Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog

Brachot 43: Learning from Tamar

We have often noted that the Talmud was edited with great precision. A simple example is the extreme to which it goes to record who, and in whose name, teachings were made. When the teachings of the same person on a variety of subjects are juxtaposed, a most common occurrence, more times than not it is much more than a mnemonic device. Upon closer examination one notices that these seemingly unconnected teachings are deeply related to each other. Hence, in the vast majority of cases, where the teachings of the same person are unrelated, they are not juxtaposed.

Brachot 43: Sweet Smells

When one is consumed with hatred, one is liable to act in ways that are out of the norm, to say the least. “Sina’ah mekalkelet et hashura, hatred breaks down one’s straight thinking” (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:21). Bilaam, consumed with hatred of the Jewish people despite his protestations of following only G-d, rose early and saddled his donkey by himself, a break from royal protocol.

Brachot 29: The Simple Jew

“Our Sages taught: Shimon Hapekuli arranged the eighteen blessings before Rabban Gamliel, al haseder, in order, in Yavne” (Brachot 28b). 

The Gemara (Megillah 17b) notes that the shemoneh esrei was initially composed by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. In a rather startling comment, the Gemara then claims that it was then forgotten and hence, the need for Shimon Hapekuli to “arrange them again”. 

Yitro: The Essence of Torah

Fulfilling G-d's commandments is the essence of Torah. "If not for my covenant, day and night, the laws of heaven and earth, I would not have established" (Yirmiyahu 33:25). Rashi begins his commentary on Chumash asking why the Torah begins with the story of creation. Being a book of mitzvot, one might posit that it should have begun with the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, namely, the sanctification of the new moon. 

Brachot 29: The Changing Nature of Prayer

It is hard to think of a mitzvah that has undergone as much change over time as that of prayer. Originally, prayer was a spontaneous pouring out of one’s heart before G-d. One prayed when, what, how and for however long one may have wanted. This is especially true according to the mainstream view that the obligation of prayer is rabbinic in nature. But even according to the Rambam, who uniquely claims that prayer is of Biblical origin, that just means that there is an obligation to pray once a day.

Brachot 28: The Education of Rabban Gamliel

The years following the destruction of the Temple were fraught with great danger and uncertainty. The infighting that had so weakened the Jewish people threatened to completely tear them apart. Hundreds of thousands were killed or exiled, with the many sects that could not make the transition from a Temple-based Judaism disappearing. The houses of Hillel and Shammai argued so vehemently that there was fear they would “make the Torah into two Torot” (Sanhedrin 88b). With the Sanhedrin no longer in Jerusalem, its authority was questioned.

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