Count Your Blessings

Daf 35. Summary. Perek VI. Mishnah. The blessings to be recited over different types of food are described.

Gemara. What is the derivation for reciting blessings before eating? The rabbis consider various Scriptural sources. An a fortiori inference is rejected. A justification based on a hermeneutic principle is rejected. A derivation based on a combination of two sources is rejected; as is a derivation based on two sources sharing a common denominator. A derivation based on the obligation to say a blessing over the “seven species” is rejected. Finally, the obligation is derived from a principle: “One is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without a blessing.” Rabbi Hanina ben Pappa says,”Anyone who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he stole from God and the community of Israel.”

The rabbis debate how to balance Torah study and work. Earlier generations “made their Torah permanent and their work occasional” and were successful. Later generations “made their work permanent and their Torah occasional, neither this nor that was successful for them.” It is suggested that later generations evaded tithing their produce.

The daf raises other questions: Why is there no special blessing over oil? Does wine satisfy?

Comment. The rabbis spread out their tools and test the fit of each of them against the mandate to say a blessing before eating. We all assume they will find a source in Scripture that, directly or by inference, settles the issue, but, in fact, they don’t. Ultimately, it comes down to a plain assertion of rabbinic authority that one who derives a benefit without acknowledging the blessing has, in effect, stolen from God. The flexing of rabbinic authority is ironically justified by their strong devotion to Torah. Who but the best of our Torah scholars could be competent to declare that they have exhausted their options and must resort to aphorism to justify a foundational ritual? Having said that, they caution that such scholars are no longer among us; that such moves are no longer permitted. Look who has replaced them– laborers whose Torah knowledge is so superficial that they think they can evade the obligation to tithe by carrying their produce home through the back door! The Temple has been destroyed and the fence around the Torah that the rabbis have built in its place is swaying in the wind.

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One Response to Count Your Blessings

  1. elenizl says:

    The swaying of the fence is an indication of its flexibility rather than its frailty. The fence has never been built before and the rabbis are showing us (readers) all of the tools at their disposal, even as they also share the humility of not having the “answer” or at least the expected one (ie the biblical reference for the behavior). They don’t resort only to an aphorism but rather to reason. There are worse things than “reason” so I’d cut them a break today!

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