For the week ending 25 August 2012 / 6 Elul 5772

Berachot 23 - 29

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Bodily cleanliness and prayer
  • Cleanliness of place
  • Modesty of dress
  • Interruption in prayer
  • Times for prayer
  • Making up a missed prayer
  • The authors and pattern of prayers
  • Respect for the one praying
  • An early Maariv
  • The revolution against Rabban Gamliel
  • A Late Mussaf
  • A prayer for success in Torah study
  • Parting words of dying Sages
  • The components of the Shmoneh Esraei
  • Abbreviated prayer
  • Forgotten additions
  • The mindset of prayer

Removing the Guard

When Rabban Gamliel was temporarily deposed as head of the Sanhedrin and replaced by Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, a radical change took place in regard to the admission of students to the great yeshiva. It had been Rabban Gamliels order that no student whose "interior was unlike his exterior" whose righteousness was questionable could not be admitted. A guard was even stationed at the entrance to enforce this rule.

The day Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah took over, the guard was removed and permission was granted for all to enter, resulting in the addition of hundreds of seats.

The issue of selectivity in admitting students to study Torah first appears at the very beginning of Pirkei Avot. The Anshei Knesset Hagedola (Members of the Great Assembly) a body of 120 Sages including the last of the Prophets are quoted as advising "raise up many disciples". The commentaries point out that this was in opposition to the selective policy later practiced by Rabban Gamliel.

It may be speculated that Rabban Gamliel himself also held this view but saw a need in his time to be selective because of a proliferation of suspicious applicants. There is no statement by him that it is always wrong to admit without being selective, only a directive issued by him not to do so.

Such an approach might help to explain why he was shown by Heaven in a dream that he had not been guilty of wrongdoing in denying admission to so many applicants. The gemara states that this was not intended as a vindication of his policy, only as a comfort for his conscience. Perhaps the idea is that the time had come for a change in policy dictated by new circumstances which allowed a return to the policy initially advised by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola without casting any blame on Rabban Gamliel for his selectivity during his reign.

  • Berachot 28a

What the Sages Say

"May it be His will that you should have the same fear of Heaven as you have of man. The proof of the need for this is that when a man commits a sin he is only concerned that no one should see him."

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakais parting words to his disciples

  • Berachot 28b

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