A Pleasure of the Soul

Daf 43. Summary. Rav Adda bar Ahava shares a meal with his colleagues following the funeral of his teacher. He cries out, “Rav has died and we have not learned from him even the laws of Bircas HaMazon!” An old man “came along” and provided the lesson that a deliberate plan to meet for a meal is the equivalent of reclining, and thus one may say the blessing for all.

It is disputed whether or not wine requires reclining, or even if reclining is sufficient; as well as the protocol for selecting who will recite the blessing; and the time for reciting the blessing over incense. (The difficulty regarding the latter is anticipating when one will derive benefit from the incense since the blessing should immediately precede the benefit.) The text of the blessing itself depends on the primary material of the incense, which may be wood, oil, or musk (made from animal excrement).

Regarding the blessing over balsam oil, Rav Yehudah’s blessing, “Who creates the oil of our Land,” is rejected “because the Land of Israel is especially dear to him.” The discussion turns to the blessings over aromatic plants and blooming fruit trees.

Rav is asked to interpret the verse from Ecclesiastes, “He made everything beautiful in its time.” He says it means that “He made everyone’s craft appear beautiful in his eyes.” Other statements of Rav are recalled. The last of these was perhaps said by Rav or it is suggested it may have been said by several others: “It is better that a person should cast himself into a fiery furnace than that he should shame his fellow in public.” ArtScroll notes, “We do not find such extreme expressions on the part of the rabbis for other serious transgressions. This is because the pain one experiences by being shamed in public is often greater than that of death itself.”

Rabban Gamliel decides in favor of Shammai on the question of the order of the blessings over oil and myrtle. Rav Pappa nevertheless blesses according to Hillel, claiming that he is following Rava’s decision, though there never was such a decision: he did so “to extricate himself from an embarrassing predicament.”

A Torah scholar should not go out with perfume on his hands; he should wipe the perfume from his hands onto the waiter’s head before going out from the meal. The gemara mentions five other things that a Torah scholar should not do. (Perfume should not be worn by a Torah scholar, according to R’Yochanan in a space where people are “suspected of homosexuality.”)

Comment. I struggled to read this daf in the Koren edition and switched for the first time in this cycle to the ArtScroll. The Koren seems determined to avoid using Hebrew if at all possible– for example, using Grace after a meal instead of Bircas HaMazon and phylacteries instead of tefillin. Although the layout of the pages is pleasing to the eye, the translation itself is short on commentary, falling somewhere between Soncino and ArtScroll. My morning with ArtScroll was a delight. I had forgotten that their translation was so beautifully crafted and precise, and the richness of the commentary. And now I have the added pleasure of navigating it on an iPad, where today’s daf is always just a click away.

Regarding fragrances, a footnote in the ArtScroll says, “Since smells do not enter the body in the same tangible form as do food and drink, smell is considered, by comparison to eating, a ‘pleasure of the soul’.” It notes as well that “God blew the soul into the first man through his nostrils, the same orifices used for sensing smell.” This type of poetic commentary is mostly absent from Koren. I have missed it.

Rabbi Gamliel also returns in this daf. No sooner does Rav declare that it is better that a person should cast himself into a fiery furnace than that he should shame his fellow in public” then Gamliel puts Rav Pappa in the position of having to fabricate a teaching in the name of Rav to avoid confronting (shaming) Gamliel in public.

Finally, Rabbi Yehudah’s proposed blessing is rejected because it is colored by his “unusually great love for the land of Israel” (Rashi). This moves me to reflect that there must be limits beyond which love of the land is considered a barrier. Surely, this is the case with Netanyahu.

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