Thoughts from the Daf

To Forget Is Human: Shabbat 12

Human nature is to be forgetful, even in the midst of doing something. This human frailty is what leads the Mishnah (11a) to rule that a tailor may not go into the street with his needle nor may a scribe go out with his quill on Friday afternoons just before dark, lest they forget and accidentally carry their materials on Shabbat (in a place which has no eruv). Yet, the Gemarah (12a) rules that one may go out while wearing tefillin late on Friday afternoon, as “Rava bar Rav Hunah taught that one is obligated to feel his tefillin every moment and moment”.

Shabbat 10: In Your Court

While the prelude to the giving of the Torah is the establishment of a court system (see Shemot 18), it would seem that having to actually use the justice system is less than ideal. In a perfect society, people would be honest, forgiving, and not fight for every right that is theirs. Spending one’s time learning Torah is surely a much greater pursuit than listening to litigants argue. And thus, the Talmud records that Rav Hisda and Rava bar Rav Huna, after spending the entire day in court adjucating one case after another, were upset.

Shabbat 10a: Stop Praying Already

Two of our most fundamental mitzvoth are those of Tefillah, prayer and Talmud Torah, the study of Torah. Yet there has long been a tension regarding which is of primary importance. The view that "if only one would pray the entire day" (Brachot 21a) cannot be easily reconciled with G-d's words to Joshua that, "The book of law shall not depart from your mouth and you shall meditate in its words day and night" (Joshua 1:8).

Shabbat 6: The Hidden Scrolls

When discussing the transition of torah sheba’al peh from knowledge that was transmitted orally to knowledge that is primarily studied via texts, we tend to think of the mishnah as the first text to record the oral law. Yet, a comment recorded on our daf adds important nuance. “Rav said, ‘I found a hidden scroll, and in it was written that ishi ben Yehuda says that the forbidden melachot are forty less one, and one is liable only on one’”. While the mishnah was the first official oral text, apparently there were “secret documents” floating around that had records of the oral law.

Shabbat 3: Timely Questions

I had the privilege of learning in Rav Herschel Schachter’s shiur at Yeshiva University for four years, in the days before he was universally recognized as one of the outstanding Torah sages. His impact on my learning is immeasurable. One of the most striking things I learned in his shiur is how to say, “I don’t know”. We learned that there is no embarrassment in not knowing – even for great scholars. This humility is a most important, yet often lacking, trait in many a Torah (or any other) scholar.

Shabbat 2: Waiting Outside

Much of Masechet Brachot deals with non-legal matters - extolling the importance of prayers and blessings and recording many stories involving our great sages, to cite two main themes. While many of the laws impacting on our daily rituals are expounded upon, there is little of the intense and detailed argumentation over points of law we find in other places in the Talmud. As we move to Masechet Shabbat, we immediately notice a shift to more technical aspects of halacha and legal argumentation, beginning with the intricate laws of carrying on Shabbat.

Brachot 59: What a Blessing

One of the most well known blessings is that of dayan haemet, the blessing said upon the death of an immediate relative accepting G-d as the true judge. It is a statement of great faith in G-d, Who “gives life and takes it away – let His name be blessed”. Less well known is the ruling that if the deceased parent was wealthy, the inheriting child makes a second blessing. This blessing is none other than a shehechiyanu, the bracha in which we thank G-d for having reached a most joyous milestone

Brachot 55: Turning Dreams into Reality

The Talmud spends quite a number of pages discussing dreams. Taking their cue from the Bible itself, they put great stock in the significance of our dreams. They understood that our thoughts during the day have great impact upon our dreams, and knew that every dream has some elements of untruth to it. The Gemarah goes to great lengths to demonstrate the power, not so much of the dream itself, but how it is interpreted: "All goes according to the interpretation".

Brachot 50: Gratitude

“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!

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