Learn Along with the Yeshiva

Lesson #5 –Berachot 11a-11b
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva

Our lesson today deals with the structure of the morning and evening berachot which surround the Shma. We will begin with the Mishnah but as you will see the Mishnah is incredibly laconic leaving an enormous amount undefined – ah – but that is what we are here for!

We will need a siddur in hand to work through this section of Talmud so that you will be able to see what we are talking about. In particular, a siddur that has both the weekday Shaharit (morning) service and the weekday Maariv (evening) service.


View the English text for Berachot 11a-11b

View the Hebrew text for Berachot 11a-11b

Guide Questions and Issues


I want you to look at the Mishnah together with a siddur even though this will take some of the mystery out of studying the Talmud.Still, it is better for us to have a sense of geography in facing the material. Right now we are only going to focus on the first part of the Mishnah. Next week, when we get to the Talmud on the second part of the Mishnah, we will start with thrashing out the second part of the Mishnah.

1a. The first statement in the states that there are two blessings before Shma in the morning and one after it.

a. What are the names of the blessings before the Shma in the morning?

b. What is the name of the blessing after the Shma in the morning?

1b. In the evening the Shma is preceded by two blessings and is followed by two blessings.

a. Name the blessings before the evening Shma.

b. Name the two after the Shma. (There is a third blessing after the Shma recited outside of Israel – “Baruch HaShem Yom Yom. This is a later addition and is not discussed here.)

c. Which is the long blessing after the Shma in the evening and which is the short blessing after the Shma inthe evening?


Part 1

1. We open this discussion with a shealah which inquires about what might be the first blessing before the Shma in the morning.

2. This question is answered with a meimra which states four words of the opening blessing before the Shma in the morning – “who forms light and creates darkness”. This meimra serves as the impetus for a whole debate over the appropriateness of this formula for the blessing which will take up step 3- 8 of this section. The basic formula for this blessing was taken from a verse in Isaiah (55:7).

What is bugging the Talmud? Apparently the use of the word “darkness” troubles them. Words which have any sense of something bad seem to have a problem as we will from the suggestion offered by the next step.

3. The Talmud offers alternative wording introduced by the word “ לימא ”– “say”. This is a term which tells us that this alternative will ultimately be rejected.

The alternative offered is: “who form slight and created ‘light– noga’. “Noga” is meant here as a euphemism for darkness so that one does not have to actually mention darkness. Some of the sages had a thing for using euphemisms!

4. This version is rejected.On what grounds?

5. Again the Talmud raises a challenge to the wording of the blessing. Take a look at the rest of the verse from Isaiah and compare it with the blessing as it is found in the siddur (The morning prayers immediately after the barchu. What is the difference between the verse from Isaiah and the blessing in the siddur?

How does this change serve as the impetus for this kushiya on the words of the blessing as they are in the siddur?

6. How does the Rabbah bar Ulah answer this challenge?

7. This answer works makes sense for the morning blessing but what about the night blessing, where do we find the principle mentioned in step 6 carried out?

8. Take a look now at the first blessing after barchu in maariv (the evening service). In it you will find the phrase which answers the challenge in step 6 and does for maariv what step 7 did for shaharit. Explain how.

Part 2

1. Now we move to an examination of the second blessing before the Shma.

2. This step names the prayer immediately before the Shma in the morning.

3. As you can see from this step there was a dispute over whether the morning blessing is the one we say now or whether the evening equivalent was also said in the morning. This seems to have been an ongoing dispute in both Babylonia and Israel.

4. In the end, the Bavli goes with “Ahavat Olam” but, again, you should know that this question was bandied back and forth in the Babylonian academies for centuries. In the end we do one in the morning and the other in the evening.

This baraita justifies this choice with a verse from Jeremiah which usesthe language adopted by the chosen blessing (and was the likely source of this language).

Questions to Consider (Parts 1 and 2)

1. Now that we have seen a little bit of the discussion over the formulation of these blessings. It pays to take a closer look at them. The theme of the first blessing is obviously God as Creator. Look over the blessing. Is there a consistent message concerning God’s role in creation.

2. Why do you think the sages were so particular about the language of the blessing over creation? Does it have anything to do with the answer to question 1.

3. What is the theme of the second blessing? Why do you think it was placed next to Shma?

Part 3

1. In the opening meimra. We are presented with an interesting halachic situation. Someone who gets up early and studies Torah, says blessings before learning Torah. (more on this later.) What happens, if said person wakes up late, does not say the blessings over the study of Torah which are said each morning, prays Shaharit where he or she says“ Ahava Rabbah” before Shma. According to this meimra, this person does not say the blessings over Torah study since the major them of “Ahava Rabbah” is Torah study and it therefore exempts a person from the need to recite the blessings over Torah study. (Oops, that answers one the previous questions.)

2.-5. Steps 2-5 are different opinions over what kind of Torah study requires a blessing before studying it.

Let me just say, that there are different versions of all of the lists here and it is hard to know what each item on the lists stands for. For our purposes the following might help make sense of the lists for us. “Mikra” stands for “Scripture”. “Midrash” here is another word for what we would call Talmud study. “Mishnah” means the study of laws removed from “Scripture”.

6. This meimra is intended as anecdotal evidence that midrash (Talmud study) is considered Torah study for the purposes of say the blessing over Torah study.

Part 4

This next section discusses the blessing said over Torah study which is recited every morning. For this section, we need to open a tradition siddur to the beginning of the morning blessings in order to find the blessing over Torah study.

1. The question which prompts the responses.

2. Samuel, one of the major sages from the first generation of Babylonian Talmud sages after the close of the Mishnah, offers a traditional formula for a blessing over a mitzvah.

3. Rabbi Yochanan, one of the most important sages in Eretz Yisrael from the period of the Talmud, offers a paean of praise over the pleasantness of studying Torah and the cross-generational perpetuation of Torah study.

4. Rav Hamnuna introduced the blessing over Torah study that is most familiar to the general Jewish public because it is recited when a person is called up to the Torah. Its major theme is Israel’s choseness for the purpose of Torah study.

5. In this step 5, Rav Hamnuna seemingly praises his own blessing as the ultimate in blessings.

6. This last step in the manuscript traditions of the Talmud is attributed to Rav Papa. He is well known for what he does in this step, namely, taking different liturgical works and combining them to make a single liturgical formulation. On the one hand this is problematic since one is saying a blessing over the same thing a number of times but it seems there was a desire to incorporate and preserve the variety of traditions.

Questions to Consider

1. My big question here regards Rav Hamnuna. What are the advantages and disadvantages of what he did?

2. Review the themes of each of these three blessings. Discuss their continued relevance.

Go to Next Class – Brachot 11b-12a