Learn Along with the Yeshiva – Berachot Chapter 1

Lesson #6 –Content and Questions
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva

This week’s lesson takes us a bit off track from our tractate. It deals with interpreting a Mishnah from the tractate Tamid, which is in seder (order) Kodoshim. This seder deals with the sacrificial order. What is it doing here in a tractate dealing with pray stuff? Well, it deals with the prayer order of the priests (cohanim) who carried out the sacrifices in theTemple. Since some of the elements of their prayer order coincide with those of the synagogue, the Talmud interfaces with this Mishnah here.


View the English text for Berachot 11b-12a

View the Hebrew text for Berachot 11b-12a

Guide Questions and Issues

Part 1

1. We open with a Mishnah from Tamid (notice that the Talmud introduces the Mishnah with words “ תנן שם – a Mishnah from there) which outlines the morning prayer ritual of the priests serving in the Temple. The prayer ritual opened with a blessing, the recitation of the Ten Commandments, Shma (and Vaahavta), the second paragraph of the Shma(v’haya im shmamoa), the third paragraph of the Shma (vayomer), and then together with the people they recited three blessings – 1. The blessing “emet v’yatziv” – the blessing which we recite after the Shma; 2. Avoda -– the ‘ritzei” blessing of the Amidah and then the priestly blessings.

On Shabbat, there was an additional blessing, but more on that later.

There is something tantalizing about this Mishnah from our perspective – it is what brings us to this Mishnah here in Berachot. No, it is not what you think, namely, the recitation of the Shma. If you guessed that it is the very beginning of the Mishnah – the one ambiguous item in the whole teaching – you are right! – That first blessing,– the one great unknown (which blessing) – and, of course, we will want to associate this blessing with our discussion from last week of what are the two blessings before the Shma.

[As a historical note, it is unclear whether the association that our sugya wants to make reflects the historical reality of what this blessing was in Temple times. In rabbinic minds, however,the association will be made to reflect their own reality.]

2. As we expected, this question starts the beginning of the rabbinic discussion.

3. As you can see, the historical memory of this blessing was not good. The sages who finally answered this question were sages from the Amoraic period. These sages, both Samuel and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (step 4) associated this blessing with the blessings which precede the Shma in the shaharit (morning) prayer service.

Samuel associated it with the second blessing – “Ahavah Rabbah.

4. Rabbi Zerika asserts that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish associated it with the first blessing – “Yotzer Or”.

5. In this step in the sugya, we find something very interesting. We note here that Rabbi Zerika did not learn the opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish directly; rather he inferred the answer to this question from a general principle that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish learned from this Mishnah. This general principle – the recital of one blessing is not indispensable for that of the other. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish assumed that if only blessing was recited, it meant that the two blessings were not inextricably linked to each other. From this Rabbi Zerika reasoned that he thought the blessing was “yotzer or”.

6. How did Rabbi Zerika make this deduction? This is the subject matter of this step. The Talmud reasons out Rabbi Zerika’s position and determined why he said it must be “Yotzer Or” by the process of elimination. One can understand why if he said “Yotzer Or”, he might be able to leave out “Ahava Rabbah but if he said Ahava Rabbah first, there might be a logical reason why he might not yet have said “Yotzer Or” (it was too early and the sun had not risen.)

7. The Talmud now questions the significance of the fact that Rabbi Zerika derived his conclusion from reason as we saw in the previous step.

8. In this step the Talmud rejects Rabbi Zerika’s reasoning and rejection that the blessing recited was “Ahava Rabbah” This step explains how the blessing recited could have been “Ahava Rabbah” if Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish’’s principle was understood differently, namely that the order of the recitation of the blessings does not matter.

Questionto Consider

In this section, we learn not only of the formation of the order of the prayer service, we also learn that the process of developing Torah involves both the revelation of past learning and the interaction of reason (See the involvement of Rabbi Zerika with the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan. The development of lawalways involves these two elements. What is the sugya’s opinion on this process?

Section 2

1. This section deals with the recitation of the Ten Commandments in the davening. As we note here, in the Temple, the Ten Commandments were recited. This section attempts to explain why they are no longer a part of the davening ritual.

2. We have here an interesting phenomenon. In this step, we have a Babylonian Amora assert that that certain Jews try to reestablish the recitation of the Ten Commandments in the whole of the country but that its recitation had already been abolished on account of some threat from heretics.We are not privy from the discussion to know who these heretics were. Speculation ranges from Christians who wanted to limit the scope of what was obligatory from the Torah to the Ten Commandments, to those who wanted to allegorize most of the Torah and also wanted to limit the extent of what was actually revealed by God, to those who only recognized as revealed those words which were actually related directly by God. Quite a catalogue of suspects, but it seems we will never know who the culprits were.

3. In this step Samuel’s meimra is verified by a baraita.

4.-5. What is fascinating is that this discussion continued for some time even in Babylonia where there was a desire to reestablish the practice, but again it was rebuffed because of the threat of heretics. And again, I have to reiterate that we have no clue to as to who these cross-generational heretics were, nor do we know if the threat was from some consistent group or from a number of different groups.

Question to Consider

1. This section treats a ticklish subject – how to combat heresy? To what extent should a tradition beinclusive or exclusive in its ideology? Should a tradition allow for a range of different beliefs? What are the parameters of such pluralism? How does a tradition protect its message?

Section 3

1. In this last quote from the Mishnah from Tamid, we are again confronted by an ambiguous blessing offered on Shabbat to the priests who had finished their week of service in the Temple. I will say again that the Mishnah from Tamid is old representing practices which preceded the rabbis by many years so if there is ambiguity it is possible that it is because there is no historical memory of what the blessing actually was.

2. The shealah!

3. It is hard to tell whether Rabbi Helbo actually knew the content of said blessing or whether he is provided us with what he thinks is a proper blessing for this occasion. Here, he presents us what he assumes to be the message of the incoming priests to those who have completed their work. What is its message?

Go to Next Class – Berachot 12a-12b