Thoughts from the Daf

Shabbat 4: Praying Alone

One of the hardest mitzvot to properly fulfil is that of rebuke, “hocheiach tocheech et amitecha” (Vayikra 19:17). We are commanded, when necessary, to “prove” to our fellow Jews that what they are about to do is wrong and thus, they must desist. We must do so in a manner that does not cause embarrassment—hence, the continuation of the verse, “You shall not bear a sin because of him”, to which Rashi comments, “Do not whiten his face in public”.

Shabbat 2: From Place to Place

“The carrying out on Shabbat are two that are four [for one] inside [a home] and two that are four [for one] outside [the home]” (Shabbat 2a). The Mishna discusses who violates Shabbat, and under what circumstances, when an object is passed from a private, “inside”, to a public, “outside”, domain. It is with these laws of carrying that we begin masechet Shabbat, the opening tractate of Seder Moed, detailing the laws relating to the special occasions, moadot, of the year. 

Brachot 55: People Power

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.

Brachot 48: Pumpkin, Pumpkin Look to the Sky

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. 

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”. 

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.

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