Once the throne is restored to David, prayer in the Holy Temple will be restored as well. This is why the blessing “who hears the prayer of Israel” follows the restoration of David’s throne.
Along with prayer, the Temple service will be restored. We should note that this blessing begins the final part of the Amidah, the section that is recited every day.
The penultimate blessing is “thanksgiving.” This refers to the thanksgiving offer (the Todah) which will be part of the restored sacrificial service.
Next week’s daf will conclude this exciting analysis of the order of the Shemoneh Esreh!
This week’s daf continues where we left off last week, discussing the order of the blessings in the Amidah.
After the blessing over thanksgiving, which itself follows the blessing over sacrificial worship, we recite the blessing of the priests. In some synagogues the priests themselves say these blessings and in others the prayer leader says them. In any case, why at this point in the Amidah?
The verse demonstrates (as the Talmud will now explain) that after having offered the sacrifices, Aaron blessed the people.
The Talmud asks how we know he blessed them after offering the sacrifices. Perhaps he did so first? The answer is found in the verb “from offering.” He didn’t come down to offer the sacrifices. He came down after having already done so.
If Aaron blessed the people right after offering the sacrifices, then why don’t we put the priestly blessing right after the blessing over worship?
The problem with this is the verse we used to show that the thanksgiving blessing follows the worship blessing, “Whoever offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving”—first sacrifice, then thanksgiving.
So now there are two conflicting verses, one which implies that the priestly blessing should follow the blessing over worship, and one that implies that it should follow the thanksgiving blessing. Why do we follow the latter? The answer is that the blessing over worship and thanksgiving are the same thing, for thanksgiving is a form of worship.
Why does Sim Shalom follow the priestly blessing? This is because God says at the end of the priestly blessing that He will now bless Israel. And when God blesses Israel, it is with peace.
We should also note that the priestly blessing itself concludes with a blessing for peace. It obviously makes sense that it should come directly before Sim Shalom.
On 17b there were two opinions as to when the Amidah was established. A baraita ascribed it to Shimon the Pakulite, who lived after the destruction of the Temple, whereas R. Yohanan ascribed it to a body of elders that included prophets, meaning it was during the Second Temple period.
Our Talmud harmonizes these two sources. The elders and prophets originally established the Amidah. Jews forgot the order of the blessings and Shimon the Pakulite put them back into order. We should note that this is a common resolution for such difficulties. I doubt that we can read it as an accurate reflection of historical developments.
Once the Amidah was established, a Jew is not supposed to freely recite the praises of God. He/she is supposed to stick to the formula, not to go “beyond” it. To do so would be arrogant, for only one who could truly list the unending praise of God is fit to even give it a shot.
This question and midrash cut to the heart of the nature of Jewish prayer—it is fixed liturgy, and not a freely formed, spontaneous recitation of God’s praises. Here we learn one reason—fixed prayer contains what would otherwise be of necessity infinite, and therefore in reality impossible. Praising God properly would require infinite time and skill. No human could ever aspire to doing so. Therefore, all human beings are limited to the established formula of the Amidah.
Rabbah b. Bar Hannah reads the verse as if it teaches that if a person tries to say all of the praises of God, the land will swallow him up.
These last two statements praise silence, especially in the face of praising God. I especially like the second one.
The mishnah says that if one reads the megillah “by heart,” not from a book, he has not fulfilled his obligation. The Talmud asks where this is derived from.
Rava derives the obligation to read the Megillah from a book from the use of the root “zakhor” in Esther and its comparison with Exodus. In Exodus the verse clearly means that the words must be written. Therefore, when Esther says, “And these days shall be remembered” it means that they must be read from a written source.
The technique that Rava uses here, taking a word that appears in two contexts and applying the rules in one to the other, is called a “gezera shava.” It is a well-known midrashic technique.
How do we know that one must read the Megillah out loud and not just look at it with one’s eyes? The answer comes from the use of the word “zakhor” in Deuteronomy 25:17. When the verse says, “Do not forget” it already teaches us not to forget with our hearts. So what more do we learn from “zakhor“? That we must say the words out loud.
Today’s section deals with reading the Megillah in a language other than Hebrew.
When the mishnah says that if he reads it in translation he has not fulfilled his obligation, it refers to a case where it was written in translation. If it was written in Hebrew and then he translated while reading, he was reading it by heart, and we already know that this is not valid.
While the Mishnah seems to allow one to read it in any language to those who don’t know Hebrew, Rav and Shmuel limit this to Greek. Below we will see that this opinion is related to Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel’s opinion from the Mishnah who accorded special qualities to the Greek language, placing it one notch below Hebrew, but above all other languages. Assumedly, in his day, Greek was considered the international language, the language that “civilized” people spoke.
As above, the case is one in which the scroll was written in Greek. If it was written in Hebrew, one would not be able to read it in Greek.
This statement is brought here only because it was stated by R. Aha in the name of R. Elazar.
Genesis 33:20 states, “And [Jacob] placed there an altar, and he called it God (El) the God of Israel.” The simple reading of the verse is probably that Jacob called the altar “God, God of Israel.” But this reading is unacceptable to R. Aha, so he rereads the verse as if God jumps in. Jacob sets up the altar, and in return God calls Jacob, “El (God).”
We should note there are a series of midrashim that accord God-like qualities to Jacob, mostly that he and God look exactly alike. This brief midrash may be part of this larger idea.
The Talmud now returns to reading the Megillah in another language. Rav and Shmuel allowed it to be read only in Greek. But a baraita states explicitly that it may not be read in other languages, even to those who speak that language!
The Talmud resolves it by saying that Rav and Shmuel’s statement related to a different baraita that did allow one to read the Megillah in another language to a person who understood that language.
The problem with the above resolution is that Rav and Shmuel allow the Megillah to be read only in Greek, whereas the baraita allows other languages as well.
To resolve this, the Talmud acknowledges that the Mishnah does indeed allow the Megillah to be read in other languages to those who understand that language. Rav and Shmuel were not interpreting the mishnah, as we thought above. They were offering a general rule—the Megillah may be read in Greek to anyone, even to one who does not understand Greek.
The baraita allowed Greek only for the Greeks. According to this opinion, Greek is no different from any other language. But Rav and Shmuel agree with Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel who accords a special status to Greek. The Talmud resolves this by saying that they hold like Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel who accords a special status to Greek. Torah scrolls may only be translated into Greek, not into other languages.
Rav and Shmuel did not just say “The halakhah follows Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel” who allows all scrolls to be written only in Greek (and Hebrew, of course), for had they said that we would not have known that even the Megillah may be written in Greek. The word “according to their writing” might have led us to believe that the Megillah had to be written in Hebrew. Rav and Shmuel inform us that even the Megillah may be written in any language.
This short section deals with the next line of the mishnah.
The mishnah says that even one who cannot understand Hebrew can fulfill one’s obligation by hearing the Megillah in Hebrew.
The Talmud raises a difficulty on this—how can one fulfill one’s obligation without even understanding what he is hearing? What meaning is there to such an act?
There are two answers to this question. The first is basically—that’s just the way it is. In the time of the Talmud it was expected that women would not understand Hebrew (they spoke Aramaic). Similarly, there are uneducated men (amei haaretz) who do not understand Hebrew. Nevertheless, they can fulfill their obligation by hearing the Megillah. That’s just the way it is.
Ravina was bothered by the very question, for he has a different understanding of the mitzvah altogether. There are words in the Megillah that no one understands. He cites some Persian words in the Megillah, borrowed into Hebrew. A Hebrew speaker would not understand these words (although Rashi does interpret them). From the presence of these words, Ravina concludes that in general reading the Megillah is not in order to understand it. It is ritual act that one must “perform” with or without understanding. Its purpose is to “proclaim the miracle” just like the lighting of the Hannukah candles. Therefore, there is no need to actually understand the words.
Today’s section begins by discussing the mishnah’s rule that if one reads the Megillah “with interruptions” he has fulfilled his obligation
The Hebrew word for in “intervals” or “with interruptions” is serugin. This is an unusual word and at first the rabbis themselves didn’t known what it meant. Then they heard the maidservant of Rabbi [Judah Hanasi’s] house using the word and they understood. This story now begins a series of stories of the rabbis learning the meaning of a word by hearing it from Rabbi Judah Hanasi’s maidservant (or an Arab). Perhaps part of the reason these stories are here is to show how knowledgeable all the members of Rabbi’s household were. Even the maidservant knew the meaning of words that the rabbis did not know.
Haluglot are evidently a type of vegetable.
Here (and below) the rabbis do not know the meaning of a word from the Tanakh. They hear the maidservant use the word in conversation with a man, and from here they understand that it means “to look at it, and turn it over.” The verse therefore means that if one looks deeply into the Torah, the Torah will exalt him.
Rabbah b. Bar Hannah learns from an Arab (similar to today’s Beduin) that the word “yehav” in Psalms 55 means “load.”
Here the rabbis learn the word for “broom” and “sweep” from Rabbi’s maidservant. I should conclude by noting that elsewhere this remarkable woman is portrayed as even knowing some halakhot unknown to other rabbis.