others off the hook for, we should always strive to be the best version of ourselves. We do not compare ourselves to others and what they do or do not. Rather, we only compare ourselves to ourselves. Being lenient towards others is a positive reflection of Derech Eretz, of how you treat others. Being more stringent on yourself and your own actions makes sure that we each hold ourselves to a standard where we strive to be that best version of ourselves.
On Berachot 23b, during a conversation about when and where one should remove their Tefillin, there is a Baraita that notes that a person should not hold their unwrapped tefillin in their hands, or even a Torah scroll in their hands, during prayer. Shmuel adds that one should not hold a knife, a plate of food, or a loaf of bread either during prayer. My #DafYomi (Ber. 23b) Take: The essence of this lesson is that we should not be distracted by prayer. We are all guilty of being easily distracted — myself included. It is hard for us to disconnect. When we have a brief second to spare, we glance at our phones. Rather than walking in silence, we put earbuds in our ears. Prayer is difficult. Prayer is hard. Distractions make it even harder. Even ritual objects or scripture itself that we normally would think would help us engage in a meaningful prayer experience can actually detract from that experience. We hold on to these distractions because our time is precious, and we try to multitask in life. But allow yourself to take a moment, to put aside all the loud noises and bright lights, all that distracts us, and find God in the silence of prayer. When Elijah the prophet sought refuge on the mountain of God, the Hebrew Bible notes that God was not in the thunder or lighting or fires or earthquakes. God was in the still, small voice. God was in the silence. Let us remove our distractions during prayer, distractions that we are usually so dependent on, to find God in the silence.
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On Berachot 24b, we find a Baraita that teaches: one whose voice is heard during prayer is one of little faith. It adds that one who raises their voice during prayer, meaning prays loudly, is a false prophet. This teaching is listed among other acts during prayer: yawning, burping, and sneezing. But what makes saying your words of prayer out loud so controversial? In fact, doing so was a regular practice of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. Rashi clarifies that if we always pray aloud, we might assume that God cannot hear the prayers of our hearts, so we pray quietly. Later in the tractate, Hannah’s prayer is even mentioned, when she was praying quietly with such faith, yet, the religious leader of the community was so dumbfounded by her true and pure intention. My #DafYomi Take: This does not suggest that we shouldn’t pray in community and sing together, but rather, when we pray privately as individuals, it is not a competition or race, and it is certainly not about who prays the loudest, especially if our own prayers might disrupt the prayers of our neighbor. Sometimes it takes the soulful melodies of the liturgy to lift our prayers to the Heavens, but sometimes, in true silence, we finally are able to speak to God.
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On Berachot 25b, a long conversation continues regarding whether or not one must be clothed when reciting prayers and if it is appropriate, or modest, to have parts of one’s body exposed when praying. Among the many arguments regarding what constitutes nakedness, Rav Zevid brings up a disagreement between Abaye and Rava. Rava teaches that if one’s nakedness is seen, it is still permitted to recite the Shema prayer for “the Torah was not given to the ministering angels.” My #DafYomi Take: Talmudic rabbinic thought suggests that these angels did not procreate and thus, did not have sex organs, thus making it impossible for their “nakedness” to be exposed. But I believe Rava is suggesting something even more important, completely separate from a conversation about nakedness. Rava is suggesting that with God we can be our authentic selves. The Torah was not given to angels. The Torah was given to humanity. Why would we be expected to hide a part of who we are if it defines us when the Torah was given to us? Society tries to dictate what is modest and what is appropriate. But God sees the divine spark within each of us, made in God’s own image. So do not hide yourself from God.
Berachot 26a addresses what to do when one misses a prayer service. Did you dose off before the Maariv evening prayers?Did you sleep in and miss the Shacharit morning service? The Talmud says that whatever service one misses, at the following service, they repeat the Amidah prayer. For example, if one misses the evening Maariv service, they would recite the Amidah twice during the Shacharit morning service. My #DafYomi Take: Even though praying at specific times is a time-bound commandment, this recognition suggests that one should never give up on God. It is never too late to pray. In fact the Talmud concludes that even if one doesn’t pray at the proper time, one is rewarded for their prayer. Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of blessed memory, wrote that “it’s never too late to change my mind, my direction, to say no to the past, to say yes to the future, to offer remorse, to ask and give forgiveness. It is never too late to start over again, to feel again, to love again, to hope again.” When it comes to God, it is never too late. Talmud tells us that even when it seems like we’ve missed our window of opportunity, God is there waiting. We just have to be willing to open up. It’s never too late.
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To prove a point on a disputed matter between the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel, a Baraita on Berachot 27b says that Rabban Gamliel told a student that the Torah scholars in the study hall would resolve the dispute and that when they enter, the question should be posed to them again. Rabban Gamliel notably refers to these Torah scholars as “Baalei T’reisin,” as shield bearers. Rashi comments that Torah scholars are called shield bearers because when they argue and dispute in the Beit Midrash, in the study hall, they battle each other in Torah like warriors wielding shields. My #DafYomi Take: Calling those who study Torah shield-bearers brings to mind a powerful image. I believe this speaks less about the scholars and more about Torah itself. Torah is our shield. Torah is meant to be our guide. It is meant to protect us from evil and from harm. But it is also not a weapon. You do not use a shield to harm others, but rather to protect yourself and others from harm’s way. Torah – nor faith in general – is not meant to be used as a weapon to cause harm to others. Anyone who suggests otherwise is using Torah incorrectly and using faith as a scapegoat for their hatred and bigotry towards another. Torah is a shield. It should be protecting the most vulnerable, not harming them.
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At the beginning of Berachot 28a, a Baraita is taught about a change in leadership from Rabban Gamliel to Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah. The Talmud says that Rabban Gamliel would not let “any student whose inside was not like their outside” study Torah. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah opened the doors to the study hall for anyone who wanted to enter and learn and the Gemara says that on that day, many benches were added, because so many people wanted to learn. My #DafYomi Take: Rabban Gamliel failed by limiting exposure to Torah and to the beauty of Jewish knowledge to a select few. For too long, the organized Jewish community has been like Rabban Gamliel and similarly failed. We have limited access to the beauty of Torah; we have made our institutions like secret societies or clubs. But if we truly want to build an inclusive Jewish community that reflects the diversity of the Jewish landscape, we should follow the model of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah. We need to open our doors wide, and invite in all who wish to learn with us. If we do, then like in the case of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, we will even need to add more benches to the study hall and make more room.
Berachot 29b restates the Mishnah which tells us in the words of Rabbi Eliezer that one whose prayer is fixed is not a genuine supplication. The Talmud attempts to understand what this means and offers three conclusions: Rabbi Yaakov Bar Idi taught that this refers to anyone who saw praying as a chore or burden; The Rabbis said it referred to anyone who does not recite the fixed liturgy as if it were a supplication; Rabbah and Rav Yosef both taught that this refers to anyone who is not able to make their fixed prayer new and different. My #DafYomi Take: Liturgy unites us as a prayer community. The words, the nusach (cantillation) and the melodies connect our individual voices into a spiritual chorus. Yet, we fail in prayer when we become too dependent on that fixed liturgy. We “daven” but forget to pray. The words of the siddur, of the prayer book, are supposed to be a stepping stone, a jumping off point, to inspire us to add in the words of our heart. When we are lost and don’t know how to get to our destination, we type the address into our GPS. The siddur is our spiritual GPS. But eventually, we become familiar enough with the route that we don’t need directions anymore; we know exactly how to get to our destination. Liturgy is our GPS, but if we always type in the address, time and time again, if we become too dependent on it, we will never gain a sense of direction. We will never learn how to get there ourselves. The Talmud is clear that fixed prayer without taking the time and making the space for the prayers of our heart is meaningless. Stop davening and pray more. Don’t be so dependent on GPS. Get a little lost – lost in your thoughts, in your feelings, in your prayers. If you allow yourself, you’ll get to exactly where you need to be.
Berachot 30a tells us the direction that we should pray. One should pray towards the land of Israel, and specifically towards Jerusalem. If one And when in Jerusalem, towards the cite where the Temple once stood. For tradition teaches that God’s Divine Presence radiated throughout the Temple and so we direct our prayers to where God’s Presence resides. However, we learn in a Baraita that if one doesn’t have a sense of direction (meaning one who doesn’t know which direction to face) one should direct their heart towards the Heavens. My #DafYomi Take: If we think that God’s Presence is only limited to a specific place, then we become unaware of God’s Presence all around us. Directing our hearts towards the Heavens reminds us that God is present all around us. When our biblical Patriarch Jacob awakens from one of his many dreams, he declares “God is in this place and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16). We all direct our prayers to the same direction in hopes that, like when the Temple once stood in Jerusalem, we are unified as a community in our relationship with God. If let us don’t forget that God is here, that God is present in our lives. Let us learn from Jacob’s example. Let us always be aware that God is in this place. Let us always know it.
On Berachot 31a, an incident is told of Rav Ashi overly concerned with the joy at his child’s wedding, so he took a glass and broke it. As a result all who were present, were saddened. While the Shulchan Aruch suggests that we break a glass to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Tosafot are quite clear that this is the reason we have the custom of breaking a glass at a Jewish wedding. My #DafYomi Take: We should always strive to be joyful, but we should never be so overly joyful that we forget the pain and suffering of others in this world. Such an act is a reminder that we are all interconnected. Even on one’s wedding day, which should be the highest of all highs, one should not forget the brokenness of life that others are experiencing. Life is fragile. Glass easily shatters. We appreciate life’s blessings because we understand how fragile life is. We never know when our joy will turn to sorrow. But we also never forget that it isn’t only about us. At times of great joy, we focus on those who are in pain, and are reminded that our obligation and responsibility is to comfort them, and to spread that filling of love and joy, to light up another’s darkness. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z”l taught “morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings.” Even and especially when all we experience is joy, we should still be concerned with those who are experiencing sorrow.
Continuing the theme of the difficulty of prayer, Berachot 32b cites a Baraita that teaches: “there are four areas that require strength – the study of Torah, doing good deeds, prayer, and having a good character.” The rabbis acknowledge how difficult it is to do what they believe is the essence of Judaism – study, prayer, and acts. As proof texts, the Baraita goes on to cite verses that use the same words that were used when God’s Divine Presence was transferred from Moses to Joshua, Hazak v’Amatz, to be strong and resolute. My #DafYomi Take: Study is hard. It is hard for us to open up our minds to different perspectives. Prayer is hard. It is hard for us to acknowledge a Being greater than us. But I am most fascinated with the declarations that we need to be strong and resolute in order to do good deeds and to have a good character. These should be easy tasks. Prayer may be hard, but being kind should be easy. Study may be difficult, but helping others shouldn’t be. Yet, the rabbis acknowledge that going out of our way to help others before we help ourselves also takes strength and courage. Our instinct is to care for our own well-being. It takes strength of mind and spirit to think of others. Later in Mishnah Avot (4:1), we learn: “Who is strong? One who conquers their own evil inclination.” True strength is trying to do good in this world. True strength is seeing God in others. True strength is understanding the blessings we have in this world, no matter our challenges, and dedicating our lives to helping those who are the most vulnerable. What the Talmud is also then telling us is that those who only look out for themselves and ignore the welfare of others are weak. Strength comes from understanding that we are all interconnected, and we are stronger when we support each other, and lift each other up.
The Talmud on Berachot 33a restates a part of the Mishnah that says “even if a snake is coiled around one’s heel, they should not interrupt their prayers.” This seems to be an odd statement. Why would one pray if there was harm, violence, danger, and tragedy on the horizon? Rav Sheshet clarifies that the Mishnah specifically mentions a snake because a snake doesn’t cause harm unless it is bothered. But he elaborates that for a scorpion, one that causes great harm, one should stop their prayers to stop that harm from being caused. Rabbi Yitzhak later adds that if one sees a bull, they should also stop their prayers because a bull might harm them. My #DafYomi Take: The Talmud addresses in several ways the possibility of one being in harm’s way when they are praying and pretty clearly states that prayer does not protect them from harm. In this case, one must physically remove that which might cause harm. The rabbis conclude that action is what is needed in that situation and not prayer. After every mass shooting (which seems to happen daily in this country), our leaders too often respond with “thoughts and prayers.” The Talmud clearly states that prayer alone will not protect someone from harm. We must act to make it harder for those that might cause harm, scorpions and anything else, from doing so. Prayer is important, but we cannot depend on prayer alone to keep us safe. We must act as well. If we refuse to do so, then our prayers fall on deaf ears.
A Baraita on Berachot 34a teaches that a leader was leading prayer services in front of Rabbi Eliezer when all of Rabbi Eliezer’s students complained that he took too long, that his prayers were excessive. Rabbi Eliezer responded that Moses prayed to God for the safety of the Israelites following the Golden Calf episode for forty days and forty nights (referencing Deut. 9:25). In the same Baraita, the opposite experience occurs, when a leader was leading prayer services in front of Rabbi Eliezer, and all of Rabbi Eliezer’s students complained that his prayers were too short, that he prayed too quickly. Rabbi Eliezer responded that when Moses prayed for God to heal his sister Miriam, he did so with five simple words, not even mentioning her name (referencing Numbers 12:13). My #DafYomi Take: There is no right or wrong way to pray. Even with words of liturgy as our guide, sometimes they are shortened and abbreviated, sometimes they are extended and elongated. But if the Torah suggests that there was never again a prophet quite like Moses who saw God face-to-face, then would was acceptable for Moses to do, should be acceptable for us to do. Sometimes our prayers are short. Sometimes our prayers are long. Sometimes our words of prayer come naturally. And sometimes we struggle to find the words. If there is no wrong way to pray then the right way is the way that you find meaning in. And anyone who criticizes that, according to Rabbi Eliezer, might as well be criticizing Moses as well.
The Talmud introduces a Baraita on Berachot 35b, in which Rabbi Yishmael understands that when the Torah says “you will gather your grain” (in Deut. 11:14), we should understand it to mean that one should dedicate time to Torah study, but also contribute to the world. They shouldn’t be so preoccupied in Torah study that they do not earn a livelihood and do not contribute to society. The Gemara adds that according to Abaye, those who did as Rabbi Yishmael suggested, and combined Torah study with contributing to society were successful, but those who only dedicated themselves to Torah study were not successful. My #DafYomi Take: Torah is only a tree of life if it impacts the way we live our lives. It is a guide. If we only study Torah as an intellectual exercise, and pontificate from our ivory towers, without using Torah to impact our lives, the way we treat others, and the work we put into caring for ourselves and this world, then Torah becomes irrelevant. Those who spend all their days studying Torah and do not contribute to society are not overly pious. They are overly ignorant. For they miss the opportunity to have Torah truly be a tree of life in their lives.
Berachot 36a goes into detail about the different blessings we say for each food, restating the Mishnah that tells us if one eats a meal with multiple different types of foods, one only says a blessing over the main part of the dish and that blessing covers all the foods. They even debate eating parts of fruit trees that aren’t typically considered foods (like husks and leaves) and what blessings one should say in that case. My #DafYomi Take: there is nothing we do more than eat. Most of us eat three meals a day. Others snack all day and are constantly eating. There is no greater reminder of God providing for us than when we are satiated and satisfied because of the food we eat. But the Grace After Meals is said as a way of giving thanks after we eat. To bless the food we eat before we eat it makes sure that we never take the blessings in our lives for granted. It’s a reminder that we should be grateful for the food we eat. Being specific about blessing each type of food also ensures that we are careful with what we eat. This way, we know all that we are putting in our bodies.
Berachot 37b teaches a Baraita that shares of an individual who was giving an offering for the first time in a long while at the Temple in Jerusalem, and reciting the Shehechiyanu blessing, a blessing that thanks God for “keeping us alive, sustaining us, and bringing us to this season.” My #DafYomi Take: The Shehechiyanu blessing was originally said the first time we do something, but the Talmud explains that we do it even when it is the first time in a long while. This blessing is a reminder that life is fragile, so we should never miss an opportunity to thank God for the blessings when we experience them in our lives. It is easy to be overcome by the challenges of life. Let us find meaning in the moments of blessing, and let us find blessings in our everyday moments. Let us thank God every day for for keeping us alive, for sustaining us, and for bring us to this moment.
When discussing what blessings should be said of specific foods on Berachot 38a, the Talmud discusses mixing foods together to create a new substance and thus, what blessing would be said over that new substance. This leads to a tangential conversation about the traditional prohibition concerning mixing such liquids together on Shabbat. Abaye quotes a Mishnah (found later on Tractate Shabbat) that any food may be mixed and any food may be eaten if it is for therapeutic purposes. My #DafYomi Take: Health and well-being supersede everything. No law or prohibition is meant to prevent us from taking care of ourselves and our bodies. If we are made in God’s image, and the purpose of each spiritual act is to recognize and praise God’s Presence in our lives, then doing something that might cause harm to ourselves is an act of desecration rather than sanctification.
At the conclusion of Berachot 39b, we find the teaching of Rabbi Abba. In the midst of a conversation regarding blessings over bread, he teaches: on Shabbat, on the Jewish Sabbath, one should break bread over two loaves (over two Challot). Why? Because it is written in Ex. 16:22 regarding a double portion of manna that the Israelites received in the wilderness for the Sabbath. The two loaves represent that double portion. Rather than breaking off a piece of bread from each loaf, Rabbi Zeira would break off a large piece from one. When challenged if this was disrespectful to take such a large piece of bread, it is explained that he didn’t do this everyday, but only on Shabbat. My #DafYomi Take: if we strive to make Shabbat separate, special, and different from every other day of the week, we do so in all aspects. It is not just about working or not working. It is not just about resting or not resting. It is about the food that we eat. There is no better way to celebrate Shabbat then through a festive family meal. It doesn’t even matter what you eat, as long as we fulfill what the Talmud tells us and make this meal different. For many, they hardly get to sit down and have a family meal together during the week. Due to busy schedules, late meetings, after school activities, and delayed trains that commuters get stuck on, we rarely get to sit down as a family over a meal. That is also what makes Shabbat so special. Shabbat is not just the opportunity to break bread — be it two loaves or simply one large piece. It is the opportunity to do so with family, friends, and community, which we never get to do. Experience the sacredness of Shabbat by taking time to share a meal with those who matter most.
While still discussing the proper blessings for particular foods, Berachot 41a asks what happens when you have two foods that have the same blessing — which food is blessed first? They conclude that the food that is one of the seven species is blessed before other foods. The Talmud even goes as far as to suggest that the seven species should be used as measurements. My #DafYomi Take: The seven species – wheat, barley, pomegranate, olive, date, grape, and fig – are mentioned in the Torah as agricultural products that are special to the land of Israel. The fact that when one must choose, they bless that of the seven species before other foods, is a reminder of our relationship as Jews to the land of Israel. Psalm 137:5 declares “If I forget thee, O, Jerusalem, let my right hand whither.” In all that we do, including in the food that we eat, our hearts and minds should be reminded of our relationship with the holy land.
While discussing whether or not one person can bless food on behalf of all, there is a Baraita at the end of Berachot 42b that says “If ten people were traveling on the road, even if they were eating from a single loaf of bread, each one must recite a blessing for themselves. But if they sat down to eat together, even if they were each eating from their own loaf of bread, one can recite a blessing on behalf of all of them.” My #DafYomi Take: sometimes, even when we are physically together, we are not together. We have had family meals, where every person has been distracted and been on a device, and we have had family meals where every person has eaten something different, but we’ve all been present. This baraita is teaching us that it takes more than just being physically present to be present. Disconnect from all that distracts us and be in the moment. Remove the blinders and barriers which all too often divide us, and be in the moment. Be with those around the table. Doing so turns individuals into a collective unit and there is no better way to build community than around the dinner table.
On Berachot 43b, we find one of Rav Zutra bar Toviyah’s teachings that he taught in the name of Rav: A torch is like two people and a moon is like three people. This teaching references one’s fear to walk in the dark at night. Rav Zutra’s teaching explains that as look as one had light by their side to light up the darkness, they didn’t have to fear. The Talmud continues: when one person is alone, a demon can harm them; with two people, a demon might appear but does no harm; with three people, it does not appear at all. My #DafYomi Take: There is power in numbers. When we are together, we are unafraid, not because that which we fear goes away, but rather, because we know that we do not need to walk into the scary unknown alone. And no matter where you are going, as long as someone is by our side, we have nothing to fear. The power of community is knowing that whatever challenging lie ahead of us in life, we never have to face them alone. As long as we are not alone, we can face our fears. As long as we are together, we are not afraid. We are there to hold each other up. We are there to be the light and light up one another’s darknesses.
Abaye asks Rav Dimi on Berachot 44a what blessing should be said if one abbreviates the Grace After Meals and he responds that such a blessing should conclude with an acknowledgment that God “is good and does good to all.” My #DafYomi Take: while this blessing also acknowledges God’s relationship with the people of Israel, I believe there is purpose to it concluding with the universalist idea that God has a relationship with all of humanity. We may experience God differently, ritualize that relationship differently, and even call God different names in different languages. But a prayer for God to do good to all celebrates that we are all made in God’s image and we are all God’s partners in creation.
When discussing that three people are required for a zimmun, three people sitting and eating together to recite the Grace After Meals, we find a teaching on Berachot 45b from Rav Dimi bar Yosef. He taught in the name of Rav that when three sit down for a meal together and one leaves mid-meal to run an errand, the other two can call out to that one who is missing and then the Grace After Meals can be recited aloud. It is as if that third person is there, even if they are not physically present. My #DafYomi Take: Up until this point, the Talmud has been spending a great deal of time focusing on words of blessing and prayer in communal settings. Now, Rav Dimi bar Yosef suggests that one does not need to be physically present to be considered a part of community. Sometimes, we can’t physically be there. It is the job of communities to make their institutions accessible to all who can’t physically be there. Additionally, this teaching is a reminder to all of us that, even when we can’t physically be there for someone, we can still be there. Especially in the age of social media and text messaging, our presence can be felt, even when we aren’t there. We can still lift others up, even when we aren’t present. Community is about being there for each other, and this reminds us that we can still be there, even when we aren’t physically “there.”
Berachot 46b discusses whether or not the blessing of “God is good and does good to all” is a blessing that one must say because of a biblical command or obligation. Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak says that one is not commanded to say these words because, according to the Baraita, we learn from Rabbi Akiva that one does not say these words in a house of mourning. My #DafYomi Take: At different times in our lives, our relationship with God changes. If we are truly wrestling with God, then when we experience blessings, we should bless God, and when we experience loss, we should be angry with God. The Talmud acknowledges that it is impossible to say that God is good and does good when we have experienced loss and are in mourning. This suggests the fluid nature of our relationship with the Divine. There are times when we should praise and bless God, and there are times when we should yell and scream at God. There are times when we shed tears of joy and times when we shed tears of sorrow. Like any relationship, there are ups and downs. But even in ritual and liturgy, we are honest with God and do not say what we don’t mean. Let our emotions and honesty be the catalyst for the words that we use when speaking to God and nothing else.
On Berachot 47b, we find the term “am haaretz.” While this literally means “people of the land,” rabbinic Judaism uses this term to mean those who are negligent in Jewish observance. In a baraita,there is a debate about who exactly is deemed an “am haaretz,” who is deemed negligent in observance. Some suggest those who don’t recite the Shema. Others suggest wearing tefillin or tzitzit. Additional suggestions include those who do not put mezzuzot on their doorways and those who does not teach their children. But the final teaching is that of the “acherim,” the others, and this is the teaching that Jewish law sides with. One is negligent in observance when they study Torah and rabbinic literature, but do not seek to serve scholars — meaning they do not seek to apply these lessons in their everyday lives. My #DafYomi Take: Torah is meaningless if we do no seek to understand the meaning of what we have studied and if we do not use it to give us purpose and to guide our actions in our lives. Even if we do ritual after ritual, if we are not guided by what we study and what we learn, then what is the point? Learning for the sake of learning is important. But we must always be inspired by – and guided by – the lessons that we learn. We are negligent if we know the ethics and values of our tradition and ignore them, if we are not inspired to use them to shape our world and shape our lives.
Berachot 48a begins with a story of Abaye and Rava as children, learning in front of Rabba. When responding that all their blessings they make were to God, Rabba asked them where God resides. Rava pointed to the ceiling. Abaye went outside and pointed to the sky. Rabba concluded that they would be great Torah scholars. My #DafYomi Take: the Talmud interestingly introduces us to Abaye and Rava’s theology as children. It’s much easier for children to find and appreciate God’s Presence in this world. As an adult, I am often in awe of the way my children see the world. They see God everywhere and in everything – in the breeze and in the trees, when the sun shines and when the birds sing. As adults, our view of the world is often skewed, colored by the pain and heartache we experience. But we should learn and be inspired by our children’s views of the world. They help us see God, and they help us find God when we need God most.
In conversations about participating in a zimmun, the beginning of the Grace After Meals, at the end of Berachot 49b, the Gemara begins with the teaching of Shmuel: One should never exclude themselves from the collective. The Mishnah above notes that the language one uses is dependent on the size of the crowd at the meal. Shmuel’s teaching suggests that if you are a part of the meal, don’t separate yourself out from the rest of the crowd. My #DafYomi Take: Shmuel’s teaching reminds me of Hillel’s teaching from Pirkei Avot: Al Tifros Min HaTzibur, do not separate yourself from the community. I often teach that one cannot be a Jew on a deserted island, for Judaism is about more than faith; it is about community. There is a reason that some prayers and rituals are reserved for when there is a minyan, a prayer quorum. We surround ourselves with others to support each other in our time of need. Shmuel’s very blunt teaching is a reminder that we cannot ignore the needs of another. We cannot drown out another’s cries for help. We cannot ignore the needs of our community and only lookout for ourselves. As Hillel also taught: If I am only for myself, what am I?
Berachot 50a, cites a Baraita which debates different blessings to say as part of the Grace After Meals. Rabbi teaches that one who says: “Blessed is God through whose goodness we live” is a wise scholar. But one who says: “Blessed is God through whose goodness they live” is ignorant. My #DafYomi Take: True wisdom and scholarship comes from appreciating God’s blessings in our own lives. This reminds me of the four children of the Passover seder. What the so-called “wicked” child says is hardly wicked. After all, they are simply searching for meaning and understanding. But the Haggadah defines this child as wicked, or more appropriately, ignorant, just as Rabbi does here in the Baraita, because they ask what this experience is to “you all” and excludes themselves from the experience. What makes one wise has nothing to do with how much text or ritual one knows. One is wise when they come to know God in their lives.
We find an odd and confusing statement on Berachot 51a. Among the teachings of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, is what he claims was said to him by the Angel of Death. Among those things is a disturbing teaching: do not stand in front of women when they are returning from a funeral, because the angel of death stands in front of them with sword in hand. My #DafYomi Take: so much of our ritual is about comforting the mourner and we are seemingly perplexed by this teaching that we should avoid the mourner. But I believe the idea that the angel of death follows them is an acknowledgment that when we mourn a loved one, we recognize that a little bit of ourselves has died as well, for they were a part of us, and we were a part of them. The imagery of this part of the Gemara suggests that we never stop mourning. Time continues and the world moves on, but we never stop mourning, and we never stop missing, our loved one. We learn how to adjust to this new reality, but their death forever follows us, and is forever a part of us. Our hope and prayer, and responsibility as a community, is to support mourners as they mourn, so that they can ensure, and we can ensure, that the memories of those whom we mourn remain blessings in our lives.
On Berachot 52a, we find Beit Shammai’s explanation as to why he suggests one recites the Havdallah blessing as the final blessing among the ritual objects, after the blessing over wine, spices, and a flame. The Gemara explains that he holds this position becuase “bringing in the day is different than taking it out. The earlier we start Shabbat, the better. And the more we delay ending Shabbat, the better.” My #DafYomi Take: Ahad Ha’am famously said: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Our calendars revolve around Shabbat. Once Friday afternoon arrives, our bodies begin to shut down, rest, and relax, knowing that Shabbat has arrived. But Shabbat can only truly be a Palace in Time (as Rabbi Heschel called it) if we are able to release all the stress and burdens that we carry during the other six days of the week. We are too stressed too often. If we are able to disconnect from the world, then we are able to truly be at peace with our family, friends, loved ones, community, God, and ourselves. Shammai encourages extending Shabbat for more than its 25 hours (starting it earlier and ending it later) because we need more Shabbat in our lives. We need more family time. We need more community time. We need more opportunities to disconnect from the stresses of life. Only then will we truly achieve a Shabbat Shalom — no tjust a peaceful Shabbat, but a Shabbat where we again feel whole.
The Gemara speaks of Rabbah bar bar Chanah on Berachot 53b. He was traveling via caravan, ate somewhere and moved on without reciting the Grace After Meals. There was a disagreement about whether or not Grace After Meals needs to be said in the place one ate or can be said anywhere. He worried that if he told those in the caravan that he forgot to recite such a blessing, they’d tell him to just recite it wherever they were, so he instead said, “I forgot a golden dove” and went back to that spot where he ate to recite Grace After Meals and a golden dove was waiting for him there. The Talmud asks why did he reference a dove, and answers that in Ps. 68:14 the Jewish People are compared to a dove and concludes that a dove needs their wings to fly and so too, the Jewish People need commandments. My #DafYomi Take: The Gemara uses this story to not focus on Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals, but instead to compare the Jewish People to a dove. The dove is the animal that we associate with peace. If commandments are compared to a dove’s wings, given flight and purpose to the dove, then commandments are meant to lead us and give us purpose as well. If we are to be like doves, then these commandments are meant to help us bring about peace in the world. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, actually comes from the root of Shalem, meaning ‘whole’ or ‘complete.’ The world is broken and incomplete. Our responsibility and obligation is to build a world of peace, through our deeds, through our actions, and through walking in God’s ways. Peace should always be our goal, everywhere and in everything that we do.
Berachot 54a begins Chapter Nine of the Mishnah with a Mishnah that teaches us to offer blessings upon every occasion. We are told to offer a blessing when we are at a place where miracles happened. And yet, we are also told to offer a blessing regarding the wonders of creation when we see the simple beauty of this world. The Gemara goes on to suggest the words of the blessing we say when we are at a place where a miracle occurred come from Jethro, who heard of the miracles God did for the Israelites when taking them out of Egypt, and offered a blessing, even though he himself was not there to experience the miracles firsthand. My #DafYomi Take: It is easy to witness miracles firsthand and give thanks for those miracles. It takes faith to offer words of blessings for miracles that we did not see. But if we truly appreciate God’s Presence in this world and in our lives, then we can see the everyday miracles in our lives. And as the Mishnah teaches us, to see the wonders of creation itself are enough to appreciate the miracles of this world, the miracles all around us.
Berachot 55a comments on Rav Yehudah’s statement from the previous page. At the end of Berachot 54b, Rav Yehudah says that prolonging one’s prayers is one way that one prolongs one’s years. However, this page begins with Rabbi Yochanan saying that anyone who prolongs their prayers will suffer heartache. Rabbi Yitzhak further notes that one who prays with the expectation that their prayers will be answered is one whose sins should be recognized and remembered by the Heavens. The Gemara concludes that there is no contradiction between these statements because Rav Yehudah’s statement of being rewarded with long life for one who prolongs their prayers refers to one who does so without expecting that their prayers will be answered and Rabbi Yochanan’s statement refers to those who only pray with the expectation that their prayers will be answered. My #DafYomi Take: One might ask themselves what the point of prayer is if we don’t expect our prayers to be answered. But the act of prayer is deeply meaningful regardless of the outcome. Prayer is an opportunity to give thanks, to laugh with God and cry with God. Prayer is an opportunity to question and doubt, to yell and scream, to curse at God, and of course, to ask for God’s help and guidance. But if we only pray, if we only wrestle with God, with an expectation that our wants will be met, then we fail at finding meaning in prayer. If we find meaning in our relationship with God, if we find purpose in that “God wrestling,” then that – the purpose that we find in the experience – is the reward for the experience. Our days feel prolonged because we find purpose and meaning in the everyday. Our years feel prolonged because we come to find God’s Presence in our lives.
Berachot 56b is filled with different dreams that were had by different people and an attempt to interpret what these dreams mean. It offers suggestions into the meaning of dreaming about different foods and animals, each being a sign for something that might happen to you. But the page concludes with one who dreams about Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, and responds that one who dreams of Ishmael should know that their prayers have been heard by God. My #DafYomi Take: The name Yishmael literally translates to God will hear, but choosing this among all the other potential biblical figures stands out to me for a reason. There is no reference to dreams about Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, or Leah. Yet, they make a point of mentioning how God hears our prayers when we dream about Ishmael, often referred to as the patriarch of much of the Arab world and a patriarch in Islam. Such a statement suggests that finding God’s Presence in humanity is not limited to those who pray like us or identify like we do. For we should believe that God hears the prayers of all peoples and all faiths and that God is found among all peoples and all faiths, for all of humanity is created in the image of God. If we all believed that, and embraced that, then this world would be a much more peaceful place.
Berachot 57a-b continues the conversation regarding dreams, explaining what each dream means. Then, on 57b, it lists five areas in our world that are one-sixtieth of it’s truest and most extreme manifestation. Included in that list, we are told that a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy. My #DafYomi Take: The one-sixtieth rule in Jewish law is such a small amount that it doesn’t change the outcome, but if it is even the slightest bit larger, it is a meaningful percentage. Here, the Talmud is acknowledging that a dream is not prophecy, but calling it one-sixtieth of prophecy, it has the potential to be. Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, famously said “if you will it, it is no dream.” A prophecy is something that we believe to be divinely-inspired that will happen. If we will it, if we do the work, if we act, then our dreams can become reality. Let us not only be dreamers. Let us be prophets. Let us make the world that we dream about, a world for our dream that is full of peace and justice, become a reality. For if we will it, it is no dream.
On Berachot 58b, we learn from Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi that when one sees a friend after thirty days, they should say the words of the Shehechiyanu blessing (Thank you God for giving us life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this moment.) He adds that when one sees a friend who they hadn’t seen in over a year they say “Blessed are You, God, who revives the dead.” My #DafYomi Take: Whenever one would travel in the Talmudic era, there was a dangerous element to it, and there was no such thing as a short trip. Every trip was a long journey. When you saw someone after they returned from their journey, you (and they) were thanking God that they returned safely. But this teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi teaches an even more important lesson. It is a reminder that life is fragile. We should appreciate every moment with those near and dear to us — those who are family and those who are friends, but like family. We should always appreciate whenever we see someone we care about deeply and we should make that moment last, never taking our relationships for granted.
Berachot 59a discusses the different blessings that one should say upon experiences natural wonders (earthquakes, wind, rain, rainbows, etc.) Upon seeing a rainbow, the Gemara says one should say a blessing that thanks God for remembering the covenant (that was made with Noah). A Baraita adds that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Beroka said one should thank God for being upholding the covenant and fulfilling the covenant. Rav Pappa concludes that we should thus thank God for remembering the covenant and faithfully upholding the covenant. My #DafYomi Take: We remember our relationship with God and our relationship with this earth. The covenant that God made with Noah was a promise to never destroy the earth again. Yet, like any covenant, this promise is a two-way street. This blessing is a reminder that we must do our part. Each and every time we see a rainbow, it’s a reminder that we must do our part. We too must uphold our covenant to not destroy this earth. Our words can not be the only blessing. Our actions must be a blessing as well.
Berachot 60b lists the different words of blessing that one should say during their daily routine. The Talmud mentions that when one awakens they should recite the words of the “Elohai Neshama” which says “My God, the soul you have restored within me is pure.” My #DafYomi Take: The Talmudic rabbis believed that one’s soul left their body each and ever night when one drifted off to sleep and dreamt and only returned when they woke up in the morning. But I believe this is saying something more important about teshuvah – repentance – and new beginnings. We do not just thank God for life, for restoring our souls. We thank God for a soul that is pure. A pure soul is a clean slate. A pure soul is a new beginning. Our liturgy, ritual, and calendar centers around the idea of the High Holidays as a time to change, to do teshuvah, and to ask God (and others) for forgiveness. But each and every morning is an opportunity to start over. Each and every day is an opportunity to change. We can let go of all that we’ve done wrong, keep that in yesterday, and start a new day with a new outlook on life and a new direction. “Thank you, My God, for restoring within me a pure soul.” May we always take advantage of every new day, every new opportunity to do good in this world and in our lives.
There is a Baraita found on Berachot 61b, in the middle of a conversation about good and evil. It references the “evil kingdom,” referring to the Roman government who decreed that Jews could not engage in the study of Torah. Rabbi Akiva defied this decree, and continued to teach Torah in the public square. Pappus ben Yehudah approached Akiva and didn’t understand why he wasn’t afraid of the Romans and Akiva essentially declared that he would not live in fear. The graphic conclusion to the Baraita is something we read on Yom Kippur during the martyrology service, when Akiva recites the words of the Shema as he is executed. But prior to that, the Baraita tells us that Akiva ends up imprisoned next to Pappus ben Yehudah. Rabbi Akiva is imprisoned for continuing to teach Torah. But Pappus ben Yehudah is also imprisoned, falsely accused of committing a crime. My #DafYomi Take: During this dark period we are in, where there has been a spike in violent and deadly anti-semitic attacks in this country and in this world, many have pondered about hiding their Jewish identities. Do we not wear kippot (head coverings) in public? Do we hiding our Jewish star or Chai necklaces? I am inspired by Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to never succumb to fear. He continued to live Torah and teach Torah and wouldn’t be hide his Jewish identity. We gain another important lesson from Pappus ben Yehudah’s experience. He thought he’d be ‘saved’ because he stopped publicly practicing his Judaism. But we know that hate doesn’t discriminate. In the Book of Esther, which we read next week on Purim, Queen Esther is scared to speak up to protect her people. She is content as the Queen. Yet, Mordechai tells her (Est. 4:13) “do not think that because you are in the King’s Palace that you alone will be saved when other Jews will be killed.” Haman was coming after all the Jews, not just some of them. The Roman government came after Pappus ben Yehudah, not just Rabbi Akiva. We must stand up to tyranny, bigotry, and discrimination, and never give in to our fears. We must never hide who we are. And as we publicly and proudly express our Jewish identities, let us do so with the concluding words of the “Adon Olam” in mind: “For God is with me, and I shall not fear.”
After a lengthy (and graphic) discussion on Berachot 62a about when and where it is appropriate to go to the bathroom, the Gemara lists on Berachot 62b a number of Bar Kappara’s ethical teachings. Included among them is this: “When you are hungry, eat. When you are thirsty, drink. When you have to go to the bathroom, do so and don’t delay.” My #DafYomi Take: Commentary suggests that Bar Kappara would not only teach Torah, but would also offer suggestions on how to properly live daily life. These instructions are simple, but the message is clear. He is teaching that you must take care of your body. If you do not eat, drink, or go to the bathroom, you will damage your body. While Bar Kappara taught a great deal of Torah, meant to heal the soul, he is reminding us here that a healthy body is just as important as a healthy soul. Without focusing on taking care of our bodies, we cannot take care of our souls.
Bar Kappara’s teaching on Berachot 63a is similar to Hillel’s teaching in Pirkei Avot. Bar Kappara says: “In a place where there is no man, be a man.” My #DafYomi Take: If we can ignore the typical gender bias of this text, then we can get to the deep meaning of it. As mentioned, this teaching is quite similar to Hillel’s teaching in Avot 2:6. That teaching is often translated as “in a place where there are no worthy persons, be a worthy person,” but the Hebrew is “ish,” meaning ‘man.’ So too, in Bar Kappara’s teaching, the word ‘Gever’ is used, meaning ‘man.’ But we use this word all the time to mean a good person. A ‘Mensch’ in Yiddish literally means ‘man,’ but we use it to mean a good person. Both of these statements, that of Bar Kappara on our Daf and that of Hillel on Mishnah Avot, are meant to teach us to take a stand and do the right thing, especially when no one else is willing to do so. The Maharsha comments about why we find Bar Kappara essentially repeating Hillel’s teaching. He concludes that Hillel’s teaching refers to taking a stand on communal affairs and Bar Kappara’s teaching refers to taking a stand on legal decisions. Either way, both conclude that we cannot be silent. We must take a stand, not only when it is convenient — when it is the “in thing” to do, but especially when no one else is willing to do so. When there is no worthy person who is stepping up, all the more so, we must step up.
Tractate Brachot ends on page 64a with a discussion about peace. Rabbi Aviv HaLevi taught that would should say “Go to peace” (Lech L’Shalom) rather than “Go in Peace” (Lech B’Shalom), citing Moses’ success after Jethro told him to Go to Peace and Abshalom’s eventual failure and death when David told him to Go in Peace. My #DafYomi Take: While we pray that the journey is peaceful, it is the destination of peace that we ultimately hope to arrive at. On this journey of life, we are constantly working to build a more peaceful world, a more complete world, in hopes that wherever we go and whatever we do is filled with peace. The Priestly Benediction concludes: “Vayasem Lecha Shalom,” May God grant you peace. Wherever we go next, and whatever we do, may we find peace.
And with that, we conclude Mesechet Brachot. Hadran Alach, v’Hadrach Alan. We have returned to you and we will return to you Mesechet Brachot, and you have returned to us and will return to us.
Tractate Shabbat, begins on Shabbat 2a with a Mishnah that talks about how and why one cannot transfer something from a public domain to a private domain or private domain to public domain on the Sabbath. My #DafYomi Take: While this is because transferring something from one domain to another is considered carrying, which is prohibited on Shabbat, this also speaks to creating community on Shabbat. Shabbat is all about community. The Talmud suggests that when one moves goods from one domain to another, from one community to another, on Shabbat, it dilutes the importance of community. To me, this highlights the need for community, especially in celebrating the Sabbath. If one is alone on Shabbat, even if they observe the day as a day of rest, they are missing something. Shabbat is meant to be celebrated with community – with friends and family.
As Shabbat 3b continues the conversation about transferring materials from the public domain to the private domain or the private domain to the public domain on Shabbat, Rabbi Hiyya interrupts this conversation to tell Rav: Didn’t I tell you that when Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi is focused on this Tractate, don’t ask him a question about another Tractate, lest you catch him off-guard, confuse him, and he offers a wrong or inappropriate answer. My #DafYomi Take: This lesson has nothing to do with the laws of Shabbat, but rather teaches us a great deal about the lessons we learn from our teachers. Yehudah HaNasi, the editor and redactor of the Mishnah, was believed to thus have all the answers to questions pertaining to Jewish law. Yet, sometimes we are too busy asking questions, that we don’t take the time to listen. We don’t necessarily want to know the answers to our questions. We just want to hear ourselves ask them. The Talmud also tells us to gladly sit at the feet of scholars. We shouldn’t ignore them. We shouldn’t think we know better. We shouldn’t try to stump them with “gotcha” questions. We shouldn’t ask questions at all. We should sit and learn for we all have something we can learn. Let us take time to ask less questions and just listen and take in life’s lessons that are being taught to us. You never know how they might impact our lives.
Shabbat 4b, the conversation continues about transferring objects from the public domain to the private domain on Shabbat and the question is asked: what about a tree whose trunk is in a private domain, but whose branches extend to the public domain? Rabbi makes the halakhic decision that the branches of the tree have the same status as the trunk. My #DafYomi Take: The conclusion that Rabbi makes teaches us an important lesson, separate from what this means according to Jewish law. He is teaching that no matter how high or how far out a branch grows, it remains connected to its trunk, and to its roots. No matter where we go in life, and no matter the direction that life takes us, we remain connected to our roots as well. This reminds me of when Moses and the Israelites left Egypt 400 years after Jacob’s sons settled there and Moses fuflfilled the promised to Joseph, and carried Joseph’s bones with him out of Egypt. He carried his ancestors, his past, with him. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. It is our past that defines us. A branch is only as strong as the trunk that holds it up. No matter what “public domain” our branches grow into, we remain connected to our trunks, for it’s our trunks that make us who we are.
As Shabbat 5b continues the conversation about transferring items from the private domain to the public domain on Shabbat, there is a discussion regarding someone walking from domain to domain. If someone is constantly walking from place to place is that as if he lifted something from the private domain and brought it to the public domain? Ben Azzai considers walking to be the same as standing, with every step he takes, he starts and stops. But the Rabbis walking is not the same as standing. My #DafYomi Take: As long as one is constantly moving, they are not standing still and we should never see the two as the same. Do we want our lives to be compared to those who are constantly standing still, and not moving? If so, we never get anywhere in life. We settle. We live life as bystanders. Or do we want to be constantly moving, constantly walking towards a common goal? We may not reach our destination, but we can only try if we refuse to stand still and move with purpose.
Yesterday’s daf, Shabbat 6b, while still discussing public domain and private domain questions why there are two Baraitot that offer the similar lists of examples of public domains. The Gemara wonders why one list included a desert as a public domain, but the other does not. When wondering why, Abaye concludes that one list referred to the desert when the Israelites traveled in it, thus making it a public domain and another list referred to the desert of present time when few people travel in it, making it not a public domain. My #DafYomi Take: There are times when public domains are no longer public. As we encourage social distancing and our movie theaters, arenas, concert halls, conference centers, and even schools empty out, the public slowly becomes the private. The desert filled with the Children of Israel becomes the desert of now, with few people. This is a reminder then, especially now, that when our public domains become private domains, to check in on each other, to stay in touch, even if we are not physically in touch.
In continuing the conversation about transferring goods from the public domain to the private domain on Shabbat, we read on Shabbat 7a that one cannot place a pole in the ground in the private domain and then have goods thrown above that pole, no matter how high the pole is, because a private domain extends to the sky. While the rabbis decide that a public domain only extends to ten tefachim (handbreadths) high, the private domain extends to the sky. My #DafYomi Take: While many builders would appreciate this Talmudic perspective on “air rights,” I especially appreciate what it is saying with regards to our own personal space and connections to the Heavens. The fact that it extends to the sky, to the celestial realm, suggests that while there is a limit to the “heights” of our communal spaces, our personal spaces are limitless in their connection to the Heavens. Even if — and especially when — we are avoiding communal spaces, and avoiding the public domain, we should not forget that in our private spaces, in our homes, we still have a connection to the Heavens. Our homes are also sacred spaces. May we come to appreciate the sacred nature of them just as we appreciate the sacred nature of our communal gathering spaces. And may we never forget, especially when we are alone, that our prayers can reach God.
Playing a little bit of catch up with Daf Yomi. On Shabbat 8b, we are introduced to the idea of an Eruv. In this concept, one can bring food into the public domain in order to turn it into a private domain. The page explains the stipulations to make the Eruv valid or invalid. My #DafYomi Take: The concept of Eruv allows one to turn a public domain, a large area, into the halakhic category of a private domain, thus allowing one to carry. More profoundly, this allows us to accept that we can turn a public domain into a private domain. Now, as we are stuck in our private domains, our homes, we also have the ability to turn them into public domains. Take advantage of the technology that we have at our finger tips for good. Just because we may be physically isolated from others, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop talking to them or stop seeing their faces. Even during this period of social distancing, using technology, using a loophole, you can turn a domain into another state, turning your private domain into a public one.
The Mishnah at the beginning of Shabbat 9b speaks of the things one may not do on Friday afternoon too close to Shabbat. The Mishnah adds that one must stop everything they are doing to recite the words of the Shema, but not to recite the words of the Amidah. My #DafYomi Take: The Shema is the essence of what it means to be a Jew. We declare faith in “Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.” We mistakenly often translate this as “Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.” However, I prefer to understand the words of the Shema to mean that our relationship with God is dependent at times on our communal relationship with God — that God is “Eloheinu,” and at times our relationship with God is dependent on our own individual and personal relationship with God — that Gdd is “Echad.” We are used to gathering and connecting with “Eloheinu.” We now need to work on our relationship with “Echad.” As we limit our physical gatherings, we have the opportunity to connect to “Adonai Echad,” and strengthen our own personal relationships with the Divine. Take advantage of your own personal time to cultivate that relationship so that when we recite the Shema, all the words ring true, when we call out to “Adonai Eloheinu” and “Adonai Echad.”
When Rava would pray, as explained on Shabbat 10a, he would remove his cloak and clasp his hands. The Gemara explains that he would do so “K’Avda K’meh Marei,” like a servant before their Master. My #DafYomi Take: This traditional theology is one that often makes us feel uncomfortable, suggesting that we are God’s servants and God is our Master, that we have no control in our lives. When we believe in our own free will, in our own ability to be a blessing in this world, it’s a theology that seems problematic. But at times, especially now, maybe it is comforting. The servant doesn’t have full control. The servant accepts some things as reality and learns how to live in that reality. As is often recited in the Serenity Prayer, “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” In this ever changing reality, let us do our part to keep ourselves and each other safe. And when we are so used to being in control of things, and of our lives, let us accept that there are some things that we cannot control.
We find a baraita at the end of Shabbat 12a that lists the many things one cannot do on the Sabbath according to Beit Shammai. That including consoling mourners and visiting those who are sick. However, the Talmud notes that Beit Hillel permits these acts. My #DafYomi Take: Although Shabbat is a time when we rest and take a break, we never take a break from checking in on – and caring for – those in need. The Aruch HaShulchan suggests that consoling the mourner and visiting those who are ill helps relieve them of their emotional and physical pain. Even at a time when we are avoiding in-person visits, check in on those who are in need and remind them that they are loved and supported by community.
#DafYomi Take: Religion and religious practice evolves. Dating back as early as the prophets, their ideologies, teachings, and practices differed from the exact wording of Torah. That is a problem if Torah is written in stone. But if Torah is a living document, then our understanding of Torah evolves. The same holds true for us as well. Our practices may look somewhat different from centuries ago, generations ago, or even a couple of years ago, but the Ikar, the essence — Torah — remains. And Torah is what molds us.
When referring to a baraita at the end of Shabbat 14b, Shmuel questions the eighteen decrees that were made, because of eighteen matters that were disagreed upon prior to that. The Gemara explains that this is referring to disagreements between the disciples of Hillel and Shammai and stipulates that Hillel and Shammai only disagreed three times, as Rav Huna notes. It’s their descendants who disagreed way more. My #DafYomi Take: In our partisan society, we are forced to pick sides. We support a candidate or elected official and those must view their opponent as the enemy. When in reality successful leaders and elected officials work together with the political opponents. They were across the aisle. Successful legislation is bipartisan, even as our country becomes more and more partisan. But this is just a reminder that it wasn’t Hillel and Shammai that were divisive. They got along. They were study partners. They were colleagues. It was their descendants that disagreed and drew lines in the sand. Let us be more like leaders who learn to work with others, and less like their followers.
On Shabbat 15a, the Talmud lists the supposed only three cases where Shammai and Hillel disagreed. We know that their disciples disagreed far more, and when know that the rabbis of the Gemara question this statement, listing further examples of their disagreements. However, what is consistent about these three examples, after Shammai’s opinion is stated and then Hillel’s opinion is stated, the Talmud refers to the opinion of the sages and concludes: “Lo k’divrei zeh v’lo k’divrei zeh,” that they don’t follow the opinion Hillel nor Shammai. My #DafYomi Take: If we look at Halakha, Jewish law, as an evolving process, we expect that we need precedent to make our cases. Yet, the Talmud is telling us that disagreement, even with our greatest sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, is also a part of the process. We can appreciate the legal opinions of these rabbinic sages, even if we do not agree with them. And we should be thoughtful enough to understand that their opinions that they rendered during their time made sense to them, but may not make sense to us. We need to be able to say that “lo k’divrei zeh v’lo k’divrei zeh.” Sometimes the halakhic decisions we come to aren’t based on precedent. Sometimes they are overturning opinions and decisions made for a different time and place.
During a discussion on Shabbat 16b about how to turn vessels that have tumah, vessels that are ritually impure, into pure vessels again to be used, Rav Yehudah tells a story in the name of Rav. He explains that Queen Shaltzion hosted a wedding feast for her son and she learned that the utensils used at the wedding became ritually impure. She broke them gave them to a blacksmith who resoldered them and made them into brand-new utensils. The rabbis concluded though that they still retained the old form of ritual impurity. My #DafYomi Take: This lengthy and odd discussion about tumah is meant to emphasize how important the rabbis viewed ritual purification. The fact that these new utensils suggests that one could not circumvent the ritual system. However, I’d like to suggest the message of this story teaches us something else entirely. Sometimes, we change how we look, how we dress, and how we act to try to fit in and be accepted. But the essence of who we are doesn’t change. You may try to change your appearance, but you cannot change your Neshama; you cannot change your authentic self. No matter how hard Queen Shaltzion tried, the essence of the utensils remained the same. It didn’t matter that they changed their shape or their form. So too, we should not let how we look or dress define us. At our core, we are who we are. We should not try to hide our true identities. Rather, we should embrace our authentic selves.
In the middle of Shabbat 17a, there is one of the few examples in which the opinion of Shammai was chosen over the opinion of Hillel. They differ on whether or not grapes being harvested for wine can be susceptible to tumah, can become ritually impure. Hillel believes they are not, but Shammai believes that they are. As explained in a baraita: “They stuck a sword in the house of study and they said, whoever wants to enter may enter but whoever wants to leave may not leave. And on that day, Hillel sat before Shammai, as if he was one of his students, and that was as difficult for Israel as the day the golden calf was made.” My #DafYomi Take: The image of Hillel learning at the feet of someone he disagrees with, as his student, is a powerful one. It is a reminder that we all can learn something from another if we are willing to open up to that possibility. But the notion that this was difficult for the people of Israel — that the person they so often side with got this one wrong — is the reason we are so unwilling to learn from those who have a different viewpoint and opinion than we do. But we should all see each other as our teachers, and we should all see ourselves as students. We have much to teach others, but much to learn from others as well. We just have to be open to doing so.
At the end of Shabbat 18b, Hillel and Shammai discussing temporarily selling their hametz, their leavened products, to someone of another faith who does not observe Passover as a way of removing hametz in their home. My #DafYomi Take: This avoids wasting and the financial burden of throwing things away. We will continue to offer this as an option this year — and I am happy to serve as your agent and sell your hametz on your behalf.
Shabbat 19a focuses on not setting sail on a ship less than three days prior to Shabbat, lest one ends up still being on the ship during the Sabbath. The Talmud is quick to conclude though that if one is setting sail for the sake of a doing a mitzvah then they are able to set sail. My #DafYomi Take: Let us not let challenges and restrictions of our current temporary reality prevent us from still doing mitzvot. We may need to adjust how we do them, but if we are doing something that we typically wouldn’t do, but it is for the sake of doing a mitzvah, then we are on the right track, we are making sure to steer our metaphorical ships back on course.
On Shabbat 20a, the Gemara questions a statement in the Mishna – why one can place the meat of the pascal sacrifice to be roasted before Shabbat, so that the actually cooking takes place on Shabbat. It concludes that those in the group who offer the pascal sacrifice are ‘z’rizin,’ are careful and conscientious. My #DafYomi Take: Many laws that prevent us from doing something are “fences around the Torah.” They are really there not because we cannot do that act, but out of concern that such an act might lead to another that is forbidden on Shabbat. Especially now, as we figure out how to observe Shabbat and Festivals in this current reality, we need to understand the meaning behind the law, so that we can best interpret our observance of the law itself. In many cases, that might mean that things that we previously did not understand to be permitted actually are.
After talking about what materials may be used to kindle the Sabbath candles, Shabbat 21b begins a tangential conversation about Hanukkah candles. It introduces a Baraita that tells us that one is commanded to light the the candles of the menorah from sunset until all the passers by have left the market. My #DafYomi Take: The whole point of this baraita is to tell us that the lights of Hanukkah are meant for others to see. Our job is to spread our light, and to share our light. Let us all think about how, on Shabbat, during the upcoming Passover festival, and each and every day, we can share and spread our light with others, especially at a time when we need it most.
On Shabbat 23a, Rav Chiya bar Ashi says in the name of Rav that one who lights Hanukkah candles should recite a blessing. Rav Yirmiyah responds that anyone who sees the candles burning should recite the blessing. My #DafYomi Take: It is easy for us to offer words of blessing when we have experienced blessings. It is a challenge to offer words of blessings when we haven’t experienced those blessings ourselves. Here, the one who lights and the one who views the light both offer blessings. Let us not wait around and simply expect for miracles to happen in our lives for us to find words of blessing. Rather, let us find words of blessing to say, and then we can better appreciate the miracles that already happen in our lives everyday.
On Shabbat 24a, the Talmud asks when does one recite the “Al HaNissim” insertion, the addition added on Hanukkah (and Purim) that focuses on the miracles God did for our ancestors, and continues to do for us at this time. The Talmud concludes that these words should be included in the morning, afternoon, and evening services. My #DafYomi Take: We need regular reminders to appreciate the miracles in our lives. As we prepare for Passover, and only think of miracles as the plagues of Egypt or the splitting of the sea, then we will think our lives are devoid of God’s Presence. But if we come to appreciate the everyday miracles in our lives, then we can appreciate that Divine Presence still surrounding us morning, afternoon, and evening.
At the end of Shabbat 25b, a baraita is introduced with the words and teachings of Rabbi Meir: who is rich? One who is happy with their portion (according to Rashi’s understanding). My #DafYomi Take: this teaching is quite similar to that of Ben-Zoma in Mishnah Avot. Let us think of those things that we find joy in – friends, family, loved ones, community. Let us be thankful for them. Let us appreciate them. And let us focus on what we have rather than what we do not have. Because what we have in our lives are blessings and they are priceless.
On Shabbat 26a, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar tells us that we may not kindle the Shabbat lights (light Shabbat candles) with Balsam. Rashi explains that this is because balsam is highly volatile and thus a fire hazard. My #DafYomi Take: No ritual is justified when it puts one’s life in danger. Pekuach Nefesh, Saving a Life, supersedes everything else that we do. According to the Talmud, that is true even to the very specific, regarding what can be used to candle Shabbat candles. That is true as well now, when it comes to being in isolation and following our Governor’s stay-at-home guidelines. No ritual supersedes putting one’s health and safety in jeopardy. We adjust accordingly, and are able to do so thanks to technology, but safety always comes first.