Leadership is not for the faint of heart. A leader, by definition, must make decisions that are going to hurt people. That does not mean the decisions are incorrect, but rather is a result of the fact that it is impossible for every decision to benefit all. If, for example, one allocates more money towards healthcare, there is less for education; if more for security, less for research and development. If one goes to war to defeat terrorists, one may help many, but put many others in harm’s way. And so it is with almost all decisions impacting the public.
I imagine that many of us had elementary school classmates whom we knew were going to reach great heights. Their intelligence and drive to succeed was obvious, and their success was easily foretold. While some are late bloomers, many, likely most, who attain greatness in fields ranging from athletics to zoology and everything in between, show their talents at a young age.
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.
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.
“Rav Hamnuna said: How many important halakhot can be derived from these verses of the prayer of Hannah?” (Brachot 31a).
“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”.
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.
It is fair to say that, if not for the leadership of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai, you would not be reading these words. Judaism as we know it today could not have survived without his great foresight.
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.
As we transition from the third to the fourth chapter of masechet Brachot, our focus shifts from the mitzvah of kriat shema to that of tefillah or, more accurately, the amidah. That which we say before the amidah—be it songs of praise, or the acceptance of the kingdom of G-d, i.e., the shema—is said as preparation for tefillah, i.e., the amidah.