#52 - Bava Batra 121-127
A Blessing for Goodness
In our birkat hamazon, the grace we say after meals, there are four berachot (blessings). Three of them have a source in the Torah. The fourth is of rabbinic origin and has an interesting historic background.
You shall eat and be satiated and you shall bless Hashem your G-d for the good land which He has given you. (Devarim 8:10).
Rashbam here refers us to this passage which the gemara (Berachot 48) cites as the source for the first three blessings, based on the three components mentioned in it: 1) a blessing for sustaining us with food; 2) for giving us the Land of Israel; and 3) for giving us Yerushalayim and the Beit Hamikdash.
The fourth blessing was added by the Sages after the Romans gave permission to bury the Jews who were slain in Beitar. Following the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash by the Romans came the tragedy of the massive slaughter of the Jews of this heavily populated city. So many Jews were killed there, says the gemara (Mesechta Gittin 57a), that for seven years the heathens who took over the area fertilized their fields with the blood of their Jewish victims. The cruel conqueror of Beitar, Adrianos, wanted to constantly enjoy gazing upon the corpses of the mighty warriors he had overcome, so he ordered that instead of burying them they should be stacked up one atop another to form a human fence around his massive vineyard.
When he finally gave persmission to bury them, the bodies were found to be miraculously intact and not decomposed as would be expected. The Sages then decreed that a fourth blessing be added to birkat hamazon whose central phrase is a praise of Hashem as hatov vehameitiv (Who is good and does good to others), for preserving the unburied bodies for so long and for putting into the emperors mind to permit them to be buried.
In addition to this regular reminder of Hashems goodness regarding the dead of Beitar, the Sages also instituted a shorter version of the same blessing when one switches from drinking an ordinary wine to a superior one. This was exclusively directed to wine because of the aforementioned abuses of Jewish blood and corpses in connection with the Roman vineyards.
The day that permission was granted for burial of the Beitar dead was Tu BAv (the fifteenth day of the Month of Av), and is one of the reasons why this is such a special day in the Jewish calendar.
Bava Batra 121b
The Sound of Deception
When Yaakov came to claim Rachel as his wife after working seven years for her father Lavan he was afraid that his devious employer would attempt to underhandedly divert the marriage to be with his older daughter Leah instead. He therefore arranged some code words with Rachel which only she would be able to use in identifying herself. When Lavan indeed substituted Leah for her, Rachel, out of concern for the embarrassment her older sister would suffer by being exposed as an accomplice to this swindle, passed on these code words to Leah.
When morning came, relates the Torah about the morning following the wedding, and behold it was Leah! (Bereishet 29:25)
From this our gemara deduces that until he saw her in the morning light Yaakov was not aware that it was really Leah whom he had married, because she had successfully duped him through the code words passed on to her by Rachel.
The question arises, however, as to why Yaakov failed to recognize the voice which spoke those words as not being that of Rachel.
Maharshas solution is that Yaakov was so convinced by the code words that he had devised as a positive form of identification that he completely ignored the slight differentiation of voice. A similar situation, he points out, existed in the case of Yaakov, at an earlier stage of his life, presenting himself to his blind father as his brother Esav in order to receive the blessings Yitzchak intended for his firstborn. The hairy clothes with which his mother Rivka convered Yaakovs arms so convinced Yitzchak that this was his hairy son Esav that he ignored the difference between the voices.
The explanation which Maharsha offers for Yitzchaks failure to detect the impersonation through voice is at odds with what Ramban, in his commentary on Chumash, suggests as the reason. One possibility, he writes, is that the brothers had very similar voices. When Yitzchak commented (ibid. 27:23) that the voice is that of Yaakov but the hands are that of Esav he was referring, say our Sages, to the content of Yaakovs words, softly spoken and mentioning Hashems Name, rather than the sound of the voice. Another possibility, concludes Ramban, is that Yaakov imitated the voice of his brother as some people are capable of doing.
Bava Batra 123a