Summary. The rabbis examine how several blessings are constructed to determine the rules and limits related to how they begin, how they end, and what may be inserted in the middle.
Rav Idi bar Avin asks, “What is the difference between prayer and Bircas haMazon?” This leads to a discussion of the circumstances requiring returning home after embarking for Jerusalem when one suspects that chometz remains in his home.
Mishnah. “How do we perform zimun?” The performance depends on how many people are present, but the differences and their trigger points are the subject of a dispute between R’Akiva and R’Yose HaGlili, who asserts that from ten on up (the minimum number to include the name of God in the blessing) there is no difference.
Gemara. “When blessing Hashem, one should never exclude himself from the group.”
Summary. “Let us bless . . .” is preferred over “Bless . . .” so that the leader includes himself in the group offering the blessing.
At well-attended meals at the home of Reish Galusa, groups of three would quietly recite zimun after finishing their meal, forfeiting the opportunity to recite the zimun of ten rather than to risk offending their host.
Mishnah. Here are the rules for when large groups eating together are allowed to separate into smaller groups for the purpose of zimun and when small groups in sight of each other are allowed to combine. There is a dispute between R’Elizer and the Sages over whether one may say a blessing over undiluted wine.
Gemara. The gemara asks why the mishnah is repeating what we already know. Different explanations are considered. Different uses of bread are mentioned. Shmuel (citing Eliezer) says, “A person may use bread for all his needs. Of course, according to the rabbis, there are exceptions: for example, we do not throw bread. (Mar Zutra says, “Other food may be thrown.”)
For one who neglects to recite a blessing before putting food in his mouth the gemara specifies which foods may be shifted to the side of the mouth, which may be swallowed, and which must be spat out.
The home of Reish Galusa must be bigger than a barn! And too loud and too large to permit all to say zimun together. Given that, why would the host be offended if he overheard others ending their meal, thus requiring them to splinter into groups too small to permit the blessing that mentions God? Is this not an ironic dilemma (that perhaps foreshadows the discussion that advises us how to avoid making our food into something repulsive)?
Reading all this condensed commentary over just two folios is an intense and frustrating experience. There seems to be a method to it, but the juxtaposition of the petty and the profound is (dare I say?) too much like life itself; even like the most intimate and blessed human relationships. (Shall I wash your dishes now or wait to say zimun with you?) Is life one orphaned amen after another? It certainly is at the home of Reish Galusa!