The Dawn of a New Mishnah

Daf 9. Summary. One can say the evening Shema just before dawn but must not follow it with “Help us to lie down.” There is a question as to whether this is a specific teaching or was inferred from an incident: Two sages got drunk at a wedding and fell asleep before reciting the evening Shema. Another incident involved Rabban Gamliel’s sons returning from a wedding after midnight. Were they not aware that Gamliel permitted the evening Shema after midnight? Yes, but they asked their father whether he was aware that the rabbis did not agree with him. And was their disagreement based on substance or to “distance a person from transgression”? Other mitzvot that should be performed by midnight and that are also permitted until dawn are described.

On the question of the time to eat the Pascal lamb, there are two opinions each based on a different key word in Scripture; one justifying eating only until midnight, the other justifying eating until dawn; one justifying eating only one night, the other justifying eating for two nights. From this, the Gemara revisits the question of when the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt– day or night; and whether they took the Egyptian’s wealth against the will of Egypt or did the Egyptians thrust it upon them?

Mishna. “From when does one recite Shema in the morning?” Answer: From when one can distinguish between the blue and the white in the sky or be able to distinguish between the blue of the sky and the green of the leek. An alternative: “one who recites from that time onward loses nothing.”

Gemara. The Gemara first asks what shade of blue the Mishnah has in mind and then offers alternative measures (e.g., when one can distinguish between two similar animals such as a dog and a wolf). The law follows Aherim– when one can recognize an acquaintance from a distance of four cubits. One should recite the morning Shema at sunrise.

Rabbi Yosei Ben Elyakim: “One who juxtaposes redemption and prayer at sunrise will incur no harm for the entire day.” To which Rabbi Zeira protested that he did juxtapose redemption and prayer at sunrise but was nevertheless harmed. Rabbi Yosei Ben Elyakim rebuked Zeira for seeing his privilege (to deliver myrtle branch to the King) as if it was a punishment.

Various phrases that the Sages added between redemption and prayer are examined and declared to be extensions of the one or the other rather than separate sections interrupting the flow from one to the other. The daf ends with a dispute on how to count the Psalms (are there 103 or 104?).

Comment. Tentative conclusions continue to be tested against incomplete information. How have we allowed ourselves to fail to remember how to count the Psalms? Is it possible that the sons of Gamliel would not know if such a basic law as how late one might recite the evening Shema was or was not in accordance with their father’s teaching? Could Zeira really see his honor as a punishment? Yes! None of us are consistently self-aware and all of us fail to keep perfect records to preserve critical information. Texts transmitted orally could hardly be expected to arrive intact after several generations. When the decision is finally made to write it down (because it is in danger of being forgotten!), much has already been lost.

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2 Responses to The Dawn of a New Mishnah

  1. elenizl says:

    I think it matters whether a prayer is one long prayer or two short prayers because if it’s one long prayer then it cannot be broken up and one needs to time its recitation so that the portion that needs to be recited at a specific time can be accommodated such that the other part doesn’t end up being recited at a time which is prohibited for that part.

  2. neillitt says:

    I agree. But given that, we also have here the suggestion that the juxtaposition of two prayers at sunrise provide protection from harm for an entire day– a suggestion that is itself juxtaposed with the account of a rabbi who perceives his honor as a “harm” or punishment. I can think of many possible ways to interpret this, including the simple explanation that he’s simply a grumpy old man, but my best guess is that he was appointed to this “honor” on a day when he juxtaposed the prayers, and the “harm” he sees in the honor is the risk entailed in having to face an absolute authority (the King) every day. His remedy, at least according to Rabbi Yosei Ben Elyakim, is to continue to first face the most Absolute Authority and juxtapose redemption and prayer at sunrise.

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