One of the things I love about the Gemara is how realistic and human it is—how it portrays people, rabbis and laypeople alike, in all their complexity, never shying away from pointing out their foibles.
“A jewel in the mouth of Rava. The purpose of chochmah, wisdom, is teshuva and maasim tovim, good deeds”(Brachot 17a). Knowledge that increases one’s knowlege and nothing else is worth little, is largely a waste of time and is a tragic misuse of so much potential.
“The appointed one [assistant kohen gadol] said to them [the priests in the Temple]: ‘Recite a single blessing.’ They recited a blessing, and read the aseret hadibrot, Shema, veHaya im Shamoa and vaYomer, blessed the people with three blessings; emet veyatziv, avodah and birchat kohanim, and on Shabbat, they would add a blessing for the outgoing mishmar, priestly watch” (Brachot 11b).
“Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rav Huna: All who have yira’at shamayim, fear of Heaven, his words are heeded, as it is stated: ‘The end of the matter, all having been heard: Fear G-d and keep His commandments; for this is all of man’” (Kohelet 12:13). It is this message, and only because of this message, that our Sages agreed to include Kohelet in the Biblical canon.
What should one pray for? If we were to take a survey of the typical shul-goer, or even one who is not, I suspect we will hear such ideas as health, peace, justice, economic success, a wonderful family. One might take a look at the siddur and see what our rabbis suggested we pray for. We could then add such items as wisdom, repentance, forgiveness, redemption and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. These are all wonderful things to pray for, and it is for good reason that they are included in the shemoneh esrei that we recite three times a day.
In our post discussing the last lines of the Talmud Bavli, we wondered why the Gemara ends with a teaching by Eliyahu Hanavi. As Daf Yomi begins its 14th cycle and we open up masechet Brachot, it does not take us long—one page, to be exact—until we meet up with Eliyahu once again.
“From when may one recite the kriat shema in the evening? From the time the kohanim enter to eat their terumah until the end of the first watch; these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer” (Brachot 2a).
Rashi begins his commentary to Chumash asking why the Torah begins with the story of creation and not with the first mitzva given to the Jewish people, that of establishing a calendar. Put slightly differently, Rashi wonders why do we begin with a divine clock and not a human one? Rashi answers that the Torah wanted to impress upon us that the world is G-d’s to divide as He pleases. In other words, the Torah opens with the notion of kabbalat malchut shamayim, the acceptance of G-d’s kingship.