Brachos 23: The Protection of the Tefillin
TheGemara herediscusses how to demonstrate proper respect to tefillin. The Toras Haminchah explains part of why we must impart so much kavod to tefillin: “This mitzvah has the potential to protect a man both in the material world and the World to Come. We know that tefillin protects a person in this world from the story of Elisha “Baal Kenofayim,” the “Master of Wings,” found in Shabbos 49. We learn there that the government made a decree attempting to force Jews to abandon their religion. One of the edicts was against wearing tefillin, and anyone found wearing them was to be killed. One officer noticed Elisha wearing tefillin. Elisha dashed away, with the officer following close on his heals. As he was running, Elisha took the tefillin off and shielded them in his hands. When the officer overtook him, he immediately demanded what was in Elisha’s hands.
“They are the wings of doves,” Elisha replied. A miracle occurred and, when Elisha opened his hands, the officer saw that they were dove’s wings. They are protection, he said, just like wings are a shield for the body.
As far as tefillin protecting one’s soul in the next world, we find proof of this in Rosh Hashanah 17. We learn from the words of Chazal that even if a person sinned in this world, tefillin will save him from the harshest punishment in the next world and he will eventually inherit eternal life with the tzaddikim in Gan Eden.”
Brachos 24: The Singing of Survivors
After the Holocaust, the scattered survivors were broken physically and emotionally, and in some cases spiritually. In general, physical recovery progressed faster than emotional rehabilitation. Even people fortunate enough to emerge from the inferno in relatively good health were emotionally scarred. Most places where survivors gathered in large numbers had a pall of anguish over them. The occupants of a home for survivors in the Zichron Meir neighborhood of Bnei Brak were steeped in depression. Some girls had lost their entire family; others had heard nothing of their nearest relatives. Some endured privations of hunger, while other girls had a history of cruel abuse in the camps. The endless crying was heartrending and the feelings of despair and pressure were palpable.
After some time, one of the girls got engaged to be married. Everyone was swept away in the joy of the occasion. All negative feelings were completely forgotten in the collective joy for the future kallah, who would soon build a family despite the horror they had all endured.
But when one of the neighbors of the institution heard their joyous song, he rushed to complain to the Chazon Ish. “The girls in the home for survivors next door to my building are singing! How can they do so when the halachah from the Gemara in Brachos 24 is that the voice of a woman is considered ervah! They must be stopped at once!”
The Chazon Ish saw this differently, however. “You mean those poor girls are already able to sing? You have no idea how delighted I am to hear this!”
Brachos 25: The Purity of Our Camp
Rabbeinu Yonah explains why one may only learn Torah or daven in a place that is clean. “The verse states, ‘For Hashem Elokeinu goes within your camp to save you and place your enemies before you; therefore, your camp shall be holy. Let no unseemly thing be seen in you…’ 
“Our sages explain this verse in Brachos 25. There we find that that when we learn Torah and when we intone words of prayer before Him, we should be in a place fitting for holiness and that nothing unseemly should be uncovered. Hashem commands us to daven and learn with holiness. We are not to say the name of Hashem where someone is undressed, and the place should be clean of any excrement or other such filth. How much more so should one be careful not to say anything holy when his hands are unclean…”
Of course it is certainly interesting that Hashem commanded this in our “machaneh,” throughout our camp, and not specifically where people gather together to learn. Rabbeinu Yonah explains this as well. “Since in our camps and dwelling places we are always speaking Torah – we do not restrict ourselves to formal learning spaces – it is only fitting that we be careful that they are always clean!”
Brachos 26: Expired Currency
There are some people who rely on opinions that one may daven Shacharis until midday, at least. On this daf we find that the time for tefillah is up until a third of the daylight hours. Although Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach affirms that if one missed the proper time for prayer he should still daven the entire tefillah in any case since this is the prevalent custom, this is no simple matter (Halichos Shlomo, Tefillah). The Mishnah Berurah rules like the Magein Avrohom that one who missed zeman tefillah may not say the brachos of Pesukei Dezimra and those that precede Shema (Mishnah Berurah, 58:4). Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ruled that even if one’s tefillos will be more focused after the zeman for reasons beyond his control, such as weakness from illness, he should still daven within the proper time frame (Yashiv Moshe, p. 13).
Once, when some people who had the custom to daven late met with the Chofetz Chaim, this subject came up and they endeavored to explain that one who uses his time to ensure that his tefillah is qualitatively better is preferable to one who davens any old way before the zeman tefillah.
The Chofetz Chaim disagreed.
“Let me tell you a parable,” he said. “Once, there was a simple man whose wife gave birth to a baby girl. Naturally, he wanted to put aside money so that he could afford her dowry. Every month, he would put aside a new bill in a place that was clean and dry so that he would have the required money when the time came. When his daughter got engaged, he took out the money to purchase what she needed for the upcoming wedding. To his chagrin, every merchant rejected nearly all of the bills. ‘I am sorry, but this currency is no longer valid. You had to bring it to the bank to exchange it for the new currency before it passed its date.’
“The man decided to take the money to the bank to see if there was some way to salvage his desperate situation.
“When he arrived, he noticed that most of those ahead of him had very worn bills, altogether different from his own pristine currency. When the teller called him, he figured that the teller would surely take the new bills. He was shocked when the man refused them. The simple man protested, ‘But this money is perfectly preserved! It is in much better shape than most of the bills that you agreed to accept!’
“The teller answered, ‘You are correct that I took the earlier bills despite their being inferior to yours. However, the bills that the others submitted were still within their time. All of your bills, despite their pristine appearance, were decommissioned long ago by the government. Since their time has already elapsed, they are worthless…’” (Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah, p. 886).
Brachos 27: Out of Order
On thisdaf we find the opinion that one can daven Maariv and accept Shabbos from the time of plag haminchah onward and those who argue against it.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was not a proponent of making an early Shabbos. “Here in Eretz Yisroel, the custom is for Ashkenazim to avoid davening Maariv early on Erev Shabbos. This is how I rule to the many who ask about davening Maariv early: they should make every effort not to do so before the time. The reason I rule this way is because of several halachic problems inherent in this which force a person to deviate from the norm. With the exception of unusual cases, people should not do this.”
When Rav Bentzion Kook heard this p’sak from Rav Elyashiv, he wondered what the posek hador meant. “What exact deviations are inherent in this custom?” he asked.
Rav Elyashiv clarified, “Shema and the tefillah are not in the correct time; Kiddush and the meal are also observed before their proper time. It is clear that although according to Rav Yehudah it is permitted to daven Maariv and begin Shabbos from the time of plag haminchah onward, according to the opinion of the sages doing so has no halachic significance.”
Brachos 28: The Watchman’s Sign
The importance of being joyful cannot be overemphasized. The Zohar writes that one who is not joyous literally feeds his yeitzer hara. The verse states, “The food of the snake is dirt,” and earth is the element that represents depression and laziness.
Rav Moshe Medinar explained the importance of simcha from a famous statement of Chazal. “In Brachos 28 we find that on the day that Rav Elazar ben Azarya was appointed, they removed the guard from the entranceway to the bais medrash. His predecessor, Rabbon Gamliel, had established a watchman who only allowed those who were ‘tocham kebarom,’ whose insides were as pure as their appearance, into the bais medrash.
“But of course the obvious question is: how could the guard possibly know just who was pure and good through and through?
“The answer is that he had a sign. If a person was palpably happy, he was given access to the bais medrash. Why? Either way, a joyous person would be fit to enter. If he really was happy inside, then the fact that it could be seen on the surface meant that he was tocho kebaro. And if a person has reason to be depressed and hides it, and only shows joy, then he is a chossid, he is truly pious. As the Chovos Halevavos writes, a chossid is a person whose anguish is in his heart while his elation is on his face!”
Brachos 29: The Power of Good
It is astounding that Yochanan Kohein Gadol managed to enter the Kodesh Hakodoshim eighty years in a row and then became a Sadducee, as we find on thisdaf. The Medrash in Vayikra Rabbah (21:11) tells us that for a kohein gadol to survive this awesome experience, he must become like an angel while in that holy place. How can someone sustain such an exalted level for so long and then lose everything?
The Imros Tehoros offers a powerful explanation to help us understand this difficulty. “He became a Tzedoki – that alludes to the fact that he felt he was a tzaddik. Instead of realizing that everything he had was from Hashem and was undeserved, he thought he was on the level of being able to ‘enter and leave in peace.’ As is well known, arrogance is the source of all sin. Once someone falls into this defect, he can plummet to anywhere.”
Many people, after falling, feel as though there is no hope. After sinning for so long, how can they possibly do teshuvah?
Interestingly, Rav Mordechai Chaim of Slonim offers an inspiring lesson for the worst sinner from this very story. “Chazal say in Yoma 76 that middah tovah merubah, the quality of mercy is far stronger than its opposite. This also means that good is more powerful than evil. In Brachos 29 we find that Yochanan Kohein Gadol became a Tzedoki after serving as kohein gadol for eighty years. If he was able to overcome eighty years of good to do evil, how much more possible is it for a person to overcome eighty years of evil to begin doing good! Even if a person sinned terribly for eighty years, he can still return. He can still become a tzaddik.”