The Miraculous Fails to Astonish

Daf 4 Summary. The officers of David’s court are likened to the Kohen Gadol and the Sanhedrin. When David declared war, the Sanhedrin and the Urim ve Tummin were consulted and only if both agreed was the military deployed. A verse is found to establish that David’s lyre woke him at midnight, but Reb Zeira argued that Moses and David both knew exactly when it was midnight. Then why did he need the lyre? Answer: To wake him from his sleep.

A series of stories testify to David’s character and to the genealogy of his teacher. Dots above Hebrew letters in Psalms cast doubt on David’s piety, but the Gemara suggests that the dots reflect David’s own doubt, not anyone else’s. Lack of confidence in one’s ability to avoid transgressions leads to fear that God, who promised protection, will see the transgression as a betrayal and abandon the transgressor. This is further illustrated by Jacob’s fear upon meeting Esau when he returned to Canaan. And it is suggested that it is because of an unspecified (perhaps unknown) transgression on the part of the people that the expected miraculous return of the people to Israel in Ezra’s time was accomplished without the benefit of a miracle.

The Gemara returns to the question of the time one must say the evening Shema. “When you lie down” is, according to the rabbis, until midnight; Rabban Gamliel says it refers to the entire night. The Gemara repeats the explanation from Daf 2 that the rabbis are creating a fence against inadvertent transgressions, but here adding a stern warning: “Anyone who transgresses the pronouncements of the Sages is liable to receive the death penalty.” The Gemara wonders, why this stringency here? Possibly the answer is to avoid the impression that the evening prayer is optional.

The order of prayers is questioned. When does the Shema  come at the conclusion and when at the beginning? This may be related to whether redemption from Egypt occurred in the morning or evening (prayers of redemption need be inserted at the appropriate time), or may be related to interpretation of the verse about lying down and rising. (Recite the Shema as close to lying down and rising as possible.) The efficacy of other prayers is explored. There is a debate as to which of the angels, Gabriel or Michael, is the greater.

The daf concludes with a teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: “Even though one recited Shema in a synagogue, it is a mitzvah to recite it upon his bed.”

Comment. The return of the people to Israel in the time of Ezra, miraculous as it may have been, failed to astonish. Martin Buber wrote, “The concept of miracle . . . can be defined at its starting point as an abiding astonishment. The philosophizing and the religious person both wonder at the phenomenon, but the one neutralizes his wonder in ideal knowledge, while the other abides in that wonder; no knowledge, no cognition, can weaken his astonishment.” It is no wonder that, elsewhere in the Talmud, the rabbis debate whether Ezra took the best or the worst back with him when he made the trip! Would the “best” have failed to be astonished at their good fortune?

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2 Responses to The Miraculous Fails to Astonish

  1. elenizl says:

    Knowledge and wonder — binah and da’at — yes? Keeping the balance, staying the course, dancing the dance! Ezra took the bravest of the brave? the dreamers? those who had nothing to lose? those who dared to hope? They made a leap of faith not knowing where they would land but feeling more alive from the effort.

  2. neillitt says:

    I dunno. I was thinking that if these had been those who leapt, then, yes, they would feel more alive. But since they did not see it as miraculous, they may well have been the ones who were dragged, kicking and screaming.

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