Keeping it Simple (11a-11b)

With the destruction of The Temple our sacrifices have been replaced by prayer. But it’s not just any prayer. It is first and foremost the Sh’ma.

And even as we grapple with when the Sh’ma is said in the evening and when the Sh’ma is said in the morning, we also read in yesterday’s daf (11a-11b) about the physical position one ought to be in when reciting the Sh’ma. Ought we follow Beit Shammai who says that we must literally lie down for the evening Sh’ma and literally stand up for the morning Sh’ma or may we follow Beit Hillel who asserts that either position and any other position is fine?

We follow the position of Hillel for several reasons that include the idea that Shammai’s position is literally dangerous, because if one is on the road at the time of the evening Sh’ma and one lies down in order to recite it he may be in danger of being attacked by bandits.

But there is more – not only is Beit Shammai’s not preferred, it is also prohibited: “One who performed the recitation (of the Sh’ma) in accordance with the words of Beit Shammai is considered to have performed nothing.” “Rabbi” ArtScroll elucidates that if someone saw another reciting according to the practice of Beit Shammai he would think he needed to recite that way as well when in fact he does not.

From this we learn: without intention we are models for others so we ought to always behave in such a way that our actions might be replicable by those who might not know how to do something. Act well. Act with the least ambiguity, the least unnecessary complexity, and the most flexibility. This is the way of Hillel.

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