Learn Along with the Yeshiva – Masechet Berachot

Lesson #3 – Berachot 10b
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva

Our lesson this week consists of two sections, one a midrash on the story of Elisha and the Shulamite woman along with an addenda of a number of halachot and in the other we return to a discussion of the last section of the Mishnah where we will discuss the later limit for the recitation of the Shma in the morning along with other related halachot.


View the English text for Berachot 10b

View the Hebrew text for Berachot 10b

Guide Questions and Issues

Part 1

This piece of Talmud is surprising on two counts: 1. It is hard to account for why this material is found here, since it does not seem to relate to the material in this section (Prayer, Blessings) of the Talmud; 2.The Talmud interprets the verses out of the order of the Scriptural story. For us these are curiosities but perhaps in the end we come to some conclusion regarding these problems.

First assignment: If you were not paying attention to the haftarah last Shabbat now you have a second chance. Read 2 Kings 4:8-37. It’s a great story.

We will only deal with the first few lines of the story,which deal with the tremendous generosity of the Shulamite woman.

In the first part of this section, the Talmud brings verses from the beginning of the story, section by section, comments and interacts with them.

1. The meaning of the term“ aliyat kir ketana – a little upper chamber” is difficult and forms the material for the first discussion.

2. The Talmud brings a Amoraic mahloket on the meaning of this term between two sages from the first generation of Babylonian Amoraim.

Try to pinpoint how each of these two sages tease out of the words of the verse their different interpretations. (Hint: they are both toying with the same word.)

3. Each of these interpretations creates a different building structure out of its interpretation, but each of them in interpreting one thing, create another problem in interpreting the crucial three words. Why does this kushiya accept the second interpretation but reject the first?

4. How does this teirutz answer the challenge of the kushiya?

5. What does this kushiya accept the first answer and challenge the second?

6. How does this teirutz resolve the kushiya? Look at the Hebrew words to answer the question. Is this resolution according to the plain meaning of the words in the verse?

7. Now take a look at the next piece of the verse. This verse serves as the impetus for one sage’s pondering the question of whether prophets (clergy?) should be permitted to benefit from their position.

8. This opinion draws on two biblical sources to model behavior after. Discuss the use of Scripture as a source of authority as it is found in this opinion. Are the verses explicit models for the opinions held here? How much here is exegesis (reading out of the text) and how much is exegesis (reading into the text).

9. Another quotation from the biblical story. Notice here that we are now interpreting the previous verse.(strange!)

10. This meimra attempts to make a statement about human nature from this verse.

11. This shealah questions how someone might know that someone is holy.

12. These two Amoraim attempt to answer this question. What is the difference between these two answers? How do they define “holiness” differently?

13. One way to define“holiness” is to compare different characters in the story. R. Yosi bar Hanina noticed something in Gehazi, Elisha’s servant’s behavior which distinguished him from Elisha. In a literary sense, this sage has turned Gehazi into Elisha’s foil. Reread the end of the story for insight into this episode.

14. A quotation of from the end of the verse. These words will serve as a source for deriving another halachic pronouncement about how one should treat the sages.

15. How does this meimra derive from the text of these few words its halachic pronouncement?

This meimra introduces a collection of pronouncements by the same sages. These statements are baraita/meimras in that an Amora quotes a Tanna.

What association is the teaching attempting to establish? Why and what do you think of this association?

16. This meimra returns to rules for davening (praying) the Amidah (standing prayer). It bases its ruling on a verse from Psalms. Judging from the chosen verse, what seems to be the intent of the ruling?

17. This step in the argument brings a baraita to back up the previous Amoraic teaching. Is this baraita “really” talking about the same thing? What is the “pshat – plain meaning/intent “ of this baraita?

18. This maimra is the source for keeping one’s feet together when davening the Amidah. Look up the verse.What is the reason for this posture in prayer, judging from the chosen proof verse?

19. Another maimra, this one teaching that one should not eat before davening shaharit (the morning prayers).This ruling is based on a very unusual verse. Look up this verse. In its context, what is it talking about? How do you think the sages tease out this ruling from this verse? (Hint: what is unusual in the phrasing of this verse?]

What do you think is the point of the legislation?

20. This teaching offers another way of deriving the same law as stated in step 19. It “rereads” a verse from the book of Kings. Look up the verse. What is it simple meaning? The Talmud plays around here with middle letter of the word “gavecha” which means “your back”. It substitutes for the “vav” an “alef” making the word “your pride” or self-interests.

This last teaching also brings us back to the theme of the Shma since it the teaching ends on the theme of “kabalat ol Shamayim” which is a reference to Shma.

Part 2

1. We return to dealing with the Mishnah. Here we quote Rabbi Joshua’s opinion regarding the later limit for saying Shma in the morning. Just as a reminder. He sets the later limit at the third hour of the day.

2. This is the first time in our studies together where we have a bottom line which ultimately becomes the halacha.

3. This quotation contains the remainder of Rabbi Joshua’s opinion, namely, that anyone who reads Shma after the appointed third hour, does not lose out even though he has not read Shma at the appointed time.

4. In this meimra, Rav Hisda places a proviso on this Mishnah. He asserts that one will only receive a reward if one recites the Shma after the normative period, if one does so without the blessing which normally accompany it in the morning service. It is his assumption that one cannot recite these blessings after the appointed time period for reciting the Shma. To do so, is to recite a “beracha l’vatala” – an invalid blessing.

5. The Talmud challenges Rav Hisda’’s meimra with a kushiyah from a baraita. Remember, in the game of Talmud, baraitot and mishayot trump meimrot! In this baraita, two things are taught: 1.It states explicitly the reward for reciting the Shma outside of its time rubric = reward for Torah study (this is also found in the Mishnah); 2. Even when Shmai’s is recited outside of its normative time slot (provided it is still morning),one recites it with its accompanying blessings.

6. We learn a new term here – תיובתא – refutation. As we noted step 5, since the baraita clearly contradicts Rav Hisda’s meimra, the meimra falls.

7. Another new term: איכא דאמרי – there are those who say. This marks a different tradition of Rav Hisda’s meimra. In this version, Rav Hisda asserts that even if one recited the Shma late, one does not cause the loss of the berachot that accompany it.

8. In this case the baraita does not refute Rav Hisda, rather it supports his statement.

9. Here, Rabbi Mani determines from the manner in which the Mishnah is stated that the reward for reciting Shma within the time constraints is greater than reciting it where the reward is for Torah study, something that seems obvious to me from the Mishnah.

Go to Next Class – Berachot 10b-11a