Shiur #44: Know the God of Your Father – Between Knowledge and Love Part 2

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
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Dedicated by Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise with prayers for Refuah Shelemah for all who require healing, comfort and peace – 
those battling illnesses visibly and invisibly, publicly and privately. 
May Hashem mercifully grant us strength, courage and compassion.
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I. One is Forbidden to Derive Benefit from this World Without a Blessing
 
We stopped the previous shiur in the middle of our analysis of Sefer Ahava, the Book of Love, in the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. As we saw, the first part of the book deals with the basic issues discussed in tractate Berakhot. In addition to Keri'at Shema and prayer, which we dealt with in the previous shiur, tractate Berakhot also deals with blessings.
 
The basis for all the blessings is found in the gemara's discussion at the beginning of the sixth chapter. After discussing the question of the foundation of the blessings recited over food, the gemara reaches the following conclusion:
 
[The obligation to recite a blessing over food is founded on] reason: One is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without a blessing. (Berakhot 35a)
 
And in the continuation it is stated:
 
The Sages taught: One is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without a blessing. And anyone who derives benefit from this world without a blessing is guilty of misuse of consecrated property…
R. Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel: One who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he enjoyed objects consecrated to the heavens, as it is stated: "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, [the world, and they that live in it]" (Tehillim 24:1). R. Levi raised a contradiction: It is written: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." And it is written: "The heavens are the Lord's and the earth He has given over to mankind" (Tehillim 115:16). This is not difficult: Here, before a blessing [is recited]; here, after a blessing [is recited].[1] (ibid.)
 
The halakhic authorities discuss the implications of this reasoning, which, according to the gemara, is what obligates a person to recite a blessing before he eats. A fundamental part of their discussion relates to the question of whether this reasoning determines that the obligation to recite a blessing over food is by Torah law or by rabbinic decree.
 
The Penei Yehoshua is inclined to say that this obligation is by Torah law:
 
The wording of all the halakhic authorities implies that according to the gemara's conclusion, all blessings recited over food are by rabbinic decree, except for the Grace after Meals; according to the Rashba, the blessing recited after eating one of the seven species is also by Torah law, but regarding the rest of the blessings, he agrees [that they are by rabbinic decree]. In my humble opinion, one may wonder about this, for in all of the Talmud, the implication is that what is derived by reasoning is by Torah law. On the contrary, the gemara objects: Why do we need a verse, when it can be derived through reasoning? In fact, from the wording of the Tosafot this matter cannot be decided. For that which they write that the verse mentioned above is merely a support, perhaps what they meant is this very idea, that since it is [valid] reasoning, there is no longer any need for a verse. (Penei Yehoshua, Berakhot, ad loc.)
 
The Tzelach disagrees with the Penei Yehoshua:
 
But I say that this applies only to monetary laws, as in Ketubot 22a: "From where do we derive that the mouth that prohibits is the mouth that permits"; and in Bava Kama 46b: "From where do we derive that the burden of proof falls upon the plaintiff." In such cases, the gemara asks: Why do I need a verse if it can be derived from reason? But to say that something derived from reason is considered a mitzva by Torah law – that we have not heard.[2] And if that were true, all the rational mitzvot were written [in the Torah] in vain. And furthermore, this reasoning that one is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without a blessing applies to all the people of the world. If so, reciting a blessing over food should be an obligation falling even upon the descendants of Noach. Rather, this certainly means that since it stands to reason, therefore the Sages enacted blessings over food. (Tzelach, Berakhot 35a)
 
This requires further explanation. After all, based on the reasoning that dictates a blessing, it would suffice for a person to recite a blessing once in his lifetime. On that occasion, he would thank God for the great goodness that He bestows upon us and receive His permission to derive benefit from all the pleasures of this world. At the very least, it would have been enough to recite one blessing at the beginning of the day as part of the morning blessings, which would include all of the pleasures that would be enjoyed that day.
 
The Sages, however, enacted that we must recite a separate blessing for each pleasure. Therefore, it may be argued that all of the blessings over food are by rabbinic decree, as the Sages wished to create a framework of blessings that would establish a constant connection between man and God.
 
Moreover, Chazal could ostensibly have simplified the laws of blessings, and thus save the general public from having to engage in a thorough and comprehensive study of these matters. It would have been possible to enact a single blessing to be recited over all the pleasures of the world, something like the blessing, "shehakol niheyeh bidevaro." Or to the other extreme, it would have been possible to enact that a person should recited a blessing of his own choice over each pleasure that he enjoys in this world, as we find in the Tosefta:
 
If one saw figs, and said, “Blessed is He who created these figs, how beautiful they are!” – this is their blessing. (Tosefta, Berakhot 4:5)
 
However, the halakha was decided in accordance with the view of R. Yose, which is cited later in that Tosefta:
 
R. Yose says: Whoever changes the formula of a blessing that was fixed by the Sages has not fulfilled his obligation. (ibid.)
 
If so, it falls upon us to try to understand Chazal's objective when they enacted many different blessings to be recited over the various types of pleasure, while creating fixed categories of blessings. In other words, Chazal did not create overly general blessings, in order to emphasize the praise of God, nor did they create overly specific and individualized blessings, in order to foster sensitivity and thought to honor God.
 
It would seem that Chazal tried to fashion a person's daily agenda in such a way that he would be surrounded by blessings. In this way, the person turns to God throughout the day: In Keri'at Shema, in prayer, and in the blessings that are spread out across the entire day.
 
It is stated in tractate Menachot:
 
It was taught: R. Meir used to say: A man is bound to recite one hundred blessings daily, as it is written: "And now, Israel, what [mah, read as me'ah, "a hundred"] does the Lord your God require of you?" (Devarim 10:12)? (Menachot 43b)
 
The framework of blessings and the large number of blessings that must be recited were intended, according to R. Meir, to fulfill the words of the verse cited in his words, which at the end emphasize the values of fear and love in the service of God:
 
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Devarim 10:12)
 
This is the primary objective of the blessing – making God present in a person's world on a regular basis, as is stated in the verse:
 
I have set the Lord always before me: surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. (Tehillim 16:8)
 
And as R. Tzadok Ha-Kohen says in Tzidkat ha-Tzadik:
 
This is why all the blessings open with words of direct address, for immediately at the beginning of the blessing, God, may He be blessed, must be opposite one's eyes, as if He were standing over him and commanding him. And the conclusion is in third person, for immediately He disappears, as it is stated (Devarim 32:11): "[As an eagle stirs up her nest,] broods over her young," touching and not touching, as is known. (Tzidkat Ha-Tzaddik 3)

II. Tractate Berakhot – The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

Tractate Berakhot with all its parts – Keri'at Shema, prayer and blessings – seems to be similar to the heavenly luminaries that light up our world – the sun, the moon and the stars. Man as well, who is a world in miniature, must illuminate the chambers of his heart with the light of God, which lights up the darkness of the heart with luminaries and with stars, with Keri'at Shema, with prayer, and with blessings.
 
            Prayer is likened to the sun, for through it man speaks with God and feels His presence.
 
Keri'at Shema is likened to the moon, for with it man speaks about God, but not to Him, as we see from the words of Rashi in Berakhot:
 
But prayer – he must present himself as if he were standing before the king, and stand with fear; but with Keri'at Shema, he does not speak before the king. (Rashi, Berakhot 25a, s.v. aval)
 
This is similar to the moon, which has no intrinsic light, but rather is illuminated by the light of the sun.
 
The blessings are spread out like stars across the entire day, which illuminate our life with the light of the living king.
 
III. The Mitzvot that Surround a Person
 
Let us now examine the second part of Sefer Ahava. This part deals with the mitzvot that surround a person and his environment. This is what the Tanna’im expounded in tractate Menachot:
 
R. Eliezer ben Yaakov said: Whoever has tefillin on his head, tefillin on his arm, tzitzit on his garment, and a mezuza on his doorpost is in absolute security against sinning, for it is stated: "And a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Kohelet 4:12); and it is also stated: "The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them" (Tehillim 34:8). (Menachot 43b)
 
The mitzvot of tefillin, mezuza, and tzitzit strengthen a person in his faith and increase the likelihood that he will not sin.
 
As may be recalled, at the beginning of this journey we clarified that the essence of "these things" (ha-devarim ha-eileh) that must be bound to the arm and set as frontlets between the eyes, and that must also be written on the doorposts of one's house and gates, is in fact the entire Torah, but we suffice with the passages that represent it, both in tefillin and in a mezuza. This is the reason for including the laws of writing a Torah scroll together with the set of the laws of tefillin and mezuza.
 
However, according to the above, we have not yet accounted for the location of the laws of circumcision in Sefer Ahava. For this we must examine another midrashic exposition in that same passage in Menachot, which describes these mitzvot in two main stages:
 
Our Rabbis taught: Beloved are Israel, for the Holy One, blessed is He, surrounded them with precepts: tefillin on their heads, tefillin on their arms, tzitzit on their garments, and mezuzot on their doorposts; concerning these David said: "Seven times a day do I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances" (Tehillim 119:164). (Menachot 43b)
 
And as David entered the bath and saw himself standing naked, he exclaimed: Woe is me that I stand naked without any precepts about me! But when he reminded himself of the circumcision in his flesh his mind was set at ease. And when he came out he sang a hymn of praise concerning it, as it is written: "To the chief musician on strings upon the Sheminit, a psalm of David" (Tehillim 6:1) – about circumcision which was given on the eighth (shemini) [day]. (Ibid.)
 
The first stage expresses the perfection that can be achieved through the mitzvot with which God surrounds us. There are seven things that surround us and prevent us from stumbling into sin: the tzitzit, which surround us from four direction; the tefillin, which control our powers of thought and action in the head and in the arm; and the mezuza at the entrance to our house. About this David sings out his praise:
 
Seven times a day do I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances. (Tehillim 119:164)
 
This is immediately followed by:
 
Great peace have they who love your Torah; and nothing can make them stumble. (Tehillim 118:165)
 
We see from the words of Chazal, however, that David was not satisfied with this, because there are times in life that this protection does not suffice. The unique covenant of circumcision, which is the Master's imprint on His servants,[3] is the internal defense that completes the entire defense system. This unbreakable covenant protects a person even in those moments when the ordinary defenses do not work, particularly in the organs of desire and procreation.
 
Indeed, who is greater than David, who, despite all these defenses, stumbled in the sin of the covenant, in the organ of desire. This teaches us that none of these defenses promise full immunity. The defenses depend on the person himself and the manner in which he fashions and controls his life. As Chazal say in the gemara in Berakhot:
 
R. Chanina said: Everything in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven, as it is stated: "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear [the Lord your God]. (Berakhot 33b)
 
The defense system under discussion comes to the assistance of a person who wishes to do the will of his Creator and to reach the level of "loving and fearing Your name."
 
But in the end, it all depends on the person, his will, and his control. This is the fundamental principle of free choice that was given to man, as is stated in Devarim:
 
See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command you this day to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, and His statutes, and His judgments; then you shall live and multiply: and the Lord your God shall bless you in the land… therefore, choose life, that both you and your seed may live. (Devarim 30:15-19)
 
Even though this choice was handed over to man, God sends help him in this mission, as Chazal say in tractate Kiddushin:
 
And R. Shimon ben Levi said: Man's evil desire gathers strength against him daily and seeks to slay him, as it is stated: "The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him" (Tehillim 37:32). Were not the Holy One, blessed be He, to help him [man], he would not be able to prevail against him, as it is stated: "The Lord will not leave him in his hand" (ibid. v. 33). (Kiddushin 30b)
 
This is what David says in Tehillim, in direct continuation of the two verses cited above:
 
Lord, I have hoped for Your salvation, and I have done Your commandments. (Tehillim 119:166)
 
This verse is commonly recited at the time of a circumcision ceremony. As is stated in the book Derekh Pekudekha regarding the mitzva of circumcision, even after the mohel calls upon Eliyahu, the angel of the covenant of circumcision, to stand alongside of him and support him, one must continue to hope for salvation. The hope for salvation is not limited to the act of the circumcision; it extends to God's salvation, such that the person be able to stand up to and confront the challenges arising from the organ of circumcision.
 
In his responsa, the Ketav Sofer explains the appeal to God regarding a matter over which man was given responsibility:
 
It seems to me [that this should be understood] based on that which Chazal said that man's evil desire gathers strength against him daily and were not the Holy One, blessed be He, to help him, he would not be able to prevail against him. Everyone needs assistance and support from God. David said: "Lord, I have hoped for Your salvation, and I have done Your commandments." What he meant is that even though everything in in the hand of heaven except for the fear of heaven, nevertheless, I have hoped for Your salvation and I have done Your commandments. When I did Your commandments, I hoped for Your salvation, for without that it is impossible. A person must prepare himself for this with all types of preparations and do everything possible with precautionary measures and fences and being diligent in the mitzvot, and then God will help him overcome his evil desire when it gathers strength against him. One must ask for help from God. This is what King David, peace be upon him, said: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after" (Tehillim 27:4)… A man must seek after the word of God, and then he can ask God to see his sorrow and help him. "I delight in Your will, O my God" (Tehillim 40:9). This is: "One thing have I desired." Besides all the things that I asked for, this will I seek after, for I need to seek after it, like one who searches after treasure. What is it? "Dwelling in the house of the Lord." For this reason, even a man has the quality of a female, because he becomes weak doing the will of his Creator, were God not to bestow His light upon him and pour His holy spirit upon him. (Ketav Sofer, Orach Chaim, 34)
 
IV. Summary of Sefer Ahava
 
To summarize, the mitzvot discussed in Sefer Ahava are intended to surround a person with a broad range of activities that stand man before God and nurture his love of God and devotion to Him throughout the day. The daily rituals of Shema, prayer, and blessings build a regular encounter with God. As it is stated in Mishlei:
 
But the path of just men is like the gleam of sunlight that shines ever more brightly until the height of noonday. (Mishlei 4:18)
 
At the same time, the other part of Sefer Ahava envelops the person with a connection to God from various perspectives, through circumcision, tzitzit, tefilin, and mezuza.
 
Together, the mitzvot of daily speech (Shema, prayer, and blessings) proclaim:
 
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (Tehillim 34:4)
 
Together, the mitzvot that accompany a person wherever he goes (circumcision, tzitzit, tefillin and mezuza) reveal the glory of God and declare:
 
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. (Yeshaya 40:5)
 
The two parts of Sefer Ahava build together a personality that tells the glory of God, every day and every night, proclaiming faithfully:
 
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. (Tehillim 19:10)
 
These things are done with the prayer and hope that the effect of these commandments on the person's soul inward will strengthen his devotion. As David says in his prayer at the end of his life, in his testament in anticipation of the building of the Temple:
 
O Lord God of Avraham, Yitzchak and of Yisrael our fathers, keep this forever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and direct their hearts to You. (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 29:18)
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] See also the wording of the Yerushalmi in Berakhot:
It is written: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that live in it" (Tehillim 24:1). One who derives any benefit from this world has misused consecrated property, until the mitzvot permit it for him. R. Avuha said: It is written: "Lest the fruit of the seed which you have sown, and the fruit of the vineyard, be forfeited" (Devarim 22:9). The entire world and the fullness thereof is made like a vineyard. What is its redemption? A blessing. R. Chizkiya said in the name of R. Yirmeya who said in the name of R. Abun who said in the name of R. Shimon ben Lakish: "I have said to the Lord, You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You" (Tehillim 16:2) – if you ate and recited a blessing, it is as if you ate of your own. (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 6:1)
[2] The basis of this distinction is that in monetary laws or evidentiary laws that depend on logical reasoning, it is clear that reason works with the force of Torah law, but regarding laws governing the relationship between man and God, reason has no place in creating mitzvot, and so there is only a mitzva if there is an explicit command. 
[3] Thus writes the Seforno: "As a sign of the covenant – A constant reminder to walk in His ways, as it is like a master's imprint on his servant" (Bereishit 17:11).