Talmud Tips

For the week ending 15 January 2022 / 13 Shvat 5782

Megillah 23 - 29

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Returning the Blessing

Rav said (to Rav Huna), “When I gave you a brachah, why did you fail to reply to me in kind, also with a brachah, by saying, ‘And the same to (you) my master?’ ”

Rashi explains this complaint/rebuke as Rav saying to his Torah student that the moment when he offered him the brachah may have been a moment of Divine favor. And if only Rav Huna would have offered Rav a reciprocal brachah, Hashem would have blessed Rav with a glorious wardrobe and great wealth. Rashi points out that although Rav’s brachah was not subsequently fulfilled in the manner desired by Rav Huna (although it was indeed fulfilled in a technical sense), the “return brachah” that Rav Huna should have offered may have resulted in Hashem blessing Rav with the finest clothing and riches, in accordance with the intent of the brachah.

The gemara tells of this brachah- encounter between Rav and Rav Huna in detail in the context of people going to extraordinary lengths in order to have wine for the Kiddush cup on Shabbat. Rav asked his student, Rav Huna, “Where is your fine belt that you normally wear, instead of the shoddy one you are wearing now?” Rav Huna answered, “I used it as collateral to secure a loan in order to be able to afford to buy wine for Shabbat Kiddush.” His explanation made a very favorable impact on his Torah teacher, Rav. Rav saw that his student would forgo his normal respectable appearance for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah. As a result, Rav gave his student a brachah: “In the merit of your dedication and sacrifice, may you be covered with clothes.” Rav’s intent was clearly to offer a brachah that Hashem would enrich Rav Huna (despite Rav’s somewhat vague wording of “being covered with clothes”).

The story picks up at a later point in time. Rav Huna made a wedding ceremony and festive meal for his son, Rabbah. The preparations were finally made after much hustle and bustle. While waiting for the guests to arrive, Rav Huna took a few minutes to rest on a bed to “recharge his batteries.” Friends and family arrived for the celebration, taking off their coats and handing them to Rav Huna’s children to put in a safe place. But these coat handlers did not notice their father, Rav Huna, on the bed, and they in fact placed the coats on the bed on top of Rav Huna, completely “covering him with clothes.” Hashem fulfills the brachah of a tzaddik, such as Rav, and this was clearly a fulfillment of the words of Rav’s brachah for Rav Huna to be covered in clothes.

The gemara relates that when Rav heard of this fulfillment of his brachah, he rebuked and complained to Rav Huna, saying, “When I gave you the brachah, why did you fail to reply to me in kind, also with a brachah, by saying, ‘And the same to (you) my master?’ ”

Many ask why Rav was upset that Rav Huna did not also return his beracha by replying with “And the same (brachah) to Mar (i.e. you, Rav, the Torah master).” Here is one explanation of what Rav was thinking that prompted him to rebuke his student. Rav was in effect saying to Rav Huna, “Perhaps if you had returned the brachah for me, Hashem would fulfill it by granting me great wealth, with which I could afford to cover myself with clothing.” The words of Rav’s brachah were somewhat vague, and Rav Huna for some reason did not merit a very positive fulfillment of these words. Rather, for Rav Huna the brachah came to fruition merely by the coats being strewn atop his resting person at his son’s wedding. However, Rav thought that if that exact same brachah had been initially echoed back to him by Rav Huna, perhaps Rav would merit fulfillment of the brachah in a manner more in line with his intent — to be blessed with riches with which he could purchase clothing he needed to accompany his Torah greatness. (This is the explanation of why Rav was upset according to the commentary of Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, often referred to as the Bach, although other explanations can also be found in the writings of the great Torah commentaries).

Although our gemara teaches what Rav told Rav Huna about Rav Huna’s negligence in not giving the same brachah to Rav as well, this practice of “blessing the blesser” is apparently not cited as halacha in the Rambam, Tur or Shulchan Aruch. It is nevertheless deserving of being called a “Talmud Tip.” Whenever it is appropriate, a person who receives a brachah from another person should not only answer “Amen” but should also have the courtesy and integrity to reciprocate by “returning” the brachah. Doing so expresses one’s gratitude for receiving a bracha and exhibits chessed and loving-kindness towards others.

  • Megillah 27b

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