Tag Archives: Berachos

The Chachma of Havdala

Berachos 33

הַבְדָּלָה בְּ״חוֹנֵן הַדָּעַת״: מַאי טַעְמָא

We learned in the mishna that havdala, distinguishing between Shabbat and the weekdays, is added in the blessing of: Who graciously grants knowledge. Here too the Gemara asks: What is the reason that havdala is recited specifically in that blessing?

אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף: מִתּוֹךְ שֶׁהִיא חָכְמָה, קְבָעוּהָ בְּבִרְכַּת חָכְמָה. 

Rav Yosef said: Havdala is recited in that blessing because it requires wisdom to distinguish between two entities, they established it in the blessing of wisdom. 

The Gemara teaches us that on Motzei Shabbos we say the Tefila of Ata Chonentanu in the bracha of Chonen Ha’Daas. Ata Chonentenu is referred to as Havdala, as it is with this Tefilla that we declare a separation between Shabbos and weekdays. The Gemara goes on to explain the reason we say Havdala in this Bracha is because Havdala is Chochma and therefore Chazal put it in the bracha for Chochma. Rashi explains that a Chacham knows to discern between that which is ritually pure and that which is impure or between that which is holy and that which is mundane. The Ran (Teshuvot HaGeonim 92)  tells us that in fact, Chachma is by definition the ability to discern between two very similar, yet different things. 

We find similarly the Yerushalmi (Berachos 5;2)  teaches us that if not for Daas, one would not know how to be mavdil, or separate. The Mei HaShiloach (Vol 2 Miketz 4)  expounds on this and explains that when one has Yishuv HaDaas, a calm state of mind, one can then discern two seemingly similar things from each other and thereby have the ability to take ideas from other cultures or communities by separating out the good part of it and integrating it into one’s life and leaving the bad behind. 

Rav Tzadok (Bo), however, has a different take on this and explains that as Shabbos ends, one feels a spiritual decline as the high of Shabbos fades away. Therefore, one should be mispallel in the Bracha of Daas that the upcoming week should be one which is clean of sin and full of Yirah, like it was on Shabbos. He continues, that we see from the brachos of the Shemoneh Esrei, where we first talk about how Hashem is the source of all. Once we recognize that everything is from Hashem, the ultimate Mavdil, we can then move onto the Bracha of Daas or Chochma and develop a sense of Yiras Hashem, as the pasuk says Reishis Chachma Yiras Hashem. From there we can go on to do Teshuva and experience the Geula Sheleima. 

Recognizing your Flaws

Berachos Daf 29

רבי אליעזר אומר כל העושה תפלתו קבע וכו׳: מאי ״קבע״? … רבה ורב יוסף דאמרי תרוייהו: כל שאינו יכול לחדש בה דבר.

We learned in the mishna that Rabbi Eliezer says: One whose prayer is fixed, his prayer is flawed. The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of fixed in this context?

Rabba and Rav Yosef both said: It refers to anyone unable to introduce a novel element, i.e., something personal reflecting his personal needs, to his prayer, and only recites the standard formula. 

אמר רבי זירא: אנא יכילנא לחדושי בה מילתא, ומסתפינא דלמא מטרידנא.

Rabbi Zeira said: I could introduce a novel element in every prayer, but I am afraid that perhaps I will become confused. Consequently, there is no room to require the masses to introduce a novel element into their prayers.

What was the chiddush in the tefilla?

The Avnei Nezer (YD 454;24) explains based on Brachos 57 that it was a Tefilla to be cleansed of Chet. Rebbi Zeira, felt that there was always something that was preventing him from reaching Shleimut. Therefore, he always had what to add into his tefillos. This was akin to the Tefillos of Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim, always striving to grow and purify himself more. In order to have a flawless prayer, one needs to be able to recognize his own flaws. However, due to Rebbi Zeira’s righteousness, he was afraid he would become confused and off track. Therefore, Rebbi Zeira stopped adding these Tefillos.

The Three Components of Tefilla According to Rav Kook

Berachos Daf 26

איתמר, רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר: תפלות אבות תקנום…  אברהם תקן תפלת שחרית, שנאמר: ״וישכם אברהם בבקר אל המקום אשר עמד שם״, ואין ״עמידה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר: ״ויעמד פינחס ויפלל״.

Abraham instituted the morning prayer, as it is stated “And Abraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood” (Genesis 19:27), and standing means nothing other than prayer, as this language is used to describe Pinehas’s prayer after the plague, as it is stated: “And Pinehas stood up and prayed and the plague ended” (Psalms 106:30). 

יצחק תקן תפלת מנחה, שנאמר ״ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה לפנות ערב״, ואין ״שיחה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר ״תפלה לעני כי יעטף ולפני ה׳ ישפך שיחו״.

Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer, as it is stated: “And Isaac went out to converse [lasuaḥ] in the field toward evening” (Genesis 24:63), and conversation means nothing other than prayer, as it is stated: “A prayer of the afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint [siḥo] before the Lord” (Psalms 102:1).

יעקב תקן תפלת ערבית, שנאמר: ״ויפגע במקום וילן שם״, ואין ״פגיעה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר: ״ואתה אל תתפלל בעד העם הזה ואל תשא בעדם רנה ותפלה ואל תפגע בי״

Jacob instituted the evening prayer, as it is stated: “And he encountered [vayifga] the place and he slept there for the sun had set” (Genesis 28:11). The word encounter means nothing other than prayer, as it is stated when God spoke to Jeremiah: “And you, do not pray on behalf of this nation and do not raise on their behalf song and prayer, and do not encounter [tifga] Me for I do not hear you” (Jeremiah 7:16).

Berachos 26 – Sefaria

We see from the Gemara above that we learn the concept of Tefila from the Avos. It is interesting that although the conclusive proof is that the Avos indeed prayed to God, there are three different terms for their three different prayers. 

AvrahamAmidaShacharit
YitzchakSiachMincha
YaacovVaYifgaArvit

What are the different terminologies for?

Rav Kook explains that these 3 terminologies are reflective of 3 different components to our Tefilla. 

He explains that the key concept of prayer is the gathering together of all the spiritual elements within a person, that would otherwise be lost in our world of materialism. Prayer enroots these spiritual elements to create a strong connection to the Creator of the world. In the event that one is caught up in other things and is sinking in his Ruchnius, those deeply rooted spiritual elements will keep him afloat.  

As morning is when one is getting ready for a day of work and other activities, it is a crucial time to make sure your spiritual roots are intact ready for the day ahead. This is called Amida, to stand, as it is helping you to stand tall spiritually.. This is also reflective of Avraham, who as the founder of Monotheism, was able to withstand all the trials and tribulations that came his way. 

Sicha, this name for Tefilla shares its name with Sichim, the trees and flowers of the natural world. Sichim are called this as they sprout up and instill new emotional energies into a person. Mincha takes place towards evening, when a person is worn down from a long day and the soul can then thrive in its best habitat. Also, hiis natural spiritual energies kick in to help him thrive in his Avodas Hashem and add more and more to his “tree”. Rav Kook explains that this growth process is the root of Middas HaDin, which is what keeps nature going in its correct path. Yitzchak represents Middas HaDin, therefore it is appropriate that he should compose this Tefila about the natural aspect of our spiritual growth. 

There is also a higher element of Tefila, in which through that, a person can connect to Hashem in more advanced ways; perhaps even reaching the level of prophecy. This is referred to as Tefillat Leila.  This is also called Pegiya, as one is going off the chartered path of Nature, or Din and stumbling into new realms which are beyond the grasp of one’s simple intellect. This is reflective of Yaacov who had a vision with a ladder and angels going up and down after he found himself at Har HaMoriyah and is most appropriate for nighttime.

AvrahamAmidaShacharitWithstand all that comes before you
YitzchakSiachMinchaTake what you have and grow from it
YaacovVaYifgaArvitReach Higher

This may also explain the opinion that one is not obligated to say Arvit, as it is just a Reshus. Tefilla is to help foster a spiritual firewall to protect you from slipping into too much materialism. Per this explanation of Rav Kook, this is accomplished during Shacharit to plant the roots and in Mincha to sprout upwards and bear fruits. Arvit is a higher level, beyond our comprehension, of reaching beyond the treetops. For this, it is not a Chovah to reach so high, rather it is a Reshus.

The Names of Our Fathers

Day 24 – Daf 25

The Gemara mentions a tradition said over by Rav Acha Bar Abba Bar Acha – Rav Acha the son of Abba, the son of Acha. This is a bit unusual that the Gemara goes to tell us the Yichus of an Amora. 

Rav Elchanan Shoff in his Birchasa V’Shirasa brings a Midrash:

Rav Yosi said that the earliest generations, all lived at the time of their ancestors, therefore they named their children based on events that were happening at the time of their birth. 

However, our ancestors no longer live for many generations, therefore we name our children after them. Rav Shimon ben Gamliel said that the earlier generations before the Amoraim used Ruach HaKodesh and therefore named their children after events when they were born. However, since the times of the Amoraim, we can’t tap into that Ruach Hakodesh, therefore we name after our ancestors.

Bereishis Rabba 37

I find it interesting as when one is naming a baby, we are often told that we have a glimpse of Ruach Hakosdesh when choosing a name. This often helps us feel comfortable with the name we chose. According to this Midrash, this does not seem to be the case. Another point is that many times we name our children names we like or based on specific events surrounding the birth of a child. For example, we may name our child Bracha or Chaim if born during a tumultuous time. According to this Midrash, we are no longer meant to be naming our children based on the events surrounding the birth, so why are we doing this?

 May we all be remembered by the Torah of our grandchildren.

Kol Isha in the Yam Suf

Day 23 – Berachos 24

The Gemara is explaining what one can recite Shema in front of and gets into a tangent and starts discussing the laws of Tznius. The Gemara goes on to state that a person may not glare at even the finger of a woman, as it is considered “Ervah”. The Gemara continues to list other characteristics of “Ervah”, including a woman’s hair, leg, and voice.

While there is much halachic discussion centered around this, that has shaped the culture of Jewish communities for centuries. I came across an interesting connection to this week’s Parsha, Parashas Beshalach. 

The Torah tells us that after the Jews sang the Shira in the Yam Suf, Miriam took all the women and they sang their own Shira accompanied by drums and dancing. 

Why does the Torah mention that the women had drums, yet does not mention any musical instruments by the Shira of Moshe? Furthermore, the Torah tells us that Miriam sang the Shira “to them”, why does the Torah need to say again “to them”, we know from the pasuk earlier that Miriam was with all the women?

The Shl’a teaches us that as soon as the women started their celebrations, all the young guys came to watch the spectacle. The Uheler Rav in his classic, Yismach Moshe, explains that the women, upon noticing this, immediately took to their instruments in order to drown out their voices, so that the men will not hear them. Miriam had to sing the Shira at the top of her lungs in order for it to be heard over the music. The Torah tells us, although Miriam was singing uber loudly, it was only “to them”, it was only heard by the women. 

However, we understand these Halachos, may we always merit to continue to praise Hashem for his immeasurable goodness. 

Of Secrets and Stringencies

Day 21 – Berachos 22

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה שֶׁרָאָה קֶרִי, וְהָיָה מְהַלֵּךְ עַל גַּב הַנָּהָר. אָמְרוּ לוֹ תַּלְמִידָיו: רַבֵּינוּ, שְׁנֵה לָנוּ פֶּרֶק אֶחָד בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. יָרַד וְטָבַל וְשָׁנָה לָהֶם. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: לֹא כָּךְ לִמַּדְתָּנוּ רַבֵּינוּ, שׁוֹנֶה הוּא בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ?! אָמַר לָהֶם: אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁמֵּיקֵל אֲנִי עַל אֲחֵרִים, מַחְמִיר אֲנִי עַל עַצְמִי.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: בַּעַל קֶרִי שֶׁנָּתְנוּ עָלָיו תִּשְׁעָה קַבִּין מַיִם — טָהוֹר. נַחוּם אִישׁ גַּם זוֹ לְחָשָׁהּ לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא לְחָשָׁהּ לְבֶן עַזַּאי, וּבֶן עַזַּאי יָצָא וּשְׁנָאָהּ לְתַלְמִידָיו בְּשׁוּק. פְּלִיגִי בַּהּ תְּרֵי אָמוֹרָאֵי בְּמַעְרְבָא, רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר אָבִין וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר זְבִידָא. חַד תָּנֵי: שְׁנָאָהּ, וְחַד תָּנֵי: לְחָשָׁהּ.

מַאן דְּתָנֵי שְׁנָאָהּ, מִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל תּוֹרָה וּמִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה. וּמַאן דְּתָנֵי לְחָשָׁהּ — שֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מְצוּיִים אֵצֶל נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶם כְּתַרְנְגוֹלִים.

The Gemara is discussing the laws of when a Baal Keri, one who had a seminal emission, can learn Torah or daven. In the midst of this discussion the Gemara relates numerous incidents to prove different points.

I have quoted above two of these incidents. In the first, Rebbi Yehuda had taught that a Baal Keri can learn or teach only the laws of Derech Eretz. However, when he himself was a Baal Keri, he immersed himself for purification before teaching the Halacha. When confronted over the self contradiction, he said he is being stringent on himself. 

In the second incident we find a tradition passed down secretly that one who is a Baal Keri, need not immerse himself but can have a measurement of nine Kavin of water thrown over him and then he can learn Torah. This seems to be about 2.9 gallons of water, or about a 90 second shower. This tradition was passed secretly from Nachum Ish Gamzu to Rebbi Akiva to Ben Azzai, who went ahead and said it in public.

There are different traditions as to what actually happened: There are those that say that he publicized this in order to increase intimate relations and procreation. As he himself was a bachelor, this was something that was important to him. There are others that say that he indeed passed it over to his students in a secret, in order that they do not get too intimate with their wives and thereby distracted from their Torah studies.

From these two incidents, it is apparent that there are two or more levels of Torah. There is the level of the general populace, that which may be more lenient at times, but we see Rebbi Yehuda was stringent on himself. Conversely, we see that there was a level for the general populace to be more stringent and only those in on the secret knew about the lenient ruling. 

Why is this? If we have a lenient ruling, why is that only kept as a secret tradition amongst the Tannaim? Additionally, if Rebbi Yehuda ruled leniently for everyone why is that leniency not good enough for himself, and if it was not good enough for himself, why is he letting others be lenient?

It seems that there are two tracks here, one for those in the know and one for the general population. I am curious where this idea comes from and why this is so. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The Novelty of Birchas HaTorah

Day 20 – Berachos 21

מִנַּיִן לְבִרְכַּת הַתּוֹרָה לְפָנֶיהָ מִן הַתּוֹרָה — שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי שֵׁם ה׳ אֶקְרָא הָבוּ גֹדֶל לֵאלֹהֵינוּ״.

And from where is the mitzva by Torah law to recite the blessing over the Torah before it is read, derived? As it is stated: “When I proclaim the Lord’s name, give glory to our God” (Deuteronomy 32:3), meaning that before one proclaims the Lord’s name by reading the Torah, he must give glory to God.

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 47) teaches us that the obligation to recite Birchas HaTorah is incumbent upon women as well as men. The Beis Yosef explains that women need to learn the laws pertinent to them. 

The Gra argues strongly on this and explains that as women do not have a specific commandment to learn Torah, you cannot say the they must recite Birchas Hatorah for the laws they are obligated in.  

Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch earlier (OC 17) taught us that women do not make a bracha on a Mitzvas Aseh SheHazman Grama, a mitzvah bound by time, as women are not obligated in these mitzvos.

Learning Torah is a mitzva that is bound by time, as the Torah tells us you should learn Torah when you wake up and when you go to sleep. Why does the Shulchan Aruch rule that women need to make a Bracha on Torah and not on other time-bound mitzvos?

The Brisker Rav explained  that Torah is different than any other mitzvah. From the fact that we have a seperate pasuk to teach us that one should say Birchas HaTorah, we see that this is not merely a bracha on a mitzvah. Rather, Torah is something that requires a Bracha, part and parcel of learning Torah is making a bracha on it. Therefore a woman needs to make a bracha as well on learning Torah as the bracha is part of the Limud.  

Learning Malchus from Melucha

Day 18 – Berachos 19 

תָּא שְׁמַע דְּאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בַּר צָדוֹק: מְדַלְּגִין הָיִינוּ עַל גַּבֵּי אֲרוֹנוֹת שֶׁל מֵתִים, לִקְרַאת מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְלֹא לִקְרַאת מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּלְבַד אָמְרוּ אֶלָּא אֲפִילּוּ לִקְרַאת מַלְכֵי אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁאִם יִזְכֶּה, יַבְחִין בֵּין מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַלְכֵי אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם.

Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok the priest said: I and my fellow priests would jump over coffins of the deceased in order to hurry towards kings of Israel to greet them. And they did not say this only towards kings of Israel, but they said this even towards kings of the nations of the world, so that if one will be privileged to witness the redemption of Israel, he will distinguish between kings of Israel and the kings of the nations of the world.

This Gemara stuck out for me, as today we saw dozens of heads of state come visit Yerushalayim.

First of all, we see the importance the Tannaim put on going to see a king to the extent that even a Kohen can step over graves to hurry to see the king.  

(The Ishbitzer (Emor) explains that the reason Kohanim become tamei from a meis is because they get annoyed at Hashem that there was death in the world. Here, they are not thinking about the dead guy, all they are thinking about is the king. Therefore, there is no Tumah.)

I always understood the reason why the Gemara instructs us to see the king, is to understand how royal malchus works. From this, we will know how we should treat HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the King of Kings. 

Here, however, the Gemara mentions a different reason, albeit cryptic. If one is privileged to see the redemption he will be able to distinguish between kings of Israel and the kings of the nations of the world. 

Rav Kook (Ein Ayeh Brachos 290) explains, that the reason we need to see the kings of the world is to understand their culture and their contributions to the development of the world. As Jews, we need to gather all this together, to bring about a Tikkun Olam and do our job of continuing the process of creation in this world. Once we have this down clearly, we can then apply it when Moshiach comes to establish the ultimate ideal of Malchus in this world. 

Sensitivity Amidst Turmoil

Day 16 – Berachos 17

אָמְרוּ עָלָיו עַל רַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי שֶׁלֹּא הִקְדִּימוֹ אָדָם שָׁלוֹם מֵעוֹלָם, וַאֲפִילּוּ גּוֹי בַּשּׁוּק.

Berachos 17

The Gemara mentions that they said about Rabban Yocḥanan ben Zakkai that no one ever preceded him in issuing a greeting, not even a non-Jew in the marketplace, as Rabban Yocḥanan would always greet him first.

This week we mark the 66th Yahrzeit of Rav Dessler. In his monumental sefer Michtav M’Eliyahu (Volume 4, page 246), he writes about the importance of Derech Eretz.

The root of the obligation to have Derech Eretz in embedded in the very nature of humanity. We must be respectful to other people because they are people. 

The Mishna in Avos (3;14) tells us that Man is endeared because he is created in the image of God. The Rambam (Avoda Zara, 10;5)  therefore rules that one must ask even a Non-Jew how they are doing, as they too are created in the image of God. 

Rav Dessler then gives us a powerful and vivid portrayal of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai. The Gemara (Sukka 28) tells us that Rabban Yochanan was an immense scholar. He was an expert in all areas of Torah, from Mikra to Mishna, from Agada to Astrology, from Halacha to Angelic conversations and more. In addition, he was the leader of the Jewish people during the turbulent period of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. He literally had the weight of Klal Yisrael on his shoulders, in their most stressful time. 

Yet, he always had the presence of mind to greet everyone he passed by with a “Shalom”. Such was the sensitivity of Rabban Yochanan towards his fellow man. 

Even when your head is in the clouds, your feet must be stuck on the ground. 

Rav Dessler comments that this was not simply a Middas Chassidus or some sort of extra thing that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai did. In fact, it is an obligation on every single Jew to greet one’s fellow man. One who does not do so, is called a Gazlan, a thief. Rashi (Brachos 6b) comments that this is akin to stealing from the poor, of whom there is nothing to steal from them except for their self-worth. 

We see from these powerful words how much one has to be sensitive towards another. Without getting political, in today’s day and age, we tend to cross the street when we see someone of a different race, gender or origin coming towards us.

Let us embrace the ways of Rabban Yochanan and increase peace in this world by being the people of peace and treating all mankind with respect and sensitivity. 

On Sharing an Idea

Day 15 – Berachos 16

רַבִּי אַמֵּי וְרַבִּי אַסִּי הֲווֹ קָא קָטְרִין לֵיהּ גְּנָנָא לְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר. אֲמַר לְהוּ: אַדְּהָכִי וְהָכִי אֵיזִיל וְאֶשְׁמַע מִלְּתָא דְבֵי מִדְרְשָׁא, וְאֵיתֵי וְאֵימָא לְכוּ. אֲזַל אַשְׁכְּחֵיהּ לְתַנָּא דְּקָתָנֵי קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן:

קָרָא וְטָעָה וְאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לְהֵיכָן טָעָה, בְּאֶמְצַע הַפֶּרֶק — יַחְזוֹר לָרֹאשׁ. בֵּין פֶּרֶק לְפֶרֶק — יַחְזוֹר לְפֶרֶק רִאשׁוֹן. בֵּין כְּתִיבָה לִכְתִיבָה — יַחְזוֹר לִכְתִיבָה רִאשׁוֹנָה.

אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: לֹא שָׁנוּ אֶלָּא שֶׁלֹּא פָּתַח בִּ״לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם״, אֲבָל פָּתַח בִּ״לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם״ — סִרְכֵיהּ נָקֵט וְאָתֵי.

אֲתָא וַאֲמַר לְהוּ. אֲמַרוּ לֵיהּ: אִלּוּ לֹא בָּאנוּ אֶלָּא לִשְׁמוֹעַ דָּבָר זֶה — דַּיֵּינוּ.

Berachos 16

The Gemara relates a story that Rav Ami and Rav Asi went to help Rav Elazar get ready for his wedding. As they were helping, Rav Elazar said that he would like to prepare for his wedding by learning Torah, but he will share with his friends what he learned when he comes back.

Rav Eliezer went to learn, when he came back he shared that which learned, to which his colleagues responded, if we would have traveled here just to hear this that you shared, it would have been enough. 

Rav Johnny Solomon comments that we learn from here that there is something really special and unique about sharing ideas with one another. We see how Rav Ami and Rav Asi were so taken by the idea Rav Elazar shared. We too have the ability to inspire others by the ideas we share.