Thoughts from the Daf

Brachot 47b: We Are All Am Ha'aratzim

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.

Brachot 43b: A Shameful Smell

A common feature of Talmudic editing is to group together a series of statements made by the same person. Generally, it is that person making a statement in the name of someone else - itself a common feature of the Talmud, with its emphasis on sourcing our traditions-- and is generally done in the cases of those figures who are not often quoted in the Talmud.

Brachot 40: Getting It Wrong!

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?

Brachot 39: Eat First, Ask Later

Jewish law prescribes not only that we make a blessing on food, but that we do so in the correct sequence. Thus, to cite a very basic example, we first make kiddush and only afterward make hamotzi. Not surprisingly, which blessing should take priority was a matter of Talmudic dispute, and the rabbis developed a number of principles to help us eat properly.

Brachot 35: No, Thank You!

The opening Mishnah of the sixth chapter of Brachot discusses the various blessings one makes on different types of food. The Talmud attempts, but is unable, to find a scriptural source that tells us that one must make a blessing before eating, finally concluding that we need no source. It is a sevarah, a simple, obvious, logical inference that one must bless G-d before we eat, as "it is forbidden to benefit from this world without a blessing". Verses in the Torah are (generally) needed only to tell us that which we would not otherwise know.

Brachot 34a: Respect for the Congregation

In Talmudic times, the norm was that the chazzan literally prayed on behalf of the congregation. The people would listen and answer "amen," thus fulfilling their obligation of prayer. In addition to the tefillot of the chazzan, there was (and is, at least in Israel) a daily obligation for the kohanim to bless the people (duchening). The chazzan was to remain focused on the tefillot, and thus, a chazzan who was a kohen was not to duchen or even answer "amen" after their blessing, "lest he be confused".

Brachot 31: Where to Pray

The Talmud spends a good deal of time discussing the proper frame of mind for prayer. In a rather obvious remark (yet, much easier said than done), the Gemarah notes that “One must aim their thoughts towards heaven” (Brachot 31a). Proof for this is provided by the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, as follows: “Rav Yehuda says this was the custom of Rabbi Akiva, when he would pray between him and himself, one would leave him in this corner and find him in a different corner”. Yet, the Gemarah seems to note that such heavenly focus is only appropriate if one is davening privately.


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