Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.

Berakhot

Berakhot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction Tractate Berakhot begins by discussing what time the Shema (only two paragraphs were recited at night, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) is recited in the evening.  It probably begins by discussing the evening Shema because in rabbinic thought the day begins at night.  This is also the order reflected […]

Berakhot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction Thi’s mishnah proceeds to discuss when the morning Shema is recited.  The Torah says that it should be recited “when you get up,” so the debate in our mishnah is essentially over the meaning of this phrase.   Mishnah Two From what time may one recite the Shema […]

Berakhot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter One Mishnah Three   Introduction  The Torah says that one should recite the Shema “when you lie down and when you get up.”  In our mishnah, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel debate the meaning of this phrase.   Mishnah Three 1)      Bet Shammai say: in the evening every man should recline and recite […]

Berakhot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with the blessings that come before and after the Shema in the morning and evening. It will help you understand this mishnah if you open a siddur while learning it.   Mishnah Four 1)      In the morning he recites two blessings before it and one […]

Berakhot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction In Eretz Yisrael during the time of the Mishnah people did not recite the third paragraph of Shema at night. This is the paragraph that talks about the tzitzit and about the Exodus from Egypt. The reason why it was not recited at night was that tzitzit, the […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction The first section of this mishnah deals with having proper intention when reciting the Shema. The second section deals with interrupting reciting the Shema to greet someone.   Mishnah One 1)      If one was reading in the Torah [the section of the Shema] and the time for its […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction The first section of this mishnah explain what counts as “between the breaks” such that it is more permissible to interrupt (see the previou’s mishnah). In the second section a sage explains the order of the three paragraphs of the Shema.   Mishnah Two 1)      These are the […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction Our mishnah deals with the question of what does it mean to actually “recite” the Shema.   Mishnah Three 1)      One who recites the Shema without causing it to be heard by his own ear, he has fulfilled his obligation. a)      Rabbi Yose says: he has not fulfilled […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with reciting the Shema in a place where having proper intention might be very difficult.   Mishnah Four Workers may recite [the Shema] on the top of a tree or the top of a scaffolding, that which they are not allowed to do in the […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah deals with a bridegroom reciting the Shema. The problem is that he may not be able to have the proper intention because he is focusing on other matters.   Mishnah Five 1)      A bridegroom is exempt from reciting the Shema on the first night until the […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction In the previou’s mishnah Rabban Gamaliel seemed to act counter to the halakhah when he recited the Shema on the first night of his marriage.  The mishnah now proceeds to bring up several other examples where he seems to act counter to the accepted halakhah and then explains […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This is the final case in which Rabban Gamaliel seems to behave not according to halakhic norms.    Mishnah Seven When Tabi his [Rabban Gamaliel’s] slave died he accepted condolences for him. His disciples said to him: Master, have you not taught us that one does not accept […]

Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Berakhot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction In mishnah five we learned that Rabban Gamaliel recited the Shema on the first night of his marriage, even though he was exempt.  In this mishnah we read of a debate between later sages whether Rabban Gamaliel action sets a precedent for others who might wish to recite […]

Berakhot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction At the end of the last chapter we learned that some people might be exempt from reciting the Shema because they couldn’t have proper intention. There the mishnah referred to a bridegroom celebrating his wedding night.  The first two mishnayot of the third chapter deal with exemptions due […]

Berakhot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with who is exempt and who is liable to recite the Shema at a funeral.   Mishnah Two 1)      When they have buried the dead and returned [from the grave], if they have time to begin and finish [the Shema] before they get […]

Berakhot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah deals with other categories of people who are exempt from the Shema and some other mitzvoth.   Mishnah Three Women, slaves and minors are exempt from reciting the Shema and putting on tefillin, but are obligated for tefillah, mezuzah, and Birkat Hamazon (the blessing after meals). […]

Berakhot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction According to Leviticus 15:16 a man who has had a seminal emission is impure for one day.  This does not, however, impede his ability to recite blessings and study Torah.  According to the rabbis, Ezra added to the Torah’s ruling that men who had a seminal emission could […]

Berakhot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction The first half of the mishnah continues to deal with various halakhot concerning a man who has had a seminal emission. The second half teaches that one must distance oneself from foul-smelling things before one recites the Shema.   Mishnah Five 1)      If a man was standing saying […]

Berakhot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Berakhot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah deals with people who are already impure who then have contact with semen, either a man through his own semen or a woman through intercourse with a man.    Mishnah Six A zav who has had a seminal emission and a niddah from whom semen escapes […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction The fourth and fifth chapters of Berakhot are about the “Tefillah” the central prayer which we today call the “Amidah” or the “Shmoneh Esrei”, due to its eighteen benedictions (actually nineteen, one was added in later).  The Tefillah (henceforth I will refer to it as the Tefillah, the […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction In this mishnah we learn that Rabbi Nehuniah ben Hakaneh had a special prayer that he would say when he went in and out of the Bet Hamidrash (the rabbinic study hall).   Mishnah Two Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakaneh used to pray as he entered the Bet Hamidrash and […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction This and the next mishnah are perhaps the most important mishnayot in the two chapters concerning the Tefillah.  Here we see that there was some rabbinic opposition to the institution of fixed prayers.  We should recall that in biblical times there were no fixed prayers, by which I […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction The first section of thi’s mishnah continues the debate over the daily recitation of the Shmoneh Esrei. The second section deals with someone who cannot pray the full Shmoneh Esrei because he is in a dangerous place.   Mishnah Four 1)      Rabbi Eliezer says: if a man makes […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah deals with a person who is traveling on a donkey when it comes time to recite the Shmoneh Esrei. As an aside, it is in this mishnah that we learn that while praying one should face Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. This is connected to I […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah reiterates that when praying one should face Jerusalem and if this is impossible, one should direct one’s heart towards the Holy City. The mishnah is simple and requires no explanation.   Mishnah Six If he is traveling in a ship, on a wagon or on a […]

Berakhot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Berakhot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Introduction The final mishnah of the chapter deals with the musaf prayer, the additional prayer recited on Shabbat, festivals and Rosh Hodesh. This prayer corresponds to the musaf sacrifices offered in the Temple on the aforementioned days.   Mishnah Seven 1)      Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says: The musaf prayer […]

Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Five, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah deals with the mental/spiritual preparation one is supposed to have before one prays the Tefillah.   Mishnah One 1)      One should not stand up to say Tefillah except in a reverent state of mind.    2)      The pious men of old used to wait an hour […]

Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah deals with three additions made to the basic Tefillah.   Mishnah Two 1)      They mention [God’s] power to bring rain in the blessing for the resurrection of the dead. 2)      And they ask for rain in the blessing for [fruitful] years. 3)      And havdalah in “Who […]

Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Three   Introduction The first section of this mishnah deals with a person who adds in potentially heretical statements to his Tefillah. The second half of the mishnah deals with a person who makes a mistake while leading the Tefillah in public.   Mishnah Three 1)      The one who says, “On […]

Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Four   Introduction Towards the end of the next to last blessing of the Tefillah the priests raise their hands and bless the people with the “priestly blessing” (birkat hakohanim) from Numbers 6:24-26 (see also Sotah 7:6).  Our mishnah contains several rules regarding the priestly blessing and the one who is […]

Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with making mistakes while reciting the Tefillah.   Mishnah Five 1)      One who is praying and makes a mistake, it is a bad sign for him. a)      And if he is the messenger of the congregation (the prayer leader) it is a bad […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah One   Introduction According to halakhah it is forbidden to derive any benefit from the world without first acknowledging that the world belongs entirely to God, as it says in Psalms 24:1, “The word in its entirety is the Lord’s.”  One acknowledges God’s ultimate ownership over the world by reciting a […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah deals with blessings that are valid in a default sense; —that is to say they are not the preferable blessing to be recited over various food items, but nevertheless if one recites them one has fulfilled his obligation to recite a blessing.   Mishnah Two 1)      […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Three   Introduction Our mishnah completes the list of what blessings are recited over what foods.   Mishnah Three 1)      Over anything which does not grow from the earth one says: “By Whose word all things exist.” a)      Over milk and cheese and eggs one says, “By Whose word all things […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with a case where a person has several different types of foods in front of him and wants to eat them all.  The question is which should he eat first so that its blessing will be recited first.   Mishnah Four There were several kinds […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah begins to deal with the idea that one can recite a blessing over one piece of food and have that blessing count for other foods as well.  Today it is customary to begin every traditional meal with bread, whose blessing exempts the other foods eaten during […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 6

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Six   Introduction In ancient Greco-Roman custom, formal meals were eaten while reclining on couches. Indeed, a banquet was to a certain extent defined by reclining.  Today, the only time Jews recline, even symbolically, is at the Pesah seder.  In contrast, people sitting upright and eating together were not at a […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 7

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah continues to teach what blessing one recites when one is eating two foods that have different blessings.   Mishnah Seven If they brought in front of him salted food at the beginning of the meal and bread with it, he blesses over the salted food and […]

Berakhot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 8

Berakhot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Until now the Mishnah has been discussing blessings recited before eating.  This mishnah and the next chapter deal with the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after food (I don’t really like the term, “Grace After Meals”). The concept of Birkat Hamazon is derived from Deuteronomy 8:10, “When you eat […]

Berakhot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah One   Introduction The seventh chapter is all about the invitation to recite Birkat Hamazon together.  This is the short responsive refrain recited before the first blessing of Birkat Hamazon.  This invitation is called a “zimun” which literally means, “invitation.” Our mishnah teaches when a “zimun” is recited.    Mishnah One […]

Berakhot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues the topic of yesterday’s mishnah, when is a “zimun,” an invitation to Birkat Hamazon, recited.                       Mishnah Two 1)      Women, children and slaves—they do not recite an invitation over them. 2)      How much [must one have eaten] in order for them to recite an invitation? […]

Berakhot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Three   Introduction In this mishnah we learn what words were recited as the “zimun,” the invitation to recite Birkat Hamazon.   Mishnah Three How do they invite [one another to recite the Birkat Hamazon]? 1)      If there are three, he [the one saying Birkat Hamazon] says, “Let us bless [Him of […]

Berakhot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Four   Introduction Our mishnah teaches that if people are eating a meal together they may not separate to recite Birkat Hamazon if this will cause them to recite a lesser zimun , or no zimun at all.   Mishnah Four 1)      Three persons who have eaten together may not separate […]

Berakhot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Five   Introduction The final mishnah of this chapter deals with two groups eating in the same room and whether or not they say a zimun together.   Mishnah Five 1)      Two eating companies that were eating in the same room: a)      When some of them can see some of the […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah One   Introduction The eighth chapter of Berakhot deals with disputes between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel concerning various customs and laws governing food and behavior during meals. The first mishnah contains a well-known debate over the blessings made during Kiddush on Friday evening or the eve of festivals.   Mishnah […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Two   Introduction Our mishnah contains another debate between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel about table manners.   Mishnah Two Bet Shammai says:  they wash their hands and then they pour the cup [of wine].   Bet Hillel says: they pour the cup [of wine] and then they wash their hands.   […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Three   Introduction Another debate between the two houses, a debate which again connected to matters of purity and impurity.  The mishnah refers to a towel which was used to dry one’s hands after washing them and to clean them off during eating (they ate with their hands since forks had […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah contains a debate concerning cleaning up after the meal.   Mishnah Four Bet Shammai says: [after the meal] they sweep the floor is and then they wash their hands.,   But Bet Hillel says: they wash their hands and then they sweep the floor.   Explanation According to […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Five   Introduction In this mishnah Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel debate the order of the various blessings recited as part of the Havdalah, the set of blessings that separates Shabbat or a holiday from the day that follows.  The specific situation under discussion is a case where people were eating […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 6

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah teaches some laws concerning the candles and spices.   Mishnah Six 1)      They do not bless over the candles or the spices of non-Jews; 2)      Or over the candles or the spices of the dead;   3)      Or over the candles or the spices of idolatry; 4)      […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 7

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah deals with a person who has forgotten to recite Birkat Hamazon after eating.   Mishnah Seven 1)      One who has eaten and forgotten to bless [Birkat Hamazon]: a)      Bet Shammai says: he must return to the place where he ate and bless. b)      But Bet Hillel […]

Berakhot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 8

Berakhot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Eight   Introduction The final mishnah of our chapter contains one more debate between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel.   Mishnah Eight 1)      If wine comes to them after the food, and there is only that cup: a)      Bet Shammai says: he blesses over the wine and then he blesses over […]

Berakhot, Chapter 9, Mishnah 1

Berakhot, Chapter Nine, Mishnah One   Introduction The final chapter of Berakhot deals with various blessings recited upon different occasions, such as seeing certain things or when certain unusual events happen.   Mishnah One 1)      If one sees a place where miracles have been done for Israel, he says, “Blessed be the One who made […]

Berakhot, Chapter 9, Mishnah 2

Berakhot, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to list various blessings recited upon seeing or hearing things.   Mishnah Two 1)      [On witnessing] comets, earthquakes, thunder, or windy storms one says, “Blessed be He whose strength and might fill the world.” 2)      [On seeing] mountains, hills, seas, rivers or deserts one says, […]

Berakhot, Chapter 9, Mishnah 3

Berakhot, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Three   Mishnah Three 1)      One who has built a new house or bought new vessels says, “Blessed be He who has kept us alive [and preserved us and brought us to this season.]” 2)      One who blesses over the evil as he blesses over the good or over the good […]

Berakhot, Chapter 9, Mishnah 4

Berakhot, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Four   Mishnah Four One who enters into a large city should say two prayers, one on entering and one on leaving. Ben Azzai says: four two on entering and two on leaving, he gives thanks for the past and cries out for the future.   Explanation The following passage in […]

Berakhot, Chapter 9, Mishnah 5

Berakhot, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Five   Introduction The first half of the last mishnah of Berakhot contains halakhot concerning three different subjects.  1) Blessing God for bad things; 2) Proper respect due to the Temple; 3) Decrees the rabbis made concerning blessings said in the Temple and greeting others.   Mishnah Five 1)      One must […]

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