“People Such as Ourselves”

Daf 61.

Summary. Man was created with two inclinations– “one a good inclination and the other one an evil inclination.” Were man and woman created at the same time (He created them male and female) or was woman created later (the other fashioned from the first)?

A man should not walk behind a woman. R’Yochanan says, “Better to go behind a lion and not behind a woman.”

While the good are ruled entirely by their good inclination and the evil are ruled entirelyby their evil inclination, the average person is ruled by both. Rava says, “People such as ourselves are average.” Abaye disagrees.

The gemara examines the verse You shall love Hashem with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources. R’Akiva says, “all your soul . . . teaches that you should love Him even if he takes your soul from you.” This is illustrated (and affirmed) by the manner of Akiva’s death.

Rules for conduct in the vicinity of the Temple are enumerated.

Daf 62.

Summary. R’Akiva learns three things by following R’Yehoshua into a latrine. R’Akiva says, “His behavior even in these matters is Torah and I must study it.” Rav Kahana learned the art of love by hiding under Rav’s bed (“even this matter is Torah”). Many reasons are advanced for wiping with the left hand following defecation. Rava’s wife protected him from demons while he defecated. The etiquette of modestly defecating is presented.

“One may not employ the Temple Mount as a shortcut.” Spitting is permitted in a synagogue, but not in the Temple.

Daf 63.

Summary. We do not respond Amen in the Temple. Rebbi says, “A person should never invite too many friends into his house.” When R’Chanina intercalates years and establishes months outside Israel he is warned that he is liable to be excommunicated.

R’Tanchum says, “A man recites the Shema every morning and every evening, yet if he does not recite it, he seems like one who has never recited Shema.” Rava says, “A person should always first learn Torah and only afterwards analyze it.” The gemara suggests that monetary laws are more difficult than capital cases.

Daf 64.

Summary. The gemara considers the virtues of the heads of the Academy and of sharing a meal with a Torah scholar (“. . . it is as if he benefits from the radiance of the Divine Presence”). R’Elazar cites R’Chanina: “Torah scholars increase the peace in the world.”

Comment.

We are at best average, or at least that is as much credit as we may presume to claim for ourselves. Rava, who says, “People such as ourselves are average,” makes average seem unattainable. Akiva, who can see in his painful death an opportunity to love God with all his soul, sets a standard for goodness that no man living today is capable of attaining. Only a page later we see Akiva, hungry for knowledge, deriving lessons from observing R’Yehoshua in a latrine. All of this comes to suggest that everything is Torah or, to put it in other words, that we can learn something from all the processes and transactions of life.

Rava and Akiva loom large in these closing pages of the tractate. The former is a model of caution and modesty, advising that, “A person should always first learn Torah and only afterwards analyze it.” The latter, analyzing in the moment, even in the moment he finds himself on the gallows.

An entire tractate that is nominally devoted to prayer is ultimately a paean to learning. And why not? After all, what is the value of a prayer formulated in ignorance. Learn first! HADRAN ALACH MASECHET BERACHOT! V’HADRACH ALAN!

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