How does Rabbi use the word “Hear” that the Sages use to prove that the Shema can be recited in any language? He uses it to prove that one must hear oneself recite the Shema. It cannot be silent.
The Sages, however, do not agree. Once can recite the Shema silently.
The other Sages must now account for Rabbi’s midrash on “and they shall be.” They use this word to teach that the Shema must be read in order.
Rabbi agrees that the Shema must be read in order, but he needs a midrash to derive this law. He finds it in the extra letter “heh” in front of “words.” The Torah could have just said, “And the words shall be…” The extra “the (or these)” comes to teach that they must be recited in their proper order.
The Sages do not make a midrash out of the extra “heh”. They derive the halakhah concerning the order from “And they shall be.”
Rabbi uses a special midrash to teach that the Shema must be recited in Hebrew. The need for this midrash seems to imply that the rest of the Torah can be recited in any language.
The Talmud rejects this. Rabbi needed a special midrash about the Shema lest one use the word “hear” to prove that it could be recited in any language. To combat the sages’ midrash he needed to emphasize that even the Shema needs to be recited in Hebrew.
This section is the mirror of the previous one. We might have thought that the Sages held that only the Shema can be recited in any language. The rest of the Torah would have to be in Hebrew. This is then rejected. They needed a special midrash to teach that the Shema could be in any language, for without it we would have thought that even the Shema needs to be recited in Hebrew, due to Rabbi’s midrash on “and they shall be.”
In the end, Rabbi and the other Sages dispute not only about the Shema, but about everything in the Torah. Rabbi holds that everything must be recited in Hebrew, and the “Sages” hold that all passages may be recited in any language.
Today’s section begins to deal with the Amidah, called by the rabbis “tefillah.” This well-known prayer consists of 18 (actually 19) blessings that must be recited in the correct order. Our section asks how we know this, and then proceeds to explain why those who created the Amidah, arranged it in such an order.
Both of these sources attribute the creation of the Amidah to various characters in Jewish history. However, they attribute it to different periods. The first source says that the order was established by Shimon Hapakuli in front of Rabban Gamaliel, the patriarch after the destruction of the Second Temple. The second tradition says it was established by 120 elders, a group that included prophets. Elsewhere this group is called “The Men of the Great Assembly.” The Talmud will later deal with the contradiction between these two sources.
In any case, what is most important is that when they created it, they gave it a specific order. One who changes that order has not fulfilled his duty. The Talmud below will explain the order.
This section is a basically a midrash on Psalms 29 and the order of praises of God. First we praise God for “the sons of might” which is interpreted as the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the first blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh, which ends “magen Avraham.” Next we praise God for “mighty deeds.” This ends with “mehayeh metim,” the resuscitation of the dead, the mightiest deed of all. The third blessing is “kedushah,” which is God’s sanctification.
Following “kedushah”—sanctification, we say “understanding” which ends, “who grants wisdom to people. This follows the order of the verses in Isaiah—first sanctification, and then understanding. We should also note that “understanding” is the first of the “requests” in the Amidah. These are the sections said only as part of the weekday Amidah. They are not said on Shabbat or holidays.
The blessing after “understanding” is repentance. This follows the order of Isaiah 6:10. It also implies that once a person understands his sins, he will repent. Makes sense.
The problem is that the verse mentions healing immediately after repentance. So why doesn’t the blessing over healing follow the blessing over repentance?
This is because there is another verse that implies that forgiveness follows repentance. This is indeed the order of the blessings.
The problem is that we now have one verse that implies that healing should follow repentance, whereas another verse implies that forgiveness should. So which is it? The answer comes from a third verse. This verse implies that forgiveness should come before healing and redemption, which are later blessings.
So now the Talmud returns to the earlier verse that implies that healing follows repentance. What do we do with that verse? That verse, the Talmud answers, refers not to physical healing, but the emotional and spiritual healing of forgiveness.
I think this is a very prescient piece of Talmud. There indeed are different kinds of healing—physical and spiritual/emotional. Human beings need both.
The blessing for redemption “goel Yisrael” is the seventh. This, according to Rava, accords with the idea that Israel will be redeemed in the seventh year after the coming of the Messiah. This idea is more spelled out in Sanhedrin 97a, which describes the events over the course of a seven year cycle that follow the arrival of the Messiah.
The problem is that according to that source, the “son of David”—the Messiah—will come only at the end of seven years, which is really the eighth year. The beginning of that year will be a time of great wars.
The answer is that these wars will be the beginning of redemption. In another words, the redemptive process, at least according to this text, is also accompanied by violence.
This section continues to discuss the order of the blessings of the Amidah.
The eighth blessing is healing. This alludes to another “eighth” in Judaism—circumcision, done on the 8th day. Circumcision requires healing so that is why healing is the eighth blessing.
The ninth blessing is over the blessing over the years, specifically that the produce should be plentiful. This, according to R. Alexandri, was directed against those who raise the price of produce. In Psalms, David asks God to “break the arms of the wicked” interpreted here to refer to those who raise prices beyond fair market value [I will not go into the issue of economic policy here, but it does bring up some interesting questions]. According to the Talmud, this was part of the ninth Psalm. The problem is that in our Tanakh it is the tenth Psalm. To complicate matters, Rashi thinks it’s the eighth Psalm. It seems that there was some disagreement in the period over how to break up the Psalms into individual chapters. All I think we can say for certain is that in the eyes of this Talmud, this verse comes in the ninth Psalm.
The verse from Ezekiel first mentions agricultural growth, the topic of the previous blessing, and then the gathering of the exiles. This is why the blessing “who gathers the exiles of Israel” follows the blessing over the years.
Once all of the exiles have been returned to Israel, God will make judgment with the wicked of Israel. This is referred to in Isaiah 1:25. The verse that follows shows that after God has made heavenly judgment with the wicked, he will establish judges like those who ruled Israel in days of yore. This is why the blessing over God’s judgment follows the blessing over the gathering of the exiles.
Once God has visited judgment on the wicked, there will be no more “apostates” or “presumptuous sinners.” These are both groups of people who deny God, either through their beliefs or through their actions. This blessing was not part of the original 18, and it is why there are today 19 blessings. It was, according to legend, added during Rabban Gamaliel’s time to combat the increasing fissures in Jewish unity after the destruction of the Temple. It remained a source of some controversy and was eventually emended due to pressure from various Christian censors throughout the ages.
The Talmud now proceeds to read the future into the order of the blessings of the Amidah. Once apostates and presumptuous sinners have been removed, the righteous will be lifted up. The Talmud goes out of its way to note that this includes “righteous converts” those Gentiles who joined Judaism out of love of Torah and God. The fact that Leviticus juxtaposes the honor of the elderly and wise with a conjunction to love the convert, means that both should be included in the blessing. It is also a strong statement as to the value of the convert in Judaism.
The exaltation of the righteous will ultimately take place in Jerusalem. This is why the blessing over Jerusalem follows.
Once Israel has returned to Jerusalem, the royal line of David will be restored to kingship. This is why the blessing over David’s house follows the blessing over Jerusalem.