Thursday, March 19, 2020

When Berakhot is Shabbat, and Shabbat is Berakhot

One of our members, Morris Massel made an exceptional point in the KJ Daf Yomi chat. He noted that the Daf has just transitioned from Berakhot, which is a light and relatively easy Tractate (Mesekhet in Aramaic) to Shabbat which is a relatively difficult meskehet, and noted that this is meant to  push us to the next level, and inspire us to hang on for the greater challenge; and now is the time to do so. I would like to add to what he wrote, and note the following:

In actuality the very themes of Shabbat are meant to be ones of comfort: it is a day of oneg, enjoyment, and it is also a day in which we cease to work. Shabbat is meant to feel like a spiritual vacation. On the other hand, Berakhot includes very demanding themes. You stand before God. You are doing Avodah shebalev, the service of the heart. Ironically, the cadence of these two Mesechtot are the opposite of their very themes. As Morris mentioned, Berakhot is lighter and simpler. Shabbat and its companion Meskhet, Eruvin, are dense and difficult. Perhaps on a pragmatic level the rabbis wanted to start the students of Talmud off easy, and then move to greater intensity. But I think the message is deeper than that, and one that is very relevant to today. There are times when prayer is a joy and a comfort, and not a difficulty and a discipline. There are times where we find great solace and comfort in the words of prayer;  it is now a refuge, not a labor. On the other hand, there are times in which Shabbat, instead of feeling like a refuge from work, instead it feels like a continuation of imprisonment. Most times, it is wonderful to be able to stay home and not to have to go out. But now, Shabbat is just a continuation of the semi-quarantine experience we are feeling all week. And the lesson of our Mesekhet is that Shabbat is sometimes a discipline; We need to train ourselves on Shabbat to find calm, comfort, and spend the day dreaming of a better future. 

In ordinary times, Berakhot is a discipline and Shabbat is a comfort. Today, Berakhot is a comfort and Shabbat is a discipline. And our rabbis when writing the Babylonian Talmud already anticipated that possibility.

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz

No comments: