“From the blessings of man, we see if he is a scholar or not”. How, and more importantly, whom one blesses tells us much about a person. How we word our blessings was of great interest to our Sages; after all, before speaking to a king, we think over each word we want to say, and mistakes reflect a lack of seriousness. How much more so when speaking to the King of Kings!
The term am ha'aretz has come to mean an ignorant Jew, and is generally used in a pejorative manner. However, in Talmudic literature, an ignorant Jew was referred to as the hebrew word bore, an empty pit; it seems like it might be related to the English "boor". The great sage Hillel teaches that "a boor cannot be a fearful of sin" (Pirkei Avot 2:7). Without a solid foundation of knowledge, true fear of sin is impossible.
A striking feature of Talmud study is how it seamlessly moves from subject to subject; and how, almost out of the blue, one finds oneself discussing something that seems totally disconnected from the original discussion. The Mishnah discusses the case of a person who mistakenly makes the brachah of boreh pri ha-etz on a vegetable, ruling that one must repeat the proper bracha of boreh pri ha-adamah. The Gemarah questions the need for such a ruling, as why should one think that one fulfills his obligation by claiming a vegetable grows on a tree?
As the Talmud is, at its core, an oral tradition—with the words before us a summary of “classroom”” discussion—it is not surprising that debates will occur as to what the “teacher” actually said.
The Gemara, in discussing the propriety of making an “early Shabbat”, records that Rav Yirmiya davened just behind his teacher, Rav, on Friday afternoons while Rav was reciting the prayers for Shabbat. The Gemara questions how he could do so, as it was Rav himself, the founder of the great academy in Sura, who taught that it is inappropriate to daven next to or behind one’s teacher.
"Mei’emati korin et hashema b’arvit, from what time may one begin reciting the evening shema?" So begins the Talmud Bavli, the first volume of the Gemara and the page that will be studied by hundreds of thousands of Jews around the globe as they begin the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi on Friday. The hundreds of thousands who celebrated the completion of the 12th cycle highlight the enduring relevance of this ancient text, and its crucial role in Jewish continuity.