Lecture 24 - Daf 6b - A Time to Pray?

  • Dr. Moshe Simon-Shoshan

Ein Yaakov - The World of Talmudic Aggada

By Dr. Moshe Simon-Shoshan

 

Lecture #24- Daf 6b

A time to pray?

 

 

The Gemara continues with the series of statements by R. Chelbo in the name of R. Huna regarding prayer:

 

R. Chelbo further said in the name of R. Huna:

A man should always take special care about the afternoon-prayer.

For even Eliyahu was favorably heard

only while offering his afternoon-prayer.

For it is said:

‘And it came to pass at the time of offering the evening offering,

that Eliyahu the prophet came near and said …

Hear me, O Lord, hear me’ (I Melakhim 18:26-27). 

['Hear me', that the fire may descend from heaven,

and 'hear me,’ that they may not say it is the work of sorcery.][1]

 

R. Chelbo quotes a statement about the importance of not neglecting the mincha (afternoon) prayer. Presumably, then as now, people often missed mincha because its time slot, which in the winter can be quite brief, occurs in the middle of the workday. Often people are preoccupied and either forget or are unable to say the mincha prayer.

 

It makes sense that one would need to encourage people to be careful particularly with this prayer, more than the others.

 

The Gemara points to a curious verse in the book of Melakhim, which is part of the story of Eliyahu's famous confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The verse notes that Eliyahu's prayer to God to consume the offering on the altar and prove to the people that He is God, occurred at the time in which the mincha offering was brought in the Temple.  Because of the miraculous response to Eliyahu's prayer, the Gemara learns that mincha time is a particularly auspicious time for prayer. One should be careful to say the mincha service, because these prayers have a greater chance of being answered.

 

In citing this verse, the Gemara also calls attention to the link between the mincha prayer and the daily mincha sacrifice in the Temple. Later on in the tractate Berakhot (26b), the Gemara famously debates whether the daily prayers were ordained based on the daily sacrifices or on the precedent set by the patriarchs, each of whom, according to the Midrash, prayed at a different time of day. In citing this verse's juxtaposition of prayer and the afternoon sacrifice, the Gemara reinforces the notion that the prayer services are meant to parallel the daily sacrifices.

 

Taken alone, this statement of R. Chelbo in the name of R. Huna calls attention to the importance of the mincha prayer, apparently at the expense of the other two daily prayers. However, the Gemara presents this statement as the first of a series of declarations which collectively stress the importance of all the daily prayers. Next, R. Yochanan argues that the aravit prayer has similar value and importance:

 

R. Yochanan says:

[Special care should be taken] also about the evening-prayer.

For it is said:

‘Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee,

the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’ (Tehillim 141:2). 

 

R. Yochanan's application of the verse in Tehillim to the evening prayer, aravit, is quite interesting. The verse, after all, refers specifically to the mincha sacrifice, so we might have understood this verse as referring to the afternoon prayer. The verse, however, refers to this sacrifice as minchat erev, the "evening offering.” Since the verse specifies a sacrifice offered in the evening, R. Yochanan understands this verse as referring to the evening prayer.

 

This interpretation points to the complex relationship between the afternoon and evening prayers. The rabbis debated the status of the evening prayer. Some saw it as obligatory, like the morning and afternoon prayers, while others saw it as an optional prayer that was not part of the structure of required prayers.

 

This second view seems to be based on the conception that the fixed prayers were established parallel to the daily sacrifices in the Temple. Just as there is a morning and afternoon sacrifice, so too there is a morning and afternoon prayer. Furthermore, in this structure, we have one sacrifice/prayer at the beginning of the day and one at its end. Although the time for the morning prayer and sacrifice lasts until noon, and the afternoon service can be said as early as a little past noon, optimally the morning prayer/sacrifice should be done right after sunrise and the afternoon prayer/sacrifice right before sunset. When the Tehillim verse refers to the "offering of the night," it probably really means the afternoon sacrifice whose offering announced the onset of the night.

If, however, we posit a threefold obligation of daily prayer, then aravit takes the place of mincha as the closing prayer of the day, and mincha is transformed into a midday prayer.  Aravit and mincha thus compete with each other for the position of final prayer of the day. It could be that R. Yochanan felt that the significance of the mincha prayer was its "last chance of the day" nature. Now that this title belongs to aravit, it makes sense to attribute extra significance to this prayer as well.

 

Finally, we come to the shacharit (morning) prayer:

 

R. Nachman b. Yitzchak says:

[Special care should be taken] also about the morning-prayer.

For it is said:

‘O Lord, in the morning shalt Thou hear my voice;

in the morning will I order my prayer unto Thee,

and will look forward’ (Tehillim 5:4).

 

Now we have a verse which declares each one of the prayers’ desirability before God. The collective message of these statements is that God listens to all of our prayers, regardless of when they are offered. This stands in sharp contrast to R. Chelbo's initial statement about mincha which, taken alone, suggests that afternoon prayers are more likely to be answered than those offered at other times of day.

 

Redemption and Revelation under the Chupa

 

The Gemara now goes on to cite a statement of R. Chelbo in the name of R. Huna which deals, not with prayer, but with the wedding feast, a theme that was briefly touched upon earlier on in this page of Gemara:

 

R. Chelbo further said in the name of R. Huna:

Whosoever partakes of the wedding meal of a bridegroom

and does not felicitate him

does violence to 'the five voices' mentioned in the verse:

‘The voice of joy and the voice of gladness,

the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride,

the voice of them that say,

'Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts'’ (Yirmiyahu 33:2). 

And if he does gladden him what is his reward?

R. Yehoshua b. Levi said:

He is privileged to acquire [the knowledge of] the Torah

which was given with five voices.

For it is said:

‘And it came to pass on the third day,

when it was morning,

that there were thunders and lightnings

and a thick cloud upon the mount,

and the voice of a horn …

and when the voice of the horn waxed louder …

Moses spoke and God answered him by a voice’ (Shemot 19:16,19). 

(This is not so!  For it is written: And all the people perceived the thunderings?

These voices were before the revelation of the Torah.)

R. Abahu says:

It is as if he had sacrificed a thanksgiving offering.

For it is said:

‘Even of them that bring offerings of thanksgiving

into the house of the Lord’ (Yirmiyahu 33:2). 

R. Nachman b. Yitzchak says:

It is as if he had restored one of the ruins of Jerusalem.

For it is said:

‘For I will cause the captivity of the land

to return as at the first, saith the Lord’ (ibid.).

 

This passage is essentially an explication of Yirmiyahu 33:10-11. The verses in Yirmiyahu read as follows:

 

Thus said the Lord:

Again there shall be heard in this place,

Which you say is ruined, without man or beast-

In the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem

That are desolate without man,

without inhabitants, without beast—

The sound of mirth and gladness,

The voice of bridegroom and bride,

The voice of those who cry,

‘Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts,

For the Lord is good,

For his kindness is everlasting!’

As they bring thanksgiving offerings

To the House of the Lord.

For I will restore the fortunes of old—

Said the Lord.

 

This prophetic speech foretells the return of life to the now desolate streets of Jerusalem and its surrounding towns. The key symbol of this rejuvenation will be the return of weddings to the streets, a symbol of joy and regeneration. The prophet does not describe what these weddings will look like; rather, he focuses on what they will sound like – the joyous cries of the participants as well as of the bride and groom themselves. R. Chelbo picks up on this fact and concludes that the key part of a wedding lies not in any physical action, such as eating and drinking, but in the joy brought to the bride and groom by the participants, as symbolized by the voices described by Yirmiyahu. Hence a person who comes to a wedding but does not contribute to these voices has missed the point of the wedding.

 

Next the Gemara asks about the reward for rejoicing at a wedding. Three answers are presented. I would like to hold off on discussing the first answer and return to it after we have discussed the second two. R. Abahu focuses on the ambiguity of the final "voice" referred to in these verses, which declares, "Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for his kindness is everlasting!" At first, it seems that, like the previous voices mentioned, this voice celebrates the wedding, thanking God that this union has occurred. However, following this quotation, we learn that these words accompany not a wedding party, but a sacrifice in the Temple.  The wedding scene thus melds into a scene of sacrifice. R. Abahu understands this linkage as suggesting that the reward for participating in wedding festivities is equivalent to the reward for offering a sacrifice in the rebuilt Temple.

 

Along similar lines, R. Nachman b. Yitzhak focuses more globally on the link established between weddings and the rebuilding of Jerusalem in these verses. He sees the reward for rejoicing at a wedding as equivalent to rebuilding the ruined houses of Jerusalem. Note that this reference to the ruins of Jerusalem (churvot Yerushalayim) recalls the story of R. Yosi's prayer in one such ruin, recounted earlier in our chapter on daf 3b.  Both R. Nachman and R. Abahu's responses suggest that there is a redemptive element in every wedding. When a new couple comes together, and they are transformed into a new state of being, they undergo a process that parallels on a small scale the future redemption of Israel. Hence, the reward for participating in a wedding is like the reward for participating in redemption.

 

We can now return to the first answer to this question suggested by R. Chelbo. In Judaism, redemption is closely connected to revelation. Redemption is a form of revelation, but it is also a prerequisite for a more complete revelation.  R. Chelbo argues that a wedding is not simply a form of redemption; it is also a form of revelation.  He connects the voices of the wedding described by Yirmiyahu with the voices that came down from Sinai at the time of giving the Torah. Receiving the bride and groom is thus akin to receiving the Torah itself.

 

God Fearers

 

The penultimate statement of R. Chelbo in the name of R. Huna is in praise of fearing Heaven:

 

R. Chelbo further said in the name of R. Huna:

If one is filled with the fear of God

his words are listened to.

For it is said:

‘The sum of the matter, all having been heard:

fear God, and observe his commandments,

for this is the whole man’ (Kohelet 12:13).

 

R. Chelbo's statement is a play on the famous last verse of Kohelet as it is read in the synagogue, "The sum of the matter, all having been heard: fear God and observe His commandments."  The simple reading of this verse, as suggested by the translation presented here, is that, after all of the discussions that have just been presented in this book, many of them skeptical and even cynical, the bottom line remains that the important thing is to fear God and do His commandments. R. Huna, however, focuses on the term "hakol nishma" which literally means "all is heard.” Taking this literal meaning and playing with the syntax of the verse, R. Chelbo renders it as, "He who fears God and does His commandments – in the end, all his words will be heard."   According to this reading, this verse is one of reassurance. Then, as now, the most popular and well received voices are often those of people who are far from God and morality.  However, we can be assured that the voices of those who fear God will ultimately be heard and accepted.

 

The Gemara then presents three very similar interpretations of the last words of the verse, which literally reads "for this is all of man."  This verse is generally interpreted as something along the lines of, "for that is the whole duty of every person."

 

What means,

'For this is the whole man'?

R. Eleazar says:

The Holy One, blessed be He, says:

The whole world was created for his sake only.

R. Abba b. Kahana says:

He is equal in value to the whole world.

R. Shimon b. 'Azai says

(some say, R. Shimon b. Zoma says):

The whole world was created as a satellite for him.

 

Each of these rabbis understands the phrase "kol ha-adam"   as meaning the totality of all humanity, or in their words, "the whole world." The phrase zeh, "this," refers to the individual who fears God and does his commandments. Each of these interpretations is a slightly different way of saying that the few who truly serve God are the most important part of creation, and are at least as important as all the teeming masses of humanity who regularly fall short in their obligations.

 

Aleichem Shalom

 

At long last, we come to the final statement of R. Chelbo in the name of R. Huna:

 

R. Chelbo further said in the name of R. Huna:

If one knows that his friend is used to greeting him,

let him greet him first.

For it is said:

‘Seek peace and pursue it’ (Tehillim 34:15).

And if his friend greets him

and he does not return the greeting,

he is called a robber.

For it is said:

‘It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard;

the spoil of the poor is in your houses’ (Yishayahu 3:14).

 

Until now, R. Chelbo's statements in the name of R. Huna have focused on the human relationship with God through prayer.  This last statement turns to the individual's relationship with his fellow human-being. More specifically, it focuses on the most mundane act, of people exchanging a greeting of "shalom" upon meeting in the street. What is so significant about this gesture? Why is the failure to return such a greeting akin to robbing the poor? Rav Soloveitchik deals with these questions and our passage in his classic essay, "The Community" (Tradition, 1978). He writes:

 

A community is established the very moment I recognize the thou and extend to the thou. One individual extends the shalom greeting to another individual; and in so doing he creates a community. The Halacha has attached great significance to casual greetings exchanged between two individuals. Rabbi Chelbo said: "If his friend greets him and he does not return the greeting he is called a robber for it is said, 'Is it ye that have eaten up the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.'" What message does Shalom convey, if not encouragement and solace to the lonely and distressed. The Halacha commands us to return greetings, and in some cases extend them, even during the recital of shema… Halacha says to man: don't let your neighbor drift along the lanes of loneliness; don't permit him to become remote and alienated from you even when you are busy reciting shema.

 

R. Soloveitchik understands this passage in the Gemara in existential terms.  The very act of greeting a person in the street affirms their existential value and legitimacy, drawing them out of despair and loneliness.  This act takes precedence, in some cases, even over our dialogue with God. Furthermore, when two people exchange greetings, they form a community.  Individuals can only truly relate to God through such communities of mutual support and recognition. Before we can learn to talk to God, we must learn to talk to our fellow human-being.

 



[1] This line does not appear in the manuscripts of the Talmud.