Monday, 30 September 2013

Pesachim 103 a, b

What is the proper order of prayers on Shabbat evening when a Festival is about to begin?  Not only do the rabbis disagree with each others' opinions, they disagree regarding Beit Shammai and Beit Hillels' opinions.  Much of today's daf recounts the rabbis' different opinions.  Steinsaltz shares the accepted halacha in his notes:  We recite blessings over wine, then kiddush, then candles, then havdala, then havdala, and then time.  He tells us that havdala is done in the following order: wine, spices, candle, havdala.  The havdala prayer itself separates what is sanctified from what is secular.  Some of the rabbis' arguments are founded on opinions that one act cannot be completed after another.

An example of this is a conversation about the Grace After Meals, birkat hamazon.  We are to consider this prayer an 'interruption' of the meal, and thus if we continue to eat or drink once the prayer is complete, we should recite the birkat hamazon again.  One of the points of logic is that we cannot drink while chanting that blessing, and thus the prayer offers different insights than those that are short; where drinking can continue immediately.

We learn that Rava's attendant lit a torch from a candle for havdala.  The torch, a combination of many points of light, is preferable to the single flame from a candle wick.  Thus the attendant has helped to establish halacha.

We also learn the origins of the three prayers of havdala: gratefulness for distinguishing between darkness and light, between Israel and the nations, between Shabbat and the other six days, and between what is sacred and what is profane.  Why not simply state the last prayer, Ya'akov Bar Abba reminds us.  He notes that Rav Yehuda said that Rav said that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said that we need only say that last prayer, "hamavdil ben kodesh lechol".

In response, Rava tells us that Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Oshaya said: One who decreases [these statements of distinction in havdala] should not decrease them to less than three, and one who increases [them] should not increase them to more than seven.  This is where the daf ends, and tomorrow's daf certainly will offer further insight into our current havdala prayer.

It is amazing to read the original ideas behind current, even modern rituals and traditions.  One of the amazing things about Talmud learning is the witnessing of what might have been.  If Rava had not argued his point, perhaps very different rituals would be sanctified.  Meaning is infused into whatever vessel we choose.  Even when I recognize the arbitrary attribution of one ritual over another, I continue to find meaning in practicing what has been practiced (and debated) by my ancestors for thousands of years.  It is a shame that tradition has kept these texts from so many of us.  Learning the text does not decrease my halachic observance, as I was never fully halachically observant.  Instead, and perhaps just as importantly, it enhances my feeling of connection to my people.

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