The Coming Week's Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
Berakhot 44a-b - The Valley of Genosar
The Mishnah on today's daf (=page) teaches a basic principle regarding blessings over food: in a case where primary and secondary foods are eaten together, the blessing on the primary food exempts the secondary from a blessing. Somewhat surprisingly, according to the Mishnah, even bread, the most significant food as far as blessings are concerned, can be considered secondary to another food.
In searching for a case where bread would be considered secondary, the Gemara brings the following:
Rav Aĥa, son of Rav Avira, said that Rav Ashi said: This halakhah was taught with regard to those who eat fruits of Genosar, which are extremely sweet and which would be eaten along with salted foods in order to temper this sweetness. They would eat bread along with those salted foods, which was therefore considered secondary.
This teaching led the Gemara to wax hyperbolic about the qualities of the fruits of Genosar:
Rabbi Abbahu ate fruits of Genosar until the sweet, lush fruits made his skin so slippery that a fly would slip from his forehead. And Rav Ami and Rav Asi would eat them until their hair fell out. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish would eat them until he became confused. And then Rabbi Yoĥanan would tell the household of the Nasiabout his condition and Rabbi Yehuda Nesia would send the authorities after him and they would take him to his house.
Genosar is the name of a beautiful valley that stretches along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, north of Tiberius. Josephus describes the area as follows: “Its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty; its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper
of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts, which require the coldest air, flourish there in vast plenty; there are palm trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate. It supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually during ten months of the year and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most fertile fountain”
(Wars of the Jews, Book III, 10:8).
Berakhot 45a-b - Grace after Meals
After the blessings of enjoyment were discussed in the previous perek (=chapter), the seventh perek of Massekhet Berakhot, which begins on today's daf (=page) is devoted to the blessing recited after the meal - Birkat HaMazon - Grace after Meals. This blessing is unique and more significant than the blessings of enjoyment, as it is a mitzvah by Torah law. Its component parts are also longer and more numerous than the formula of the blessings of enjoyment, and its halakhotare also numerous. Therefore, an entire chapter was devoted to it.
Although there was also a discussion of Grace after Meals in the previous chapter, there it dealt with the question: "What are the foods that obligate one to recite Grace after Meals?" This chapter deals primarily with the prayer aspect of Grace after Meals. It also deals with the practical ramifications of the principle, which was accorded the authority of halakhah, that blessings should not be recited over items that have been corrupted from a moral standpoint. The verse: “The covetous one who recites a blessing has blasphemed the Lord” (Tehillim 10:3, according to the interpretation of one of the Sages), alludes to that fact and it is clear that reciting a blessing over any food whose consumption is prohibited is not a mitzvah but quite the contrary. It is necessary to determine with regard to which food items these prohibitions apply.
Grace after Meals is fundamentally a blessing over the meal, as it is stated: “You will eat, and be satisfied, and bless the Lord” (Devarim 8:10). As one often dines in the company of others, the Gemara deals with various questions with regard to the procedure through which people dining may unite by means of the blessing of zimmun. The zimmun is a special blessing recited when several individuals happen to dine together. The opening Mishnah of the perek discusses who is obligated in zimmun, what food creates such an obligation and how much must be eaten. These topics will be examined throughout the perek.
Berakhot 46a-b - The fourth blessing in Grace after Meals
There are four blessings that make up Birkat HaMazon - Grace after Meals. The first three are generally viewed as of Biblical origin, but according to some, the fourth is a separate, Rabbinic blessing.
Rav Yitzĥak bar Shmuel bar Marta said another proof in the name of Rav: Know that the fourth blessing - HaTov veHaMetiv - "Who is good and does good," is not required by Torah law, as one who recites it begins to recite it with: Blessed, but does not conclude reciting it with: Blessed. This is the formula in all comparable blessings, as it was taught in a baraita: All blessings, one begins to recite them with: Blessed, and concludes reciting them with: Blessed, except for blessings over fruit, blessings over mitzvot, a blessing that is juxtaposed to another blessing, and the final blessing after Shema. There are among these blessings those that one who recites it begins to recite it with: Blessed, but does not conclude reciting it with: Blessed; and there are among these blessings that one who recites it concludes reciting it with: Blessed, but does not begin reciting it with: Blessed. The blessing: "Who is good and does good," one who recites it begins to recite it with: Blessed, but does not conclude reciting it with: Blessed. This proves by inference that it is an independent blessing.
Generally speaking, the blessings recited over food or before performance of a mitzvah are short blessings with a single theme. They contain neither pleas nor requests. As such, it is sufficient to open with: Blessed. More lengthy, complex blessings, e.g., Kiddush on Shabbat, which must include praise of God’s creation, or the blessings prior to reciting Shema, which include a petition on behalf of the Jewish people, must both open and close with words of praise to the Almighty. When a blessing that is juxtaposed to another blessing, however, creating a series of blessings that follow one another, e.g., the eighteen blessings of the Amida prayer and the blessings of Grace after Meals, the first blessing opens with "Blessed," while the subsequent blessings do not. That is either because the opening of the first blessing in the series is considered as providing an opening for all of the blessings in the series (Rashi; Rashbam Pesaĥim104b) or because the closing "Blessed" of the previous blessing serves as an opening for the blessing that follows (Tosafot).
Berakhot 47a-b - Exclusions from participation in a Grace after Meals group
While discussing the inclusion of a Samaritan in a zimmun - a group of three joining together when reciting Grace after Meals - the Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that an am ha’aretz may not be included in a zimmun.
The term am ha’aretz - literally, people of the land - already appears in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as a term reserved for gentiles, not Jews. At a later stage, am ha’aretz became a derogatory epithet for a Jew who acts like a gentile. Fundamentally, an am ha’aretz is not just one ignorant of Torah, who might be called an ignoramus or fool [boor], but one who actually behaves in a non-Jewish manner. It is clear from the continuation of the baraita that am ha’aretz is not a clearly defined concept. There are many opinions with regard to characterizing an am ha’aretz. They range from the opinion that the term refers to one who does not serve Torah scholars and learn from them to the opinion that the term refers to one with no Torah, no Mishnah and no manners. According to the first opinion, many learned people are included in this category. According to the second opinion, an am ha’aretz is the basest of individuals to whom the most derogatory epithets are generally applied. The common application of the term is to one devoid of spirituality, with no profession or occupation, no education, and no connection to Torah and mitzvot.
In the talmudic era, and even more so in later times, the situation changed in two respects. First, while there remained many who were uneducated, the am ha’aretz in its most extreme form disappeared, as even simple Jews upheld Torah and mitzvot to the best of their ability. Secondly, to avoid causing rifts among the nation in exile and in their wanderings, the halakhotrestricting inclusion of most types of am ha’aretz were repealed.
Nowadays, even a full-fledged am ha’aretz may be included in a zimmun so as not to cause divisiveness within the Jewish people (Tosafot). Only one who has excluded himself from the community of Israel may not be included in a zimmun (Magen Avraham; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 199:3).
Berakhot 48a-b - The origins of the blessings of Grace after Meals
As we have learned (see above, daf, or page 46), Grace after Meals consists of four blessings, the first three of which are of Biblical origin, based on the passage in Sefer Devarim(8:10), while the fourth blessing is either derived from that same verse, or else it is a later, Rabbinic, addition. The baraita that is the source for this teaching appears on today's daf.
At the same time, today's daf also contains the following teaching, in which Rav Naĥman credits the origins of the four blessings of Grace after Meals to various Biblical characters, including those who lived after the Torah was given.
Moses instituted for Israel the first blessing of: Who feeds all, when the manna descended for them and they needed to thank God.
Joshua instituted the blessing of the land when they entered Eretz Yisrael.
David and Solomon instituted the third blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, in the following manner: David instituted “…on Israel Your people and on Jerusalem Your city…” as he conquered the city, and Solomon instituted “…on the great and Holy Temple…” as he was the one who built the Temple.
They instituted the blessing: Who is good and does good, at Yavne in reference to the slain Jews of the city of Beitar at the culmination of the bar Kokheva rebellion. They were ultimately brought to burial after a period during which Hadrian refused to permit their burial.
The Rashba points out that if the first three blessings are obligatory by Torah law, how is it that they were not recited until the days of David and Solomon? He explains that the basis and fundamental essence of the blessings are alluded to in the Torah, but the formulae of the blessings were instituted over time by those Jewish luminaries, and changed according to the needs of the times. It is clear, for example, that the blessing that we say "Build up Jerusalem, the holy city, speedily in our time" is a changed blessing that could not possibly have been recited in King Solomon's time.
Berakhot 49a-b - Discussing covenant, Torah and sovereignty
Certain concepts are essential to Grace after Meals, and if they are not mentioned, the recitation is invalid. Among the concepts mentioned are covenant, Torah and sovereignty. The Gemara relates that not all of the Sages were in agreement regarding this requirement. Rav Hisda is quoted as telling Rabbi Zeira that he did not feel confident that he knew the laws of Grace after Meals. He explained this by means of the following story:
I happened to come to the house of the Exilarch and recited Grace after Meals, and Rav Sheshet stiffened his neck over me like a snake, i.e., he got angry and challenged me. Rabbi Zeira asked: And why did Rav Sheshet become angry with you? He answered: I did not mention covenant, Torah, or sovereignty in Grace after Meals.
Rabbi Zeira wondered: And why did you not mention those themes? He answered that he did so in accordance with the opinion that Rav Ĥananel said that Rav said: If one does not mention covenant, Torah or sovereignty in Grace after Meals, he nevertheless fulfilled his obligation because these themes are not applicable to all of Israel. Covenant does not apply to women; Torah and sovereignty apply neither to women nor to slaves.
Rabbi Zeira said to him: Rav Sheshet should have been angry with you. And you abandoned all of these tanna’im and amora’im who disagree with him, and followed Rav? Evidently, many tanna’im and amora’im hold that covenant, Torah, and sovereignty must be mentioned in the second blessing of Grace after Meals.
Many questioned why Rav Ĥisda recited Grace after Meals without mentioning covenant, Torah, and sovereignty, contrary to the virtually unanimous opinion of the Sages. Even if Rav Ĥananel permitted this after the fact, he did not prescribe to do so ab initio.
Some explain that Rav Ĥisda inadvertently neglected to mention covenant, Torah, and sovereignty. Once he did so, he did not return to mention it (Penei Yehoshua). Others explain that there were women and slaves reclining at that table, and he sought to recite a formula appropriate for all present (Tziyyun LeNefesh Ĥayya). Alternatively, he held that because women and slaves do not mention covenant and sovereignty, men should not mention them either to ensure a universally uniform formula for Grace after Meals (Rashba).
Berakhot 50a-b - Proper use and care of food
The Gemara on today's daf (=page) discusses using food for different purposes. For example -
The Sages taught: Four things were said with regard to bread: One may not place raw meat on bread so the blood will not drip onto the bread and render it inedible; and one may not pass a full cup of wine over bread lest the wine drip on it and ruin the bread; and one may not throw bread; and one may not prop up a dish with a piece of bread.
This ruling notwithstanding, the Gemara recounts how Mar Zutra once tossed fruit to his colleagues, who expressed surprise at the lack of respect that he showed for the food. In the discussion that followed, two contradictory baraitot were quoted. One taught:
Just as one may not throw bread, so too one may not throw other foods?
The other taught:
Although one may not throw bread, he may throw other foods?
Ultimately the Gemara differentiates between food that becomes disgusting when thrown, where all throwing is forbidden, and food that will not become disgusting, where only bread may not be thrown.
The Rosh explains that one may not throw bread at all, not because it becomes disgusting, but in deference to its uniqueness, as throwing bread is always considered disrespectful whether or not it spoils (Beit Yosef ). The reason that it is prohibited to treat food with contempt is because it is tantamount to denying the beneficence of God, Who provides one with food (HaBoneh).
The Gemara extends the discussion of food becoming disgusting to other areas of halakhah, as well. With regard to blessings on food, for example, if one put food or drink into his mouth without reciting a blessing and is able to remove the food without it becoming disgusting, he should do so and recite a blessing. If not, he should move the food to the side of his mouth and recite the blessing. Liquids may be
swallowed (Rambam Sefer Ahava, Hilkhot Berakhot 8:12; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 172:1–2).
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz's groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.