Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Brachos 16-22

Brachos 16: Azei Ponim
It was a fairly open-minded shul, but this was too much. Instead of davening the regular nusach of the shul, the man who took the amud had the chutzpah to loudly begin a variant nusach. The entire shul felt that something ought to be done, but what? Even the loudest hints were blatantly ignored and the idea of physically evicting the chazzan was obviously distasteful. 

When the gabbai heard the man at the amud use a different nusach for Kaddish, he was incensed. He quickly got a bottle of bleach and poured a generous amount on the chazzan’s back, soaking his clothes. It was a cold winter day and the chazzan rushed home to change his clothes. Naturally, whatever was touched by the bleach was completely ruined.

When the chazzan took the gabbai to bais din, the latter claimed that he was innocent. “This man provoked me actively. Why should I have to pay for the results? I am exactly like a person with whom someone instigates an altercation. Just like one who acts in self-defense in that situation need not pay for shaming him, I, too, should be free of any obligation to pay him for his loss!”

When this question reached the Ateres Moshe zt”l, he rejected this claim. “Although your quote from Choshen Mishpat is correct, it only discusses paying for embarrassing another, not one who damaged his friend’s property.[1] You definitely must pay for the damaged clothes, like any other mazik.

“In addition, your entire congregation should work on having especial kavanah while saying the tefillah that Hashem save us from azei ponim, people who act brazenly. This prayer, which comes from Brachos 16 and is said immediately after gomel chassodim tovim le’amo Yisroel, will protect your kehillah from a recurrence of such a shameful event!”[2]


Brachos 17:  The Rewards of Womanhood

On today’s daf, we find a well-known statement that is prone to misunderstanding: “How do women merit [Olam Haba]? They bring their children to learn and send their husbands to learn despite their need to wait for them to return.”

Yet women have many mitzvos of their own: virtually all prohibitions along with many positive commandments. Although they are not obligated in most time-bound mitzvos, surely what they are obligated to do is enough to earn them a significant portion in Olam Haba. Why is this fact omitted here?

This question is raised by the Pnei Yehoshua, whose incisive answer suffices as always. “This statement must be taken in context with what the Gemara had brought before. Earlier we found another statement which was also part of what Rav would often say: Hashem made a greater promise to women than to men. After citing the verse which proves this, Rav wonders how it can be. After all, we know that there are three hundred and sixty-five prohibitions corresponding to the three hundred and sixty-five sinews, and two hundred and forty-eight positive commandments corresponding to the limbs and organs. Although no one can do every mitzvah – only a kohein can fulfill the mitzvah to recite Birchas Kohanim and all of his other duties and obligations – a man can fulfill whatever mitzvos he misses through Torah study of the subject. Since he is obligated to learn, he completes himself through Torah study, which is keneged kulam.[3] Rav wondered how a woman, who is not obligated to learn Torah, can come to such a level of completion that she reaches higher than a man who is obligated in many more commandments, including learning Torah. Rav Chiya explains that women complete themselves through the merit of their children’s and husband’s learning, which belongs to them as well.”[4]


Brachos 18: The Active Imagination

TheGemara heretells us of a pious man who gave charity to a poor person on Erev Rosh Hashanah during a year of famine. When his wife got upset at him for his ill-considered generosity, he spent the night in the cemetery. Rav Itzeleh Ponovezher zt”l wondered about this aggadeta. “Why would someone in his right mind spend the night of Rosh Hashanah in the cemetery?”

He quotes an answer provided by Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l. “When the chossid felt angry, he spent the night in the cemetery to really grasp the finite nature of life in this world.”[5]

The Alter of Kelm zt”l saw a deeper dimension in this seemingly simple lesson. “The baalei mussar explained that it is not enough to merely yearn to be better. One must bring himself closer to the desired goal through actions that will help him make his avodas hamiddos real to him. He has to really feel what he knows to be true. 

“My dear friends! I heard this many times from Rav Yisroel’s own lips, always retold with enthusiasm, but I really didn’t understand what was so exciting about this apparently simple concept. Boruch Hashem, I now understand the novel aspect of this deceptively simple vort. Only a great baal mussar like him could say such a thing, because he truly did harness the force of his imagination to aid his work to improve his character.

“In truth, the concept of using the imagination is not novel. For example, in Kohelles we find that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of rejoicing. Why? Because going to a house of mourning brings home to us in a visceral way that we have a limited life span.

“Just like everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, the same is true when it comes to avodas hamiddos. Picturing the foolishness of anger due to our short life span causes all resentments to disintegrate.”[6]


Brachos 19: Always Aware

Rav Yeruchum Levovitz zt”l explained a statement from this daf with a parable. “House sparrows have an excellent reflex to protect them from their enemies. These birds always move their flexible necks, scouting out all directions for a predator that may be stalking them. In yeshiva, we would characterize them as ‘ge’onei hage’onim’ in this special skill of self-preservation. Without this talent, they would not have a chance of survival, since, often, for them, life or death depends on split-second reactions. A second too late means they are caught, so Hashem made this instinctive ‘backward glance’ a part of their natures.

“Many are unaware that human beings have a similar problem and a similar mechanism that enables us to escape the dangers that stalk us. We have the power whenever we wish to begin to look around and make sure that we are not caught by the evil and negativity that is always waiting to snag us. This talent is the power to do teshuvah. When the power to do teshuvah is healthy in a person, he is able to do teshuvah at will, without pausing for an instant. If a person is healthy, he will not be caught, and if he has fallen, teshuvah will enable him to escape.

This is why we find on this daf that if one sees a talmid chochom sin at night, he should not even suspect him the next day, since he surely did teshuvah immediately. As Rabbeinu Yonah writes in his introduction to Shaarei Teshuvah, only the ignorant wait before doing teshuvah. One who is spiritually healthy will surely not wait to repent. He will immediately admit his sin and return!”[7]


Brachos 20: “Gut Gelernt Pshat!”

Rav Binyomin Shikovitsky zt”l gave a fiery drasha about the importance of promoting awareness of the seriousness of those sins that people tend to overlook. “It is interesting that on this daf we find that when Rav Ada bar Ahavah saw a woman he believed to be Jewish wearing a karbalta, which is aforbidden garment, he ripped it off her. Although some say that this was a red garment which was not fitting for Jewish women, others explain that she was wearing a garment which was known to be shatnez.

“Rav Ada bar Ahavah was willing to take a chance that he would pay four hundred zuz damages for embarrassing a non-Jewess, since doing so served his purpose as well. He wanted to awaken awareness to the seriousness of shatnez among Jews in his time, since they needed chizuk in this area. By making such a big deal about this, people would see that it was indeed a serious prohibition and be more careful.”

When the Chazon Ish zt”l heard this explanation, he praised it. “Gut gelernt p’shat! (He learned it well!)”[8]                                                                                                                                  

Brachos 21: Torah and Tefillah

It is well known that the original chassidim focused more on tefillah and avodah, and the misnagdim tended to spend most of their energies on Torah. But as chassidus developed, this began to change; a number of chassidic groups turned more and more of their focus to Torah study.

When Rav Yaakov of Sadigura zt”l was once with his illustrious father-in-law, Rav Aharon of Karlin zt”l, they disagreed about this very matter. Rav Yaakov asserted, “One proof that Torah is more important than tefillah can be seen in the fact that prayer has set times, while one is obligated to learn at all times.”

Rav Aharon disagreed. “But don’t we find in Brachos 21, ‘If only man would pray all day?’ Clearly, prayer is more important, since the Gemara explicitly says that it would be best if one was able to daven the whole day long.”

Rav Yaakov sidestepped this proof adroitly, however. “That is no proof,” he said. “The Gemara is merely expressing the great importance of prayer by saying that it would be wonderful if the entire day was the time to pray. But since the fact is that the entire day is the time for Torah, not tefillah, clearly Torah is more important!”[9]


Brachos 22: Learning the Torah of Sinai

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l explained how one who is aware strengthens his emunah every single day. “One who looks in depth will realize that working on emunah surrounds every aspect of the life of a Torah observant Jew. The entire Torah and all the mitzvos – our entire lives in this material world – are composed of opportunities to build our emunah. It is only because we live by rote that we no longer notice this obvious truth. But one who works on his emunah approaches every mitzvah focused on his emunah. Every single amein, every bracha, every mitzvah and every daf ofGemara binds him stronger and stronger to emunah.

“How can one strengthen his emunah when learning Torah? The Ramban tells us that learning Torah and learning the emunah of Torah are synonymous. Every halacha has a basis. Sometimes it is a verse or a halacha leMoshe miSinai. And of course we have many enactments of the sages that emerged from a profound feeling of awe for the word of Hashem. As the Gemara in Brachos 22 tells us, we should learn Torah like it was given on Har Sinai: with fear and trembling. We should really feel the verse, ‘Are not all of My words like fire? says Hashem.’ This is how Torah should be learned.

“When Rav Yisroel would learn the first Mishnah in Maseches Bava Metzia, he would live it as the words of Hashem. He would say, ‘If two people are holding a tallis, and each claims to have found the entire garment first, the Creator of the world says that they should split the tallis.’

“Everyone who learns Hashem’s Torah learns emunah by default. But if one approaches learning with an awareness of what he is doing and with a conscious effort to strengthen his emunah, he will acquire twice as much emunah as one who learns well but does not think about its relationship to his faith.”[10]


[1]See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 420:38.

[2]Shu”t Ateres Moshe 1:3.

[3]See Shaarei Kedushah, Part 1, Shaar 1; Shemen Sasson, as brought in Eved HamelechBereishis, p. 26b-27.

[4]Pnei Yehoshua, Brachos 17

[5]Tehillim Kerem Chemed,p. 8

[6]Kisvei Talmidei HaSabba MiKelm,Part I, p. 141-142

[7]Daas Torah, Devorim, Part II, p. 23

[8]Ma’aseh Ish, Part III, p. 161

[9]Kerem Bais Yisroel, p.90

[10] Alei Shur, p. 105



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