Talmud Tips

For the week ending 21 December 2019 / 23 Kislev 5780

Nidah 51-64

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Before and After

"There are things that require a blessing beforehand but not afterwards."

What are these “things” that are mentioned in our mishna as requiring a beracha before but not after? After suggesting vegetables and water — and rejecting these answers — the gemara states that the mishna refers to tefillin, meaning that a beracha is made before putting on tefillin but not after taking tefillin off. However, this answer is also countered by the fact that “the people in the Land of Israel would make a beracha after taking off their tefillin, saying, ‘asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lishmor chukav — Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to guard His statutes.’”

This community in Eretz Yisrael said a beracha when taking off their tefillin, based on the verse, “And you will guard this statute at its appointed time, from yamim to yamim.” (Shemot 13:10) They interpreted this verse to be speaking about tefillin and teaching that the mitzvah of tefillin is only during the day — yamim — but not at night. Night is not a permitted time for tefillin according to Torah law, and this verse is teaching to guard the mitzvah of tefillin by taking them off prior to sunset.

Tosefot quotes Rabbeinu Tam as teaching that this after-beracha was said only when taking the tefillin off at the very end of the day, since at that point of time there is an obligation to remove them. He adds that although this was the practice in Eretz Yisrael at the time of the gemara, it is not the halacha anywhere in the time of Tosefot (or nowadays) to make a beracha after the mitzvah of tefillin. This is because we say that the mitzvah of tefillin exists also at night according to Torah law, since we interpret the verse “and you will guard…” as speaking about the yearly Passover offering and not about tefillin. According to us, although tefillin are not prohibited at night by Torah law, there is a Rabbinical decree not to wear them at night lest a person fall asleep in them. Therefore, the mitzvah of tefillin is like other mitzvahs, with a beracha before but not after.

This is in accordance with the teaching that “a beracha for a mitzvah should be recited before doing the mitzvah.” The commentaries explain reasons for the beracha to precede the act of the mitzvah. One reason offered is that the beracha helps ensure that the mitzvah is fulfilled with pure and correct intent. This intent is called kavana, which comes from the Hebrew word for direction or alignment. Making a beracha is a method to help us align our own thoughts and desires with those of our Creator.

  • Nidah 51b


“It is permitted to make burial shrouds from kilayim (a wool and linen garment, aka shatnez, which is forbidden for a living person to wear).”

This beraita on our daf is the source for a fascinating discussion in our sugya regarding whether there will be an obligation to fulfill the mitzvahs following the future resurrection of the dead.

Rav Yosef learns from this beraita that there will be no obligation in the future at the time of resurrection. Tosefot explains that this can be seen in the beraita, since if mitzvahs will apply at the time resurrection, people will “arise” wearing what they were buried in. This would obviously pose a problem for anyone buried wearing shatnez.

Abayei, however, cites the opinion of Rabbi Yannai to show that, in fact, mitzvahs will exist following resurrection. Accordingly, these Sages understand the beraita to be speaking only about putting shatnez on the deceased for the eulogies, but not for the burial itself.

But, Rav Yosef stands his ground. He quotes the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan that shatnez is permitted even for the burial, clearly indicating that mitzvahs will not exist after resurrection. The gemara states that this is completely consistent with a different teaching by Rabbi Yochanan, “What is the meaning of the verse that states ‘among the dead, who are free?’ (Tehillim 88:6) This means that once a person passes from this world he is exempt from mitzvah observance — i.e. forever, even after resurrection.”

Although the gemara doesn’t spell it out, it seems clear that Rabbi Yannai would understand the verse to refer to a person as free from mitzvahs only during the time period after one’s life in this world and before his life after resurrection.

Regarding halacha, the Shulchan Aruch states that the deceased may be buried in shrouds containing shatnez, which follows the view of Rav Yosef and Rabbi Yochanan. (Yoreh Deah 301)

  • Nidah 61b

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