Daf 33. Summary. A man who has ignored the greeting of an army commander so as not to interrupt his prayer appeases the commander by explaining the importance of prayer. Even if a snake is wrapped around your heel, you should not interrupt your prayer unless the snake becomes agitated. For scorpions one always interrupts. It is more complicated in the case of oxen. Rabbi Hanina Ben Dosa’s piety is such that when a snake bites him, it is the snake that dies.
Mishnah. Blessings may sometimes be incorporated in Amidah, including Havdala.
Gemara. The gemara asks why blessings mentioning the “might of the rain” are incorporated in some prayers. Rav Yosef said such rains are “equivalent to the resurrection of the dead.”
The gemara discusses the blessing of wisdom. Rav Ami says “anyone without knowledge, it is forbidden to have compassion upon him.” It is noted that the place of Havdala has shifted over the generations, depending on the fortunes of the people; regardless, it is debated as to whether it must also be recited over the cup of wine.
Mishnah. When a prayer leader introduces certain “innovations,” he must be silenced.
Gemara. It is clear why most of the innovations are problematic, but why does this apply to “your mercy is extended to a bird’s nest”? Answer: Because it is a misstatement to credit God with mercy in this case, where the Scriptural source is a commandment to man to show mercy. Rabbi Hanina suggests that the “innovations” that add to God’s praise are ineffectual, pale reflections of the formulas provided by Moses and the members of the Great Assembly.
Comment. This daf presents a typical tension in considering when to perpetuate tradition and when to accept innovation. There is acknowledged difficulty in reconstructing the evolution of Havdala related to Amida, which reflects both the loss of knowledge (the corruption of memory) and the tradition of innovation. Yet we are also forbidden to have compassion on one who lacks knowledge and commanded to silence the innovator. Of course, there is nuance to these apparent contradictions. The compassion we are forbidden to extend to the one without knowledge is not forbidden to the bird nest, where we are commanded to show mercy. The prohibition against innovation is directed against innovation meant to influence God but not against innovation that shows mercy because of the altered circumstance of the people. Thus, there is a distinction between those of us who remain in the nest (community) and those of us who think we can fly alone.