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Tractate Berakhos II: Commentary and Study Guide

by Nachman Cohen

Bibliographic information

TitleTractate Berakhos II: Commentary and Study Guide
AuthorNachman Cohen
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2009
SubjectCommentary on Talmud
Pages566


Description 

Master a Mesikhta Series

The series opens the world of Talmud to English speaking public at the level that few commentaries have done until now. Nachman Cohen allows the reader a rare opportunity to follow the raging Rabbinic debates and the development of Jewish law throughout the ages. Unlike a mere translation, the commentary provides the tools to truly get into Talmud. Each volume contains such an abundance of both basic and in-depth information that even seasoned scholars may find it helpful for both review and as a reference tool.

Tractate Berachos was written and compiled in turbulent times. First the Second Temple was destroyed and then Betar. The Jewish population was displaced from the southern part of the Land of Israel up north. These changing circumstances caused the Rabbis to impose many halakhic decrees which were not received without controversies. Where possible Nachman Cohen explains how the haskafah, or religious and ideological outlook of each Rabbi (ותמשנ שרוש) serves to generate his halakhic stance. Understanding how Rabbis formulated decrees and dealt with changing conditions sheds light on how they would have reacted to some of our modern day dilemmas.

Tractate covers various topics: dreams, prophecy, wisdom, the origin and meaning of brakhos (blessings), Birkas haMazon (Grace after Meals) and Birkas haZimun, the significance of wine for Kiddush, the dispute over the significance of Rosh haShana, the use of asmakhtos, and the meaning and import of the blessing ינשע אלש ה שא (You did not make me a female).





About the Author 

Nachman Cohen ---

Rabbi Nachman Cohen, Director of Torah Lishmah Institute, is the Spiritual Leader of Young Israel Ohab Zedek, of North Riverdale/Yonkers, and Chairman of the Board of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists.


Rabbi Cohen studied in Mesivta Torah Vodaath as well as Yeshivas Karlin Stolin. He received an Sc.M. in Physics from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University.




Excerpt 

New Page 48

Meaning of Rosh haShana

Much more is to be gleaned from Talmudic disputes than halakha I'ma'aseh (the normative law). As important as the latter is, one must always seek to understand the hashkafic [religio-philosophic] pillar upon which each view of a dispute is based, because these lend insight into the profound depths of Judaism. Moreover, understanding a diverse position, helps to clarify and illuminate the underpinnings of the view which is normative and thereby makes the observance of that practice more meaningful in that it gives one an opportunity to perform the mitzvah with ״םהב ונווכש תונווכה״ [the intent with which these were performed] by Chazal.

The dispute which follows serves as a typical example. It deals with the prayer-text for the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva (Ten Days of Penitence). Studying it is sure to make one's Rosh haShana more meaningful.

[65] Rabbah b. Chin'na/Rav: Throughout the year a person concludes [the 4th and the 10th blessings of the Sh'moneh Esreh] with the salutation ״שודקה לקה" (the Sanctified God) and ״בהוא ךלמ טפשמו הקדצ" (the King Who loves righteousness and judgment). During the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva, the salutation is ״שודקה ךלמה״ (the King Who is holy) and ״טפשמה ךלמה" (the King [Who presides over] the judgment).

Rashi: This change underscores that during this period God's kingship is manifest through His judgment of the world.

R. Elazar: One who says ״שודקה לקה״ and ״הקדצ בהוא ךלמ טפשמו" fulfills his obligation.

This derives from the verse ״לקהו טפשמב תואבצ ה הבגיו הקדצב שדקנ שודקה״ ("and the Lord of Hosts is exalted through judgment and the Sanctified God is sanctified through righteousness") (Yeshaya 5:16). The latter verse describes God during the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva [for this is when God becomes manifest through judgment] and yet God is described as שודקה לקה.״

G'mara: How has this matter been resolved?

R. Yosef: A person should say ״שודקה לקה״ and ״בהוא ךלמ טפשמו הקדצ.״

Rabbah: He should say ״שודקה ךלמה״ and ״טפשמה ךלמה.״

The halakha follows the view of Rabbah.

While the [medieval] French Rabbis maintain that the dispute between Rav and R. Elazar concerns only the optimal manner in which the 4th and 10th blessings should be concluded, and if one were to say "לקה שודקה״ and ״טפשמו הקדצ בהוא ךלמ״ even Rav would agree that ex post facto this would be acceptable, the prevailing view is that each of these Rabbis staunchly posits his view to the extent that if when praying one veers from his stated position, the Sh'moneh Esrei is invalid and must be recited anew.

So far for the halakhic considerations.

Meta-legal analysis

When studying this dispute [and others of its kind], the student often fails to ask the revealing questions: What is the basis for this dispute? and What leads each Rabbi to advance his viewpoint? In this case, it is more instructive to investigate the latter question first.

At the very end of Tractate Horiyos, the Talmud identifies two types of talmidei chakhamim [Talmudic scholars]: the Sinai and the Oker Harim (Uprooter of Mountains). The Sinai is the encyclopedic scholar who has the entire corpus of Jewish knowledge at his fingertips. The Oker Harim is the scholar who is able to penetrate the core of Biblical and Talmudic law to the extent that through his analysis he can bring new meaning to the law and thereby in some cases seemingly overturn [that is, redefine] existing law. The G'mara reveals that Rabbah was an Oker Harim, whereas R. Yosef was a Sinai.

An appreciation of Rabbah and his role as an Oker Harim is portrayed in the following Talmudic tale: Rabbah b. Nachmeni died through persecution. The events leading up to his death were the following: Informers told the State that Rabbah was responsible for 12,000 Jews not paying their poll-tax because they went to study at his academy during the months of Nisan and Tishri. A royal officer was sent to imprison Rabbah. He fled from Pumbedisa, to Akra, to Agama, to Sahin, to Zarifa, to Ein Damim, back to Pumbetisa ...[and finally] to Agama. There "along with the Heavenly Academy he studied" the laws of n'ga'im (blemishes). The following was studied:

If the raw patch of skin preceded the white hair, the person is tameh (unclean). If the white hair came first, the person is tahor (clean). If the order of appearance is in doubt

God: He is tahor.
The Heavenly Academy: He is tameh.

They said: Who can resolve this dispute? Rabbah b. Nachmeni, for he is considered a yachid (singular individual) with regard to the law of blemishes.

A messenger was sent to him, but the Angel of Death could not approach him because he was studying Torah continuously. In the meantime, a wind blew through the forest and he mistook this for an oncoming band of soldiers. Thinking that he was about to be arrested, he proclaimed, "Let me die rather than be handed over to the State."

As he was about to die, he proclaimed, "[the blemish discussed is] tahor." Whereupon a bas kol [Heavenly voice] came forth and proclaimed, "Happy be you, Rabbah b. Nachmeni, whose body is "tahor, and whose soul departed tahor."

Bava Metzia 86a

To be sure, this episode requires a great deal of analysis. Yet, our analysis will be limited to what is necessary to clarify the point at hand, namely: How is it possible for angels to dispute with HaShem as to the halakha? Logic dictates that by definition HaShem determines halakha! Moreover, what is meant by the fact that Rabbah b. Nachmeni will resolve this dispute because he is a yachid?

It is to be remembered that halakha is complex and multi-leveled. The doctrine of Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim teaches that when viewed from different perspectives, the application of the halakha leads to varied conclusions. (See "Axioms and Underpinnings" in my book Mirrors of Eternity) In deciding an halakhic point, a rabbi must decide the halakha from his halakhic perspective. Thus, in the controversy between HaShem and the angels over the status of said blemish, the angels were compelled to rule in accordance with their understanding despite the fact that they knew that HaShem ruled the blemish tahor.




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