A Universally Accepted Conclusive Rule?

Daf 31. Summary. The Sages become excessively joyous at weddings and their behavior is interrupted. Rabbi Yohanan says, “It is forbidden to fill his mouth with mirth in this world” . . . at least until the exile is ended.

One cannot pray in a state of distraction. Prepare for prayer by studying a “universally accepted conclusive halakha.” The gemara considers several examples of such a halakha. One involves the rules for purification following menstruation; one involves employing “artifice” to evade an obligation; one involves the prohibition from deriving a benefit from the blood of a living animal consecrated for sacrifice.

One should not pray in a state of sadness, laziness, frivolity, or aimlessness. One should come to pray “imbued with the joy of a mitzvah.”

In prayer, one should “focus his heart toward heaven.” The daf derives examples of prayer  models from Torah. Rav Hamnuna and others derive several significant halakhot from Hannah’s prayer.

Comment. The examples of “universally accepted conclusive halakha” that one may contemplate in preparing for prayer are hardly likely to achieve the promised result of settling the mind and focusing one’s heart toward heaven . . . at least for me! The rule for purification following menstruation makes me anxious at the uncertainty that my wife will be permitted to me. The rule that artifices  may be employed to avoid a “derivative” obligation sets my mind to wondering whether the obligations I evaded today were truly derivative. Contemplating the prohibition against deriving blood from an animal consecrated for sacrifice reminds me that such sacrifices are not possible since the destruction of the Temple, leaving me too sad to pray. But then there is Hannah, and a hundred positive examples of how to pray and what to pray for. Many rich and positive examples of how to engage with God are derived from the yearnings of a woman to bear a child. It takes a woman to teach men how to pray.

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One Response to A Universally Accepted Conclusive Rule?

  1. charleshollander says:

    Hannah’s prayer is taken as unique and exemplary; the Daf shows us how we can learn from it. At 31b R. Elazar said: “From the day that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created His world, there was no person who called the Holy One, Blessed be He, Lord of Hosts until Hannah came and called him Lord of Hosts.” This is true. Ha-Shem Tzvaot does not appear in the Pentateuch or in Joshua or Judges, and its first appearance is in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah is the first person to call on him as Ha-Shem Tzvaot, but her husband Elkanah “used to go up from his town every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to the LORD of Hosts at Shiloh” (1 Samuel 1:3, 8 verses before Hannah’s prayer). Thus Elkanah and Hannah, husband and wife, are the first two to be attached to the phrase Ha-Shem Tzvaot. R. Elazar explains the prayer as “Master of the Universe, of all of the hosts and hosts that You created in Your world, is it difficult in Your eyes to grant me one son?” So it was the woman’s prayer that was granted.

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