Talmud Tips

For the week ending 11 January 2020 / 14 Tevet 5780

Berachot 2-8

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Weight of Responsibility

King David prayed to Hashem, “Protect me, for I am a righteous man.” (Tehillim 86:2)

Our Sages explain that King David’s prayer was not a plea for protection due to his righteousness, as one might understand from the simple reading of the verse. Rather, King David was a very special person and leader, who conducted himself as king in a manner unlike other monarchs. Chazal describe the difference between the behavior of other kings and that of King David in the following manner: “All the kings of the east and west sit in splendor with their royal courts, while, on the other hand, King David immersed himself with ruling on halachic matters of family purity.”

So, from what exact threat did King David pray to Hashem for protection in this Psalm? One answer offered by the commentaries is that King David was aware of a special “occupational hazard” of monarchs — stress — that potentially could lessen his effectiveness as the leader of the Jewish People, both in matters of the State and matters of the spirit. Even a miniscule degree of untreated and ignored tension — a degree that we might consider completely insignificant — might possibly have a negative impact on a person in his unique position.

This idea, which according to these commentaries is expressed in Sefer Tehillim, appears to be the source for the playwright’s oft-quoted line, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” (The exact wording is actually “uneasy,” not “heavy.”) This clever wording is intended to convey the difficulties involved in fulfilling the duties of kingship — especially the difficulty for the king to properly fulfill his great responsibility if he is worried.

Other kings of the world indulged themselves with every manner of luxury, privilege and feasting, which — as inappropriate as their behavior was — served to relieve the stress that was part of being a monarch. King David, however, spurned this accepted lifestyle of other kings, and devoted all of his time and efforts to Torah, tefillah and halacha. For this reason he prayed to Hashem that he not be affected by any measure of stress from his royal position, so that he would be able to lead the Jewish People in the path of Torah and fear of Heaven. (Iyun Yaakov)

  • Berachot 4a

Preparing for the Evening Prayer

Rabbi Yochanan said, “Who is a ‘ben Olam Haba’? One who juxtaposes ‘geulah’ to ‘tefillah’ in the evening prayer service.”

“Geula” refers to the second beracha following the Shema at night, and whose theme is the fact that Hashem freed the Jewish People at the time of the Exodus from Egypt to give the Torah at Mount Sinai. “Tefillah” refers to the Shmoneh Esrei quiet prayer that we say immediately after the beracha of geulah at night as well as in the morning. A “ben Olam Haba” is someone who has a good place in the World-to-Come.

What is the special significance of saying geulah and then immediately following it with tefillah that it should merit this reward of such great magnitude?

A primary lesson to internalize when saying the prayer of geulah is that Hashem is faithful to us and we should be faithful to Him. At the time of the Exodus, the Jewish People put their faith in Hashem. As the Torah states in Shemot 14:31, “And they believed in Hashem.” And as a result, they were rescued by Hashem with clear signs and miracles. So, at first we say the beracha of geulah, whichexpresses awareness of the reward given to those who have faith and trust in Hashem. And without delay, the next logical step is that we actualize this trust in the Creator by turning to Him, and to Him alone, in prayer with our personal requests. Prayer to Hashem shows that we trust in Him to truly listen to us, care for us and help us. Therefore, tefillah immediately after the geulah demonstrates our complete faith that Hashem rewards those who put their trust in Him. (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah. And see there another reason explaining Rabbi Yochanan’s teaching. Regarding the halacha of praying the Shmoneh Esrei of Maariv immediately following the beracha of geulah, see the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 236:2, and the poskim there.)

  • Berachot 4b

This issue is sponsored by ECG Resources, a wealth management firm with over 35 years of experience, in honor of Rabbi Avrohom Rockmill.

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