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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth
Every chapter that was particularly dear to David he commenced with 'Happy' and terminated with 'Happy'.1 He began with 'Happy', as it is written, 'Happy is the man', and he terminated with 'Happy', as it is written, 'happy are all they that take refuge in Him'.2
There were once some highwaymen3 in the neighbourhood of R. Meir who caused him a great deal of trouble. R. Meir accordingly prayed that they should die. His wife Beruria4 said to him: How do you make out [that such a prayer should be permitted]? Because it is written Let hatta'im cease? Is it written hot'im?5 It is written hatta'im!6 Further, look at the end of the verse: and let the wicked men be no more. Since the sins will cease, there will be no more wicked men! Rather pray for them that they should repent, and there will be no more wicked. He did pray for them, and they repented.
A certain Min7 said to Beruria: it is written: Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear.8 Because she did not bear is she to sing? She replied to him: You fool! Look at the end of the verse, where it is written, For the children of the desolate shall be more than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.9 But what then is the meaning of 'a barren that did not bear'? Sing, O community of Israel, who resemblest a barren woman, for not having born children like you for Gehenna.
A certain Min said to R. Abbahu: It is written: A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.10 And it is also written, A mihtam of David when he fled from Saul in the cave.11 Which event happened first? Did not the event of Saul happen first? Then let him write it first? He replied to him: For you who do not derive interpretations from juxtaposition, there is a difficulty, but for us who do derive interpretations from juxtaposition there is no difficulty. For R. Johanan said: How do we know from the Torah that juxtaposition counts? Because it says, They are joined12 for ever and ever, they are done in truth and uprightness.13 Why is the chapter of Absalom juxtaposed to the chapter of Gog and Magog?14 So that if one should say to you, is it possible that a slave should rebel against his master,15 you can reply to him: Is it possible that a son should rebel against his father? Yet this happened; and so this too [will happen].
R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: What is the meaning of the verse, She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue?16 To whom was Solomon alluding in this verse? He was alluding only to his father David who dwelt in five worlds and composed a psalm [for each of them]. He abode in his mother's womb, and broke into song, as it says, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my inwards17 bless His holy name.18 He came out into the open air and looked upon the stars and constellations and broke into song, as it says, Bless the Lord, ye angels of His, ye mighty in strength that fulfil His word, hearkening unto the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all ye His hosts19 etc. He sucked from his mother's bosom and looked on her breasts and broke into song, as it says, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.20 What means 'all His benefits'? — R. Abbahu said: That He placed her breasts at the source of understanding.21 For what reason is this? — Rab Judah said: So that he should not look upon the place of shame; R. Mattena said: So that he should not suck from a place that is foul. He saw the downfall of the wicked and broke into song, as it says, Let sinners cease out of the earth and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul, Hallelujah.22 He looked upon the day of death and broke into song, as it says, Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, Thou art very great, Thou art clothed with glory and majesty.23 How does this verse refer to the day of death? — Rabbah son of R. Shila said: We learn it from the end of the passage, where it is written: Thou hidest Thy face, they vanish, Thou withdrawest their breath, they perish etc.24
R. Shimi b. 'Ukba (others say, Mar 'Ukba) was often in the company of R. Simeon b. Pazzi, who25 used to arrange aggadahs [and recite them] before R. Johanan. He26 said to him: What is the meaning of the verse, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name?27 — He replied: Come and observe how the capacity of human beings falls short of the capacity of the Holy One, blessed be He. It is in the capacity of a human being to draw a figure on a wall, but he cannot invest it with breath and spirit, bowels and intestines. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is not so; He shapes one form in the midst of another, and invests it with breath and spirit, bowels and intestines. And that is what Hannah said: There is none holy as the Lord, for there is none beside Thee, neither is there any zur [rock] like our God.28 What means, neither is there any zur like our God'? There is no artist [zayyar] like our God. What means, 'For there is none beside Thee'? R. Judah b. Menasiah said: Read not, There is none bilteka, but, There is none lebalotheka [to consume Thee]. For the nature of flesh and blood is not like that of the Holy One, blessed be He. It is the nature of flesh and blood to be outlived by its works, but the Holy One, blessed be He, outlives His works. He said to him:29 What I meant to tell you is this: To whom did David refer in these five verses beginning with 'Bless the Lord, O my soul'? He was alluding only to the Holy One, blessed be He, and to the soul. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, so the soul is pure. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, abides in the innermost precincts, so the soul abides in the innermost precincts. Let that which has these five qualities come and praise Him who has these five qualities.
R. Hamnuna said: What is the meaning of the verse, Who is as the wise man? And who knoweth the interpretation [pesher] of a thing?30 Who is like the Holy One, blessed be He, who knew how to effect a reconciliation [pesharah] between two righteous men, Hezekiah and Isaiah? Hezekiah said: Let Isaiah come to me, for so we find that Elijah went to Ahab,31 as it says, And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab.32 Isaiah said: Let Hezekiah come to me, for so we find that Jehoram son of Ahab went to Elisha.33 What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He brought sufferings upon Hezekiah and then said to Isaiah, Go visit the sick. For so it says, In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz, came to him and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live34 etc. What is the meaning of 'thou shalt die and not live'? Thou shalt die in this world and not live in the world to come. He said to him: Why so bad? He replied: Because you did not try to have children. He said: The reason was because I saw by the holy spirit that the children issuing from me would not be virtuous. He said to him: What have you to do with the secrets of the All-Merciful? You should have done what you were commanded, and let the Holy One, blessed be He, do that which pleases Him. He said to him: Then give me now your daughter; perhaps through your merit and mine combined virtuous children will issue from me. He replied:35 The doom has already been decreed. Said the other: Son of Amoz, finish your prophecy and go. This tradition I have from the house of my ancestor:36 Even if a sharp sword rests upon a man's neck he should not desist from prayer.37 This saying is also recorded in the names of R. Johanan and R. Eleazar: Even if a sharp sword rests on a man's neck, he should not desist from prayer, as it says, Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.38
[Similarly] R. Hanan said: Even if the master of dreams1 says to a man that on the morrow he will die, he should not desist from prayer, for so it says, For in the multitude of dreams are vanities and also many words, but fear thou God.2 Thereupon straightway, Hezekiah turned his face to the kir [wall] and prayed unto the Lord.3 What is the meaning of 'kir'? — R. Simeon b. Lakish said: [He prayed] from the innermost cham bers [kiroth] of his heart, as it says, My bowels, my bowels, I writhe in pain! Kiroth [The chambers] of my heart etc.4 R. Levi said: [He prayed] with reference to [another] 'kir'. He said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe! The Shunammite woman made only one little chamber [on the roof] and Thou didst restore her son to life.5 How much more so then me whose ancestor6 overlaid the Temple with silver and gold! Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a whole heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight.7 What means, 'I have done that which is good in Thy sight'? — Rab Judah says in the name of Rab: He joined the ge'ullah with the tefillah.8 R. Levi said: He hid away the Book of Cures.9
Our Rabbis taught:10 King Hezekiah did six things; of three of them they [the Rabbis] approved and of three they did not approve. Of three they approved: he hid away the Book of Cures; and they approved of it; he broke into pieces the brazen serpent,11 and they approved of it; and he dragged the bones of his father [to the grave] on a bed of ropes,12 and they approved of it.13 Of three they did not approve: He stopped up the waters of Gihon,14 and they did not approve of it; he cut off [the gold] from the doors of the Temple and sent it to the King of Assyria,15 and they did not approve of it; and he intercalated the month of Nisan during Nisan,16 and they did not approve of it. But did not Hezekiah accept the teaching: This month shall be unto you the beginning of months:17 [this means] that this is Nisan and no other month shall be Nisan?18 — He went wrong over the teaching enunciated by Samuel. For Samuel said: The year must not be declared a prolonged year on the thirtieth of Adar, since this day may possibly belong to Nisan;19 and he thought: We do not pay heed to this possibility.20
R. Johanan said in the name of R. Jose b. Zimra: If a man makes his petition depend on his own merit, heaven makes it depend on the merit of others; and if he makes it depend on the merit of others, heaven makes it depend on his own merit. Moses made his petition depend on the merit of others, as it says, Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel Thy servants!21 and Scripture made it depend on his own merit, as it says, Therefore He said that He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen stood before Him in the breach to turn back His wrath, lest He should destroy them.22 Hezekiah made his petition depend on his own merit, as it is written: Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee,23 and God made it depend on the merit of others, as it says, For I will defend this city to save it, for Mine own sake and for My servant David's sake.24 And this agrees with R. Joshua b. Levi. For R. Joshua b. Levi said: What is the meaning of the verse, Behold for my peace I had great bitterness?25 Even when the Holy One, blessed be He, sent him [the message of] peace it was bitter for him.26
Let us make, I pray thee, a little chamber on the roof.27 Rab and Samuel differ.28 One says: It was an open upper chamber, and they put a roof on it. The other says: It was a large verandah, and they divided it into two.29 For him who says that it was a verandah, there is a good reason why the text says kir [wall]. But how does he who says that it was an upper chamber account for the word kir? — [It is used] because they put a roof on it [kiruah]. For him who says it was an upper chamber there is a good reason why the text uses the word 'aliyath [upper chamber]. But how does he who says it was a verandah account for the word 'aliyath? — It was the best [me'ulla]30 of the rooms.
And let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool and a candlestick.31 Abaye (or as some say, R. Isaac) said: If one wants to benefit from the hospitality of another, he may benefit, as Elisha did;32 and if he does not desire to benefit, he may refuse to do so, as Samuel the Ramathite did,33 of whom we read, And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house;34 and R. Johanan said: [This teaches that] wherever he travelled, his house was with him.35
And she said unto her husband: Behold now, I perceive that he is a holy man of God.36 R. Jose b. Hanina said: You learn from this that a woman recognizes the character of a guest better than a man. 'A holy man'. How did she know this? — Rab and Samuel gave different answers. One said: Because she never saw a fly pass by his table. The other said: She spread a sheet of linen over his bed, and she never saw a nocturnal pollution on it. He is a holy [man]. R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: He is holy, but his attendant is not holy. For so it says: And Gehazi came near to thrust her away;37 R. Jose son of Hanina said: He seized her by the breast.38
That passeth by us continually.39 R. Jose son of R. Hanina said in the name of R. Eliezer b. Jacob: If a man entertains a scholar in his house and lets him enjoy his possessions, Scripture accounts it to him as if he had sacrificed the daily burnt-offering.40
R. Jose son of Hanina further said in the name of R. Eliezer b. Jacob: A man should not stand on a high place when he prays, but he should pray in a lowly place, as it says; Out of the depths have I called Thee, O Lord.41 It has been taught to the same effect: A man should not stand on a chair or on a footstool or on a high place to pray, but he should pray in a lowly place, since there is no elevation before God, and so it says, 'Out of the depths have I called Thee, O Lord', and it also says, A prayer of the afflicted, when he fainteth.42
R. Jose son of R. Hanina also said in the name of R. Eliezer b. Jacob: What is the meaning of the verse, Ye shall not eat with the blood?45 Do not eat before ye have prayed for your blood.46 R. Isaac said in the name of R. Johanan, who had it from R. Jose son of R. Hanina in the name of R. Eliezer b. Jacob: If one eats and drinks and then says his prayers, of him the Scripture says, And hast cast Me behind thy back.47 Read not gaweka [thy back], but geeka [thy pride]. Says the Holy One, blessed be He: After48 this one has exalted himself, he comes and accepts the kingdom of heaven!49
R. JOSHUA SAYS: UNTIL THE THIRD HOUR. Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: The halachah is as stated by R. Joshua.
HE WHO RECITES THE SHEMA' LATER LOSES NOTHING. R. Hisda said in the name of Mar 'Ukba: Provided he does not say the benediction of 'Who formest the light'.50 An objection was raised from the statement: He who recites the Shema' later loses nothing; he is like one reading in the Torah, but he says two blessings before it and one after. Is not this a refutation of R. Hisda? It is [indeed] a refutation. Some there are who say: R. Hisda said in the name of Mar 'Ukba: What is the meaning of HE LOSES NOTHING? He does not lose the benedictions. It has been taught to the same effect: He who says the Shema' later loses nothing, being like one who reads from the Torah, but he says two blessings before and one after.
R. Mani said: He who recites the Shema' in its proper time is greater than he who studies the Torah.51 For since it says, HE WHO SAYS LATER LOSES NOTHING, BEING LIKE A MAN WHO READS IN THE TORAH, we may conclude that one who recites the Shema' at its proper time is superior.
MISHNAH. BETH SHAMMAI SAY: IN THE EVENING EVERY MAN SHOULD RECLINE AND RECITE [THE SHEMA'], AND IN THE MORNING HE SHOULD STAND, AS IT SAYS, AND WHEN THOU LIEST DOWN AND WHEN THOU RISEST UP.52 BETH HILLEL, HOWEVER, SAY THAT EVERY MAN SHOULD RECITE IN HIS OWN WAY, AS IT SAYS, AND WHEN THOU WALKEST BY THE WAY.53 WHY THEN IS IT SAID, AND WHEN THOU LIEST DOWN AND WHEN THOU RISEST UP? [THIS MEANS], AT THE TIME WHEN PEOPLE LIE DOWN AND AT THE TIME WHEN PEOPLE RISE UP. R. TARFON SAID: I WAS ONCE WALKING BY THE WAY AND I RECLINED TO RECITE THE SHEMA' IN THE MANNER PRESCRIBED BY BETH SHAMMAI, AND I INCURRED DANGER FROM ROBBERS. THEY SAID TO HIM: YOU DESERVED TO COME TO HARM, BECAUSE YOU ACTED AGAINST THE OPINION OF BETH HILLEL.
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