SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, July 28, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Jeffrey Paul Friedman z"l
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
 ז"ל יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל 
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב
Motzaei Shabbat
            As part of his discourse to Benei Yisrael in Parashat Eikev, Moshe mentions God’s quality of “lo yisa fanim” – that He does not show favoritism, and will not pardon wrongdoing because of the violator’s stature (10:17). 
The Gemara, in a famous passage in Masekhet Berakhot (20b), tells that the angels in heaven questioned this description in light of the final verse of birkat kohanim, the blessing conferred upon the nation by the kohanim, in which they bless, “Yisa Hashem panav eilekha” – that God should show the people favor (Bamidbar 6:26).  How could the kohanim wish Benei Yisrael that they should be favored by God, if God does not show favoritism?
            The Gemara relates that God answered this question by noting that He feels compelled, as it were, to show special favor to Benei Yisrael because of one specific measure of stringency which they observe.  Earlier in Parashat Eikev (8:10), the Torah requires reciting birkat ha-mazon after eating to the point of satiation (“ve-akhalta ve-savata”), and yet, Benei Yisrael have accepted the practice to recite birkat ha-mazon even after eating “ad ke-zayit ve-ad ke-beitza” – even just the size of an egg or olive.  This practice makes then worthy of God’s special favor, and His overriding His usual policy of “lo yisa fanim.”
            Several different approaches have been offered to explain why the observance of this particular ordinance – reciting birkat ha-mazon after eating just a ke-zayit or a ke-beitza of food – makes us worthy of the blessing, “Yisa Hashem panav eilekha.”   One especially creative explanation is offered by Rav Yehoshua of Kutna, in his Yeshuot Molkho (cited by Rav Baruch Simon in Imrei Barukh, Parashat Eikev, 4), where he notes the Gemara’s unusual formulation in this passage – “ad ke-zayit ve-ad ke-beitza.”  Whereas this phrase is commonly translated to mean, “even just a ke-zayit or just a ke-beitza,” this does not appear to be the precise translation.  Literally, this phrase means, “until a ke-zayit and until a ke-beitza.”  Moreover, if the Gemara meant that we observe the practice of reciting birkat ha-mazon even over small amounts of food, then it should have simply said, “as little as a ke-zayit,” without making any mention of a ke-beitza, which is a larger volume than a ke-zayit.
            Rav Yehoshua of Kutna therefore explains the Gemara’s intent much differently, referencing a debate recorded later in Masekhet Berakhot (49b) regarding the minimum volume of food for which one must recite birkat ha-mazon.  Whereas Rabbi Meir maintains that the Sages extended the birkat ha-mazon even to those who eat just a ke-zayit, Rabbi Yehuda ruled that the rabbinic extension of the obligation applies only to amounts no smaller than a ke-beitza.  In light of this debate, Rav Yehoshua of Kutna proposes a novel reading of the Gemara’s comment regarding the practice to be stringent with regard to birkat ha-mazonad ke-zayit ve-ad ke-beitza.”  He writes that the Gemara refers to groups consisting of disciples of both Tanna’im – Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda – that eat together.  If such a group would eat an amount in between a ke-zayit and a ke-beitza, an uncomfortable situation would arise, as some participants would consider themselves obligated to recite birkat ha-mazon and others would not.  In order to avoid this tense situation, the students would ensure to eat either less than a ke-zayit or at least a ke-beitza, in order that there would be no disagreement.  They would either eat less than a ke-zayit so that according to all views they would not need to recite birkat ha-mazon, or eat a ke-beitza so that according to all views they would need to recite birkat ha-mazon.  This way, they avoided a situation whereby some felt required to recite the blessing and others did not.
            This special level of caution to avoid tension and strife, Rav Yehoshua of Kutna suggests, is what renders us worthy of God’s special favor.  Other measures of piety do not confer upon us “favored” status in God’s eyes, but this practice – going out of our way to avoid friction and conflict with our fellow Jews – does.  Even though God does not generally treat anybody as His “favorite,” and He holds all people equally accountable for their actions, we earn “favored” status by exercising particular care to stay away from conflict and to live peacefully with our fellow Jews, including those with whom we disagree.