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.
One must bless [God] for the evil in the same way as one blesses for the good, as it says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “With all your heart,” with your two impulses, the evil impulse as well as the good impulse. “With all your soul” even though he takes your soul [life] away from you. “With all your might” with all your money. Another explanation, “With all your might” whatever treatment he metes out to you. This section teaches that just as one blesses over the good, so too one must bless over the evil, as we saw in mishnah two above. The mishnah continues with a midrash, an exegesis of the first part of the Shema. The last section of this midrash explains how the rabbis derive the commandment to bless over the evil, just as one blesses over the good. It is because of this line that the entire midrash is brought here in our mishnah. The first line of the midrash is based on the two “bets” in the word “your heart (levav’kha)” The two bets are understood by the rabbis as a hint that one must worship God with both of one’s impulses the good impulse and the evil impulse. The other sections of the midrash should be clear.
One should not show disrespect to the Eastern Gate, because it is in a direct line with the Holy of Holies. One should not enter the Temple Mount with a staff, or with shoes on, or with a wallet, or with dusty feet; nor should one make it a short cut, all the more spitting [is forbidden]. This section teaches various laws concerning acting in a proper manner on the Temple Mount. We should note that according to the Rambam, even though the Bet Hamikdash, the Temple, lies in ruins, one must still act towards it with the same amount of respect that it was accorded when it existed. The Eastern Gate would open in the direction of the Holy of Holies, hence one had to be extra respectful when entering this gate.
All the conclusions of blessings that were in the Temple they would say, “forever [lit. as long as the world is].” When the sectarians perverted their ways and said that there was only one world, they decreed that they should say, “for ever and ever [lit. from the end of the world to the end of the world]. One of the central debates between the Sadducees and the Pharisees was over the concept of the next world, the “olam haba.” This was an important doctrine for the Pharisees, one that the Sadducees denied. In earlier times blessings in the Temple would contain the word, “leolam,” usually translated as “forever” but here understood as “for as long as the world has existed.” The Sadducees used this blessing as evidence that there is only one world. The blessing makes reference to one world and hence there is only one world. Therefore the Pharisees decreed that the blessing should read, “forever and ever (min haolom vead haolam)” which could also be translated as “for this world and for the next world.”
They also decreed that a person should greet his fellow in God’s name, as it says, “And behold Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, ‘May the Lord be with you.’ And they answered him, “May the Lord bless you’” (Ruth 2:. And it also says, “The Lord is with your, you valiant warrior” (Judges 6:12). And it also says, “And do not despise your mother when she grows old” (Proverbs 23:22). And it also says, “It is time to act on behalf of the Lord, for they have violated Your teaching” (Psalms 119:126). Rabbi Natan says: [this means] “They have violated your teaching It is time to act on behalf of the Lord.” The sages also decreed that it was permitted, and even worthy, to greet one’s fellow human being by using the name of God, as did Boaz and the other reapers. Usually decrees are meant to change a prior practice. Here the historical background is slightly unclear. My guess is that earlier generations thought that it was improper to use God’s name in greeting a mere human being. In contrast, according to the sages, since human beings were created in the image of God, there is a little bit of divine in every human being. In a sense then, greeting one’s fellow human being by using God’s name is like greeting God by using God’s name. Hence it is not only permitted, it is encouraged. The final two midrashim are not specifically related to the two decrees mentioned above but are rather general exhortations to heed the decrees of the sages. “And do not despise your mother when she grows old” means that one should learn from the elders and one should learn from what previous generations did. The last midrash is brought because of Rabbi Natan’s interpretation of the verse. Rabbi Natan switches around the order of the verse. When others, such as the Sadducees, have broken God’s laws, it is time to act for the Lord by making decrees. Congratulations! We have finished Berakhot! It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives. Berakhot is perhaps the most religious relevant of all the tractates because its three major topics, the Shema, the Amidah and blessings, are all still practiced today. I hope that learning the roots of these rituals and prayers will enrich your own personal prayer experience, be it at the home or in the synagogue. We have only just begun Seder Zeraim. Tomorrow we begin Tractate Peah.