It is Shabbat morning and I am at the computer about to blog on yesterday’s daf.
What an astonishing sentence! Even a few years ago I couldn’t imagine saying such a sentence, let alone writing it down. We live in astonishing times! And yet to open one’s eyes at any time is to see the magic and astonishment of all times, all moments.
We are still in Chapter 6 of Berachot. The name of the chapter is the first two words of the chapter “Keytzad mevarchim?” …– “In what manner” or “how” do we bless? We have read many pages on this topic, ten dapim to be precise. What have we learned?
We have learned that the blessing is for us, not for the One. We have learned that blessing is a kind of mindfulness, a kind of paying attention, and a way to be present. We have learned about distinctions and differences among things and ideas that initially seemed homogeneous. And we remember always the context of this text; it is recorded in the shadow of the destruction of The Temple.
And what did this destruction entail? It was the destruction of an edifice and the very ground it stood on of all that grounded and focused Jewish practice. The destruction smashed Judaism into smithereens.
The distinctions, the divisions, the endless parsing of words are the verbal counterparts to these “smithereens”. And the Talmud is a container of all the smithereens that could be collected, not only to capture what has been destroyed, but to create something new out of it.
Yesterday’s daf gives us a riddle: “We learned in a Mishnah: whatever requires a blessing after it requires a blessing before it; but there is something that requires a blessing before it and does not require a blessing after it.” After some discussion the Gemara concludes: “The Mishnah means to exclude fragrances indicating that one recites a blessing only before smelling a fragrance but not afterwards.”
This is followed by a discussion of the “virtues of an egg”.
Thus the text dances from brokenness to wholeness, and from wholeness to brokenness, endlessly trying in every which way to capture the smithereens of that destruction and make some new whole and some new meaning.
And naturally – I cannot help but remember the destruction experienced in our own time on 9/11/01 and how the smithereens of that destruction continue to reverberate in their own way through our times as we try to create wholeness out of that brokenness. What Talmud might contain all of those smithereens?